“I record all the vocals in my closet and I don’t have an engineer so I literally run in and out from the closet to the computer in between takes” says, Dan Vidmar, better known by his solo moniker SHY GIRLS. “On this album, I enlisted a co-producer for a few tracks, but for the most part I do everything all alone in my home studio.”
The album in question is Salt, his debut as Shy Girls, and it has been a long time coming with Vidmar releasing his first single – ‘Under Attack’ – in 2013. Since then he’s been busy, having already released a buzzed-about Shy Girls EP – Timeshare – and the subsequent 4WZ mixtape along with collaborating with other artists. It’s all quite impressive for a man who likes to do everything himself.
“I think that [due to working alone] the album sounds like me through and through,” says Vidmar, who is creatively responsible for literally every aspect of the writing and recording process. “There are a lot of great albums out there that feel like a collection of a tonne of different people’s best ideas – and that’s cool; those albums tend to be more commercially successful, obviously. I think my album is much less polished than those but has a singular voice -from the drum production to the way I play the guitar solos, the lyrics, the arrangement, the track order – and that is something that is important to me.”
It’s not all plain sailing when working alone, however. “It’s hard because there is no one telling you when an idea is good or terrible. There is a lot of self-doubt.”
It is a small price to pay for not having to compromise on his vision in any way, and his personality permeates every note of his recent single ‘Trivial Motion’. A sultry slow jam, its smooth grooves are anchored in sensual synths and understated beats, though elsewhere Shy Girls detours into darker territory with ‘I Am Only A Man’. “I’ve always loved re-contextualizing the clean hi-fi feel of 80s soft rock into something more dark and lonely sounding,” says Vidmar. “There’s something eerie but comforting about it to me.”
‘Trivial Motion’ itself was birthed from an entirely different song (“In some ways, it was a Frankenstein song”) but surprisingly came together quite naturally. Something else that came together naturally was Vidmar’s involvement with the creative scene in Portland. “Portland is very accepting and there is a real sense of community. As a musician, you go to everyone else’s shows and they come to yours. There are so many talented artists and musicians in Portland that the scene has sort of been able to exist in its own little bubble for a long time. That’s started to change in the last few years and now you’re seeing a lot of acts getting national and international attention.”
That attention is well warranted, with the city and wider Oregon having a longstanding ability to birth and nurture creativity across all mediums, of which creatives are eager to collaborate. “There is a lot of collaboration between videographers and bands, photographers and bands, dancers and bands. There is a dance troupe “House of Aquarius” that does a lot of performing with local musicians and bands. There are so many amazing photographers that work almost exclusively with bands. Everyone works together because the city is relatively small.”
In between working on Shy Girls, Vidmar relishes collaborating with other writers and musicians, including artists such as Cyril Hahn, Tei Shi, Rome Fortune, Antwon, Junglepussy and ODESZA. “Most of the collaborations came about via friends or the internet. Cyril and ODESZA hit me up via Twitter, Tei Shi had performed at an SXSW show that one of my managers was putting on and Rome [Fortune] and Antwon were people that I reached out to through friends. All of them were great to work with; they all have great work ethic, which makes me want to work even harder.”
Salt is the culmination of this hard work. As an album that has been entirely written composed, recorded and by produced by one person, it adds to the overall sense of intimacy that Vidmar’s tracks perpetuate. The personal matter of his tracks is offset by the diversity within the collection, which sees Shy Girls journey from those aforementioned smooth jams to crashing percussion and stark ballads.
The visuals for Salt are aptly just as striking, juxtaposing light and dark elements with nature captured in icy stasis. “I created the image with my creative director Vlad Sepetov. I have always been heavily influenced by Storm Thorgersen (Pink Floyd, Zeppelin, Mars Volta) and I had this idea for a cover that involved a giant ice cube melting in the desert. I half-jokingly mentioned it to Vlad, thinking we would both be like “great idea but we don’t have that kind of budget”, but his immediate reaction was “let’s make it work”. He was the one who took the idea and made it into a reality.”
The pair originally intended to shoot the image in the desert, but ultimately, had to settle for a garage instead. Vidmar and Sepetov spent a week testing how to make clear ice and learning how to use a Hasselblad camera and the scene came seamlessly together. “There are so many layers to the cover. A lot of the album’s themes revolve around time and decay. The ice cubes themselves, the single hanging light that seems to provide a heat source that is melting the ice, the flowers that are frozen inside, the ice being broken into two halves. I’ll leave it up to the audience to interpret it for themselves, but I’ll just say that the cover means a lot to me.”
And being a vinyl junkie himself, Vidmar made sure Salt was available on his favourite format. “I love the way it sounds. I didn’t put the mixtape out on vinyl but I did with my first EP.” Oh, and just so you know, the artwork looks better in 12”x12…
Shy Girls’ ‘Trivial Motion’ is out now. Their album Salt is released 2oth January 2017.