In the throes of a relationship, Brandon Sheer (or Sheare, as he’s known onstage) was having an out of body experience. He could see, think, feel, move, but he was numb. It wouldn’t be until much later that he would realize that, perhaps, he was the problem. As is his way, he pours out his heart and soul three minutes at a time. ‘Tidal Wave,’ a cut on his shiny new EP, Music for Photo Booths, a title ripped from a chance meeting which led to a tumultuous but addicting relationship, digs into “me and my hang-ups in relationships,” he says over the phone. “It’s a weird thing when you come to terms with yourself and know you are not always the best to other people.”
It’s that kind of self-reflective exposition that bleeds into much of his work. His just-released five-song sophomore project is no different. “Everybody’s got demons they’re fighting, and in a lot of relationships, you bring those out in each other. This song is almost a flip book, replaying a relationship in my mind,” he tells B-Sides & Badlands, addressing the EP’s sinewy thread lines, which aren’t focused on just one person but rather similar experiences peppered over a couple years. Elsewhere, like on ‘You + I,’ he fantasizes about “a hypothetical person. It’s about this romanticized idea of meeting someone and not necessarily knowing if you’re ready for someone. It’s this idea of running away with someone, a very spontaneous kind of thing.”
A purveyor of massive, sticky, haunting hooks, he reaches an apex of his budding career with ‘Bedroom,’ a shivering alloy of bubbly synths and his classic falsetto. “Oh, there’s something I been missing sitting on the kitchen floor / And I said, ‘I think I need a minute,’” he sings, fighting valiantly to pick up the pieces after a breakup but always being spooked by the memory of her, even in the confines of his bedroom. “But babe, it’s been a long time coming / Running away, standing in place.” Funny enough, “that’s probably my least favorite,” he laughs. “That’s just the way it goes. I had actually talked about not having it on the EP, but I was overruled. It’s the one other people always seem to point out, too.”
Below, Sheer explains the EP’s backbone and discusses his evolution as a producer, modern dating and the future.
How did the concept for Music for Photo Booths develop?
I was playing a show about a year ago, and I met a girl at the show, which was probably my first mistake. There was a photo booth downstairs from where I was playing. I saw her there again, so we had this really cinematic moment. We took photos in the photo booth, and that’s how we started dating. In that sort of ‘80s kind of way, the modern day mixtape is making a Spotify playlist for someone. So, I made this playlist for this girl. That whole relationship was convoluted and anxiety-inducing. But I liked the title so much. I thought it was such a cool title that stuck. The last song on the EP is called ‘The Middle,’ which is about that dynamic with her. There’s a line that says: “I left us in that photo booth / You’re like a bad tattoo on my arm.” That’s a nod to the whole experience. In that instance, it’s a really specific thing.
It’s interesting, too, because when you break up with someone these days, you are still connected so much through social media. I remember when I first posted on Instagram stories about the title even. Out of the first four people, one of them was going to see that and know exactly what that was taken from. [laughs] It’s a really weird thing ⎯⎯ writing music that is so personal and then them being able to see it immediately. It’s a strange world we are existing in now.
In talking about modern dating, it strikes a parallel with a recent Black Mirror episode called ‘Hang the DJ,’ which features a couple immersed in the digital world of a dating app.
Yeah, it’s really weird. You’re never really detached from someone. You’re always connected. I’ve had people who unfollowed me after we dated. It’s 3 a.m., and you’re browsing your own Instagram stories like a narcissist, and you’re like “OH, that person is still looking at what I’m doing.” It’s a very addictive thing. Closure really isn’t a thing.
You have such a knack for hooks. How do they come to you? And do they marinate for a while before they are ready?
Usually, it’s the hook I write first. If you have a really good hook, everything else is an afterthought in a way, just in the sense that really it’s the hook that is going to stick around with people. It’s very rare that I’ll go back and re-write the hook. It’s mostly the verses and pre-choruses that I’ll let marinate. It’s almost like if I start second guessing the hook, I usually end up scrapping the song. It has to feel right from the start.
