Mixtape No. 40: Shy Girls
Mixtape No. 40
If you Google ‘Shy Girls band’, you’ll find pages of interviews with Dan Vidmar, the man behind the Shy Girls moniker. It seems that writers can’t discuss Shy Girls without anthropomorphizing Dan’s soulful melodies and feathery voice as Lover Incarnate. Comparisons to The Weeknd are made. The term baby-makin’ is thrown around a lot. This angle makes sense to anybody who’s listened to Shy Girls – as soon they begin to play, you quickly become overwhelmed by two desires: to fall in love and to get laid. Immediately.
But if there’s anything that throws a wrench into these tired comparisons, it’s Salt. Though Salt is technically Shy Girls’ debut album, it follows the critically-acclaimed mixtape, 4WZ, which set the tone for Salt’s progressive undercurrents. If 4WZ was the drunken smile of somebody sliding the clothes off your body, Salt is the raised chin of hurriedly pulling them back on in the blue light of the morning. With Salt, the party isn’t over so much as reality has arrived, adding clarity to last night’s foolishness.
Releasing a debut album would be unnerving for any musician, especially when the success of your previous mixtapes means that everybody is watching your next step. Dan, however, appears untouched by the sophomore slump. “I try not to let the press or media affect my writing process at all. Inevitably it does to some degree but by shutting myself out a little bit from the outside world when working on this album I think I was able to avoid pandering of any sort. The buzz from Under Attack happened a few years ago so some of the pressure had also been relieved and I had a pretty clear headspace from which to create this album.”
Soulful sounds weren’t always Dan’s calling card. “I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania which was somewhat shielded culturally from the rest of the world. So I grew up listening to and playing along with a lot of old records and learning how to become a traditional musician.” This traditional training grew into experiments in rock and roll, with Dan playing in a college dive bar band called Lemon Soul. “It wasn't until college that I started to dive deeply into experimentalism and learn more about contemporary music by traveling to Brooklyn and seeing shows there. Then when I moved to Portland I was surrounded by this great DIY indie scene and found myself rebelling against the tide of flannely indie rock.” The result of that rebellion was Shy Girls, a one-man music project whose sultry, powerful frequencies were quickly picked up by music blogs.
After the successful release of 4WZ, a tour with Haim and Little Dragon, and the Timeshare EP with prolific acts like Tei Shi and Rome Fortune, Dan had the attention of audiences and the rest of the industry. The siren call of Los Angeles became impossible to resist, and Dan dove headfirst into the creative scene. “I miss the scenery and the entire state of Oregon. It's just the most beautiful state to me. But Los Angeles has been treating me well too. I love the fact that certain areas of LA are very slow to gentrify, compared to a city like Portland. There is still an authentic feel to lots of LA neighborhoods.” Here a sea of opportunity opened up to Dan, who quickly began producing and writing with the industry’s best creatives. This period of collaboration, which served as an accelerated industry crash course for Dan, has left its fingerprints all over Salt.
At first listen Salt seems to pick up where 4WZ left off, continuing the band’s proprietary blend of soulful slow jam and sharp lyricism. Yet lean in and you’ll hear how the album is a marked departure from earlier mixtapes. The sound is more digitized, the lyrical themes have deepened and the overall style has been pared down, resulting in a tighter sound. With the release of Salt, Dan has done what so many artists struggle to do: grow up without losing out. Shy Girls has managed to develop its sound and its story, without losing the soul that made it so enchanting in the first place.
Catch Shy Girls on tour now, and check out their latest album, Salt, here.