“We make colorful music,” electropop trio SHAED informed the crowd at their Fall Ball performance on Oct. 7. The short declaration serves as a slogan for the band, which consists of lead singer Chelsea Lee and multi-instrumentalist brothers Max and Spencer Ernst, all of whom hail from Washington, DC. “We met each other in high school,” recounted Lee in an interview with the Voice,“I was a solo artist and they were in a band together. Obviously, they’re twin brothers; they do everything together. I saw them play a show at the 9:30 Club, and, kind of, instantly fell in love with them, and became family and best friends, and we’ve kind of been inseparable ever since. We just started SHAED in March of 2016. Finally we could come together and drop all of our stuff and come together as a group.” SHAED released an EP in 2016 and two singles earlier this year; the most recent, “Lonesome,” dropped on Oct. 6.
SHAED draws their name from a fantasy novel that all of the band members love. Lee explains, “the book that it’s from is called Name of the Wind, but it’s a trilogy called The Kingkiller Chronicles. Shaed is a word we found in that, and it basically is a cloak that was woven by a goddess and is kind of a protective cloak for the main character, so we loved that, we loved the way the word looked, we love the idea of different shades of color, shade from a tree…”
This idea of different shades of color is not just prevalent in their name; it translates to their music as well. “When we write songs, we want to make each song feel unique,” explained band member Spencer Ernst. “Each song, to us, feels like a different shade of color.” The band cites the latest albums from SZA and Kendrick Lamar as inspirations, yet comparisons can be more easily drawn to electronic rock or indie pop acts such Phantogram or CHVRCHES. SHAED’s sound seemed almost too consistent upon first listen, but their newer, more adventurous singles showcase their creative development as a band. The funky, synth-heavy “Too Much” is upbeat and easy to dance to, while, “Lonesome,” is slow and stripped-down. In regard to this song’s inspiration, Max Ernst described, “We had a show in Las Vegas, and we decided to get an Airbnb in Death Valley, and it ended up being in the middle of nowhere, and the house had, like, zero furniture. The closest house was miles and miles away. It was…very isolated… and that kind of inspired the concept of the song.”
Some of SHAED’s other songs are similarly inspired by their tour experiences. Lee said, “we try to listen to a lot of new music all the time, we travel a lot, you know, we’ve been on tour, and so I think that the travel and listening to really great artists is a really inspiring thing for us.” SHAED had been traveling and touring with bands such as Marian Hill, Bishop Briggs, and Sir Sly.
Now that SHAED is back in the studio, they are focusing on solidifying the ideas developed on the road and starting to record. The most difficult part of the creative process? “Depends on the song,” answered Spencer, “depends on the day. It’s hard to come up with a new idea out of thin air, so it just really depends.”
With only 132,323 monthly listeners on Spotify, SHAED is relatively unknown. Their lack of fame and name recognition proved advantageous at Fall Ball because people could focus on dancing with their friends without feeling like they were missing a performance of a beloved or well-known musical artist. However, the band aims for a deeper connection with their audiences. Said Lee, “To be honest, it’s just about them truly having a great time listening to our music and like, connecting on a deeper level than … as background music.” At Fall Ball, attendees danced and seemed to have good time, but they might have danced to anything. This lack of unique connection to SHAED is not necessarily a reflection on the band itself, but on the nature of Fall Ball as a social gathering rather than a concert. Either way, SHAED delivered an upbeat, dynamic performance, complete with powerhouse vocals and a light show that the band created themselves.
Perhaps it would have made more sense if SHAED had performed earlier in the night, followed by a DJ playing more familiar songs as turnout and level of engagement increased. However, SHAED’s contract dictates that they are closers. SHAED did seem receptive to the fact that people needed familiar songs in order to be entertained, since they played two covers as opposed to one. Their version of The Weeknd’s “Starboy” was well-received, while their soulful rendition of R. Kelly’s “Ignition” was perhaps too slow for people to dance to.
SHAED consistently tries to find the balance of making their name known while not giving up creative integrity. Says Max, “We naturally just love writing pop-y tracks, but at the same time, I think, the best songs we’ve written [are] when we try not to think about what’s popular. It’s kind of a weird balance between just writing songs that you love, and also, we just listen to what’s cool and what’s popular.” This balance of making pop, but not popular, music seemed to work to their advantage at Fall Ball. SAC Concert Committee Chair Johnathan Evanilla says that his committee looks for “fun, up-and-coming artists that are also within budget,” and SHAED certainly checks all these boxes. Their synth-fueled, electro-pop music is upbeat and danceable. With songs that are easy to listen to without sounding too much like Top-40 pop, SHAED walks the line of sounding unique yet still accessible to wide audiences.