It was a typically gorgeous Southern California day in April and, in a couple of hours, the band would hit the stage of the Troubadour for a sold out show opening for label mates The Wild Feathers, but in the meantime, fresh air and a fountain in an adjacent park in West Hollywood, CA were our office.
The average age among Sebastian Harris, Josh Jove, Jacob Pillot, and Chase Simpson is 25: relatively young in calendar years, yet – as a band – they are seasoned well beyond in experience and musicianship. They’ve toured with Gary Clark Jr., The Dandy Warhols, Broncho and are currently making time with Mudcrutch. What we’re dealing with is the Los Angeles band, The Shelters.
At this point in musical history, reinventing the rock wheel is damned near impossible but The Shelters are in the business of capturing and salvaging retro shreds of rock’s ethos, attitude and sonic swagger right down to the cuffs of Jove’s straight leg jeans. A healthy task for a band approximately two years old, yet they’re already signed to Warner Bros. and have proven themselves more than capable with their debut self-titled album. So capable that even rock royalty going by the name of Tom Petty appreciatively took notice and invited Simpson and Jove to work on the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album, Hypnotic Eye as well as wielding an additional (but unusual by Petty standards) seal of approval: he co-produced that debut self-titled album.
Dig into the record and you’ll find jangly rockers like “Rebel Heart” as well as the acoustic guitar-drive and vocal harmony shine Jove and Simpson put on the folk-flavored “Dandelion Ridge.” It’s an album flush with edges and finesse that are an earnest breath of fresh and retro air. Then there’s “The Ghost Is Gone” highlighting their willingness to experiment: trading off between eerie serpentine coils of reverb and sprawling blasts of guitar, and hearing it live is a trippy, head banging game changer, folks. Because as good as The Shelters sound in recorded form (down to the stellar guitar tones they achieve), live is where the band impresses the hell out of even the most musically jaded. “We reach out when we play live. There’s areas on certain songs on our record that’s left as a blank slate and live we embellish on those empty or spare parts.” They embellish, they stretch, they fly. Simply stitching the label “garage rock” on them sells the band several yards short. The music has muscle, mainly in the form of guitar strength, but also percussive movement and sophistication drawing upon the classic good that’s come before them such as Brit and classic rock, shades psychedelica, breezy Californian Laurel Canyon air but punched up with a contemporary flair. Guitar rock rules.
“As we’ve been coming in to the scene there’s a lot of that electronica going on. A lot of backing tracks. A lot of sample pads. We wanted to break that mold and get back to the real nitty gritty. We’re feeling like part of this generation’s pioneers of bringing back real, authentic music.”
This outdoor setting somewhat belies the collective concentrated seriousness among the four but not so serious that they don’t suggest doing “the Friends intro” in front of the fountain. What’s obvious is the fact that their heads are fully engaged. Not just in the show about to go down, but in their artful vocation which factored into how the band, still in its infancy, landed with and signed to such a premier record label.
“Basically it’s because we finished our record before we did anything else. We did a lot of the work on our own. We delivered them [Warner Bros.] something that we damn near finished. It was easy for them to pay attention to it. Once they heard it, they really liked it.” Just as important as digging what the band had to offer, The Shelters feel comfortable and fully supported on Warner Bros.
“In our mind, that was where we wanted to be because that’s one of the few last major labels that really carries rock bands. They’re one of the few labels that really cares about developing artists. That’s so huge for us. They have just let us, for this last year, get our feet wet and get out there.”
More than ever, today’s music industry success tends to be an amalgamation of three mystical forces, more often than not, only partially present: Talent, timing and luck. The Shelters seem locked in on all three along with what’s just as – if not more – elemental: the work.
“It’s true. Hard work pays off. We’ve put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into making this happen. We’ve worked for years and years on becoming the band that we are. In other ways than just becoming a live band. We focus so hard on writing great songs. We went through demos and demos and demos – just so many things that we did to get where we are now. It’s amazing once you take your head out – when you lift it up and look up and see where you are. It’s unbelievable.”