Music Features

Interview: Jack Shields

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Although freshman year of college dorm life can be pretty cramped, overwhelming, and inevitably crappy, I was lucky enough to spend my first semester of college living across the hall from a kid who was not only a true free spirit, but also, at the time, a moderately popular SoundCloud producer. That kid’s name was Jack Shields, and, though he moved back to Connecticut, our time spent living 20 feet apart impacted my musicianship, sense of humor, and love of a great California adventure. I recently caught up with Jack about his latest singles, departure from the spoils of SoundCloud glory, and the up-and-coming taxidermy revival.

Your influences and image are very quintessentially Western but you currently reside in Connecticut. Do you think the Californian influence on your work comes from nostalgia and idealism, or do you plan to re-relocate to California at some point in the future?

Jack Shields: Totally. I think a large part of it is nostalgia for my childhood in San Diego. Some of my most vivid childhood memories are of driving around the desert with my dad and seeing the Western landscapes for the first time. Those images have always stuck with me and have certainly seeped into the music. I’m hoping to move out there ASAP.

How does your proximity to New York influence your music?

JS: I don’t think it does. I’m pretty isolated out here in Connecticut in terms of a scene. I’m about an hour-and-a-half from Manhattan and two hours from Brooklyn, so I’m a bit too far removed to take any influence. I should take the train in more often, but I’m a lazy SOAB.

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Tell me a bit about the artwork for “Swim!” and “Ghost.” Both album covers have a very surreal and antique look and are really cool and retro-futuristic. By far my favorite art you’ve had yet. Who did the covers? Did you have much say in how the art came out or did you let the artist take the reigns?

JS: Gladly! Both covers were done by an amazing collage artist based in Australia. His Instagram name is merciful_stranger. These two covers already existed on his Instagram page and I thought they fit the songs perfectly. They are made from vintage National Geographic magazines from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Everything the dude touches is rad.

When I met you you were killing it as Atolla on SoundCloud, getting tens of thousands of plays and doing DJ sets around the LA area at, like, age 18. Do you think you’ll ever go back to focusing on electronic music and remixes, or is live instrumentation totally where it’s at for you in 2019?

JS: I don’t think I’ll go back to it in that capacity, but I would love to incorporate some of those elements into what I’m doing now. Tame Impala’s LONERISM had a huge influence on me, so they kind of laid a blueprint for how I might add in synths and such to the sound. Would love to cop a Roland Juno and go to town.

The last time I saw you, you mentioned you’d been working with a drummer. Do you have a full band lineup at this point? Any plans to bring the new songs to life and play them on stage? 

JS: I’ve been playing with a drummer named Brendan Donnelly since I was in seventh grade. He’s the ginger John Bonham and absolutely shreds. Last summer we started recording some new songs together and we haven’t stopped. He has an amazing ear and instinctively knows what beat each song demands, so I don’t really record drums without him anymore. 100% plan to bring these songs to life and start giving them the live treatment. I’m working on getting the band together as we speak.

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Your work rides a fine line between pop, rock, and indie. Who are your biggest musical influences? Do you find yourself emulating your heroes or do you feel like your formula as a writer is autonomous and original? 

JS: My biggest modern influences for these songs have been Fleet Foxes, Tame Impala, and a slew of others. In general, though, most of my influences come from previous generations. I’m obsessed with The Band and their sound and songwriting have influenced these songs a lot. I’m a guitarist first, so I think Jimi always shines through in some capacity. I think the songs become more autonomous with every new one I write. I wear my influences on my sleeve in some songs more than others, but in general, I think I do a good job of keeping it ‘me.’

We have both been known to enjoy oddities and taxidermy. If you could have one piece of taxidermy what would it be? Where in your home would you hang it?

JS: Dude, I’m so hype you asked me this question. I have thought about this way too much. I want a full grizzly bear mount standing on its hind legs. It’s gonna go right in the foyer next to the Jerry Garcia statue.

Do you find that taxidermy and other lumberjack-esque luxuries influence you as a musician and songwriter? If so, how?

JS: I definitely yearn to be some sort of musical mountain man. As a kid, Boy Scouts fostered a pretty strong love of the outdoors and wildlife and that imagery definitely seeps into the lyrics, if not the music itself. I really wanna pull a Bon Iver and lock myself in some mountain cabin, making music until I lose my mind.

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You’re currently signed to Spectrum Records. What’s the story behind linking up with them? How does being on a label impact your flow as an artist? Who are some of your favorite labelmates on Spectrum?

JS: The dudes from Spectrum reached out to me some time after LEAVING CALIFORNIA came out and it just snowballed from there. I sent them some stuff I was working on and we decided to work together. They have been super supportive and let me do pretty much whatever I want. It’s super relaxed. I’m definitely conscious of the fact that I’ve got other people invested in this now, which is kind of strange. If anything it’s weird not being able to put anything I want out whenever I want to. Julia Gomez is an amazing singer songwriter from Nashville. She should have some stuff out later this year. There is this new artist Koko Dinero who is dropping some stuff soon; really fun and catchy indie pop.

Last time I saw you, you played me your upcoming full-length. In what ways do you feel that your new album is a departure from LEAVING CALIFORNIA? What are the commonalities between your last full length and your new material? Can your fans expect a new album and, if so, when?

JS: The new songs are an improvement on all fronts. Production-wise, songwriting-wise, even my voice, it’s all had a bit more time to develop and mature. It’s gonna be rooted in similar instrumentation as LEAVING CALI’, but everything is a bit bigger and a bit more unexpected. I’ve gotten a lot more experimental with song structures,  which is something I’m pretty stoked about. It’s like Car Seat Headrest meets Bon Iver at certain points. I’m hoping to have the album out before August.

I genuinely miss you, dude. College is way more boring without you there. If you move back to California do, you want to be my roommate and start a band?

JS: Miss you too, brother, and yes, that is 100% happening. Hopefully we can get DJ on keys.

Check out Jack’s latest singles “Swim!” and “Ghost”, and stay tuned for his upcoming full-length follow-up to LEAVING CALIFORNIA due this summer.

Ted Davis
Ted Davis is a culture writer and musician. He works in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington DC.

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