When I first watched the video for “On the Regular” by Shamir, a 20-year-old singer out of Las Vegas, a few months back, I froke out and sent it to everyone I knew as soon as I could physically tear my eyes off of, like, my fifth viewing. The song itself is near-to-incomprehensibly good, and tell me that any part of the mindset and aesthetic you’re about to take in isn’t for you:
OK. I KNOW THAT WAS HUGE. WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE PART? The Pi metaphor? The spirited cowbell? Was it when a magnifying glass, baseball bat, and cowboy whip were worn as stylish accessories, or when he angelically harmonized with himself on the line, “Don’t try me, I’m not a free sample / Step to me and you will be handled”? That is Shamir on the regular, so you know.
As a highly specific pinnacle of human excellence, Shamir immediately came to mind for our First Person theme song. His voice is remarkably beautiful and strong on ballads, so we asked if he might like to cover of one of his favorite powerhouse solo vocalists, and he agreed! This brings us to Shamir’s lovely rendition of Miranda Lambert’s “The House That Built Me,” which we’re premiering right here, right now:
When I spoke to Shamir on the phone, he offhandedly happened to bring up a lot of the stuff we at Rookie have thought about for First Person. We talked at length about writing as a way of owning your experience, daring to be vulnerable, introversion, and being autonomous. Then he brought up pig farms, Donna Tartt, and his penchant for knitting. This is because Shamir is perfect. For further proof, read on, then check out his EP, Northtown, and his Twitter, Tumblr, and (v. cute) Instagram.
AMY ROSE: How’s your day going?
SHAMIR: Good! I had to wake up early and go to the studio, so, I’m a little tired. I leave for Vegas this weekend.
What are you doing there?
I’m from Vegas, born and raised. I’m going back for good. I was only out here for the last two months to finish the album.
What is it like to live in Vegas?
It’s not what people typically think about it. I get asked, “Oh, do you party every day? I’m like, “No.” I grew up across the street from a farm and it’s very middle America, but on the West Coast. Las Vegas is by no means a city. It’s just literally the Strip, and the Strip is maybe about a three-mile radius. Everything else is just dirt. [It’s] literally in the middle of the desert. This was the only time I’ve ever lived away from Vegas. Last year was my first time ever being on a plane—I’m very much rooted in Vegas.
Las Vegas is probably the most diverse neighborhood, town I’ve ever seen. There are a lot of different types of people from a lot of different backgrounds. There is a huge Mormon population, but even within the Mormon community there are a lot of people—it’s kind of shocking, but the Mormon community is pretty diverse. Springs and falls in Vegas are beautiful, even sometimes the winter, but the summer is obviously unbearable. That’s the hardest part—the fact that there’s nothing to do if you’re under 21.
In “On the Regular,” there’s a line that goes, “Wanted a guitar before I wanted a bike.” When and how did you start making music?
Since I could talk. When I was in first and second grade, I wrote little songs to myself, and wrote little songs about myself, and would sing that way, just for fun. When I was eight, I had to sing in public for the first time for my second-grade class, and I was like, “Uh, I think I want to do this forever. I’m gonna be a singer!” I got my first guitar at nine. That line [in “On the Regular”] is true: “Had an Epiphone after Fisher Price!” [Laughs]
My mom got me my first guitar and a Guitar for Dummies book. She was like, “I’m not paying for lessons!” [Laughs] I taught myself how to play using Guitar for Dummies, and I ended up teaching myself how to play upside down. If I wanted to do music, I had to be completely self-sufficient. I had no one to tell me that I was holding the guitar wrong—no one in my family played. I didn’t know until I played for someone, and he was like, “Oh my god, you play upside down.” And I was like, “Huuuh? I guess I do…sorry?”
What was the first song you learned to play on guitar?
You’re gonna laugh, but I’m still obsessed with this band. They were around the same age as me and they were really making songs, and I wanted to be just like them. The first song I successfully learned how to play on guitar was “Crazy Car” by the Naked Brothers Band. I still love them!
I think you made the right choice, if they’ve stuck with you all this time! When you’re not touring, what is your day-to-day life like?
I’ve only had one tour and it was eight days. Before that, I was working on the album from sun-up to sundown. When I wasn’t at the studio, I was interning at Beggars Music Group, which is the music group that my label XL [Recordings] is under. I was going to the office and annoying everyone. [Laughs] I liked distracting them from their work, especially the lady in the front who answers the phones. Her name’s Angelica, and we call her “Gigi” for short. I would go and sit in the corner where people were supposed to be waiting for meetings and completely occupy that space and chat with her for hours about everything. People would say, “Oh, Gigi’s corner!”
Sounds like you were an A+ employee. You have this line in “I’ll Never Be Able to Love” that goes, “I was told when I was young that crying means you lost the game / I was taught to be alone, introvert was my name.” Can you talk about that a little bit?
My parents definitely brought me up to be very independent. I kinda took that to heart a little bit too much, and I always had this mentality that I have to do everything myself, in that no one’s going to help you—you just have to do everything yourself and get by on your own. That song is about being scared of how OK you are with being alone, being too comfortable being by yourself, and almost having it be so bad that you’re becoming introverted. You don’t even want to deal with people. I’m so glad my mom instilled independence in me, but I sometimes take it to the next level, to the point where I’m not even taking any calls, or I feel like I have to do everything by myself. In the last couple years, it’s been a growing experience to realize that you have other people on your team and on your side. That’s a really good and comforting feeling for me.
Is that hard to balance with being a public figure who’s in front of people and a performer?
Definitely. But it’s also a good feeling. Just knowing that you’re not alone.