So, do you feel constrained to write the lyrics to fit what the hook and melody are doing?
It’s not so much about fitting it into the hook, but it’s about fitting it into the context. I build the track first and then write to the track. That dictates what the emotion of the song is going to be. Most of the time, I’ll make it fit, as long as I have the foundation. It’s like I’m building a house.
How soon after your TURBULENCE EP did you start putting together the Music for Photo Booths EP?
Pretty immediately. I’m always so ahead of the curve. I finished all the mixing for this EP in August, and now, I’m probably four or five songs deep of writing the next thing, whatever it’s going to be. I’m constantly writing. I will take breaks in between things. It’s more about waiting for things in my life to happen to catch up to whatever the subject matter is of the next round of songs. It comes in waves. I’ll go through these benders of writing songs and lock myself in my apartment.
The last two EPs and singles have just been me and my room. The next round of stuff, not to get ahead or anything, is going to be more of a co-production thing. That remains to be seen.
How have you evolved as a producer?
It’s a matter of doing it more and more. It’s like any other muscle you have to exercise. I’m coming into my own in terms of what I want things to sound like and where I want things to stand, production-wise. It’s becoming less of an amalgamation and feels more like where I always wanted to end up. It’s more guitar-driven now. For awhile, it felt like there was no guitar music anywhere. If you went on Spotify, it feels like that kind of thing that The Bricks always did really well. It’s starting to come back. At the end of the day, it’s all electronic music. It’s just a matter of adding some of those organic elements and giving it some life.
What is your weakness as a producer?
Just having objectivity of what works and what doesn’t. I’m sort of a producer by default. I never really wanted to rely on anyone else. I write and produce music as a means of therapy, as cliche as that sounds. It’d be a bummer if your therapist could only see you once every three weeks. That immediacy of sitting down at my computer and being like ‘OK, I feel a certain way, let me flesh it out myself until it feels better.’ It’s become a sad thing when I’m in the middle of writing, I don’t listen to too much other music. I’m sort of listening to demos on my phone all the time ⎯⎯ like the most musically-narcissistic thing in the world. It’s a cool thing to be able to go through something and then sit down, write and produce a song and then be able to listen to the demo as soon as you finish recording it. Of course, there are a lot of other stages to go through to get it to a finished product, but it becomes a real tangible thing once it’s recorded.
How would you compare and contrast where you were in life for TURBULENCE versus Music for Photo Booths?
TURBULENCE was about a very specific person. Whereas Music for Photo Booths, aside from the title and one of the songs, is about a lot of different people. It has more of an overriding subject matter, too. TURBULENCE is the ending of a really long relationship, and in many ways, it was more about me and my feelings about myself and ending something with someone who was really great but ultimately just not right for the time or me anymore. Music for Photo Booths is sunnier in its approach and less jaded. All the songs are more love letters to people I haven’t necessarily met yet (with the exception of a few things).
My mom is always really funny with me whenever I play her back new music. She grew up being such a huge Elton John fan. She comes from the approach of ‘not everything’s about sad relationships. Can’t you just write a song about the world?’ I feel like such a con artist. I’m writing such specific things that are about me and what I’m going through. When you’re dating in your 20s, it is a little bit of a nightmare. It doesn’t have to be, but my experiences have been tricky in that department. People want to feel connected to you. I’m a terrible actor, so everything I write has to be really true to me.
Do you have the concept for your next EP mapped out?
Yeah, so far anyway. Thus far, it’s a very specific subject I’m in the middle of going through right now. I know I’m not going to end up working on it entirely by myself. In order to grow as an artist and producer, you have to have some outside forces working with you. I’m excited to explore that. I’ve created this little world on a micro-scale. I want everything to be able to still exist in that world.
Written by Jason Scott. Reposted with permission from B-Sides & Badlands.