Everything leading up to D.C.-based electropop trio SHAED releasing their first full-length album was a whirlwind. The remix of their song “Trampoline” with ZAYN (of One Direction and solo fame) catapulted their stardom even higher after droves of fans were introduced to the band through the track, its syncs in popular TV shows and commercials, or caught them live as they embarked on a worldwide tour.
The band, made up of vocalist Chelsea Lee and twin brothers and multi-instrumentalists/producers Max and Spencer Ernst, wanted to slow-roll their debut record — really spend time on it and make it fully theirs. At the beginning of 2020, Max and Spencer sat down with what they thought would be the album, consisting of songs written in different places with different people over the course of their busy years. Despite the hard work and passion, something about the record in its first form wasn’t quite what they had envisioned.
“Right before the pandemic hit, we were in Seattle,” Spencer recalls. “Max and I produce everything, so we were really in the weeds trying to tie up some loose ends with all the songs we had. We said to Chelsea, ‘Here are the nine songs we have. Just listen through the recent mixes [and] see what you’re thinking.’”
What happened next was a moment that would inform the rest of the band’s 2020 and set their debut album on a different course. Spencer says he looked to Lee, still listening to the mixes through her headphones, as she said they needed to talk through tears streaming down her face.
“They just weren’t telling our story,” Lee says of the songs on the now-scrapped version of the album. “It wasn’t true to us. We realized we needed to do something about this, because this wasn’t working. We wanted it to be something special and it just didn’t feel right.”
Once back to the drawing board, SHAED worked tirelessly for “High Dive,” which will be released on May 14. From poignant, touching lyrics to moments that are both fun and sincere, it’s authentically SHAED in sound, content and representation of each member and their closeness as a unit.
Beautiful strings underscore several tracks, played by FAME’S Macedonian Symphonic Orchestra. After finding inspiration in the string arrangements on Angel Olsen’s 2019 album “All Mirrors,” they reached out to composer Jherek Bischoff, who worked on Olsen’s album. Bischoff connected them to the orchestra in Macedonia, and Max and Spencer worked with them on the arrangements over Skype in the middle of the night.
“It took a second to say, ‘Instead of having these feelings prevent us from making this, let’s just flip it and explore what it’s like to talk about those feelings,’” Max says. “‘Let’s write songs very specific to the subject matter and the emotions we’re feeling.’ After that, the whole album came together pretty quickly. We’re really proud of how it turned out. The name of the album, ‘High Dive,’ is about how it was super scary scrapping everything. The metaphor there is about taking that leap of faith.”
And like any musician navigating a pandemic, the trio is eager to safely return to the road and share “High Dive” with fans during live shows. While much of that remains up in the air, they’ve taken some of the creative energy usually spent on planning a tour and poured it into giving back — specifically with the songs “Part Time Psycho” and “Colorful.”
“Part Time Psycho,” which also features musician Two Feet, deals with how isolating struggling with depression, anxiety and mental health can be — but that you’re never alone in your battles. “Colorful” tells Max’s coming out story and how instrumental his relationship with Lee and Spencer was in him living his truth.
The band is donating a portion of the proceeds from preordered bundles and album sales to Teen Line, a nonprofit that provides a helpline of professionally trained counselors for peer-to-peer mental health support and other programs. And in keeping with the theme of the song “Colorful,” Max explains the band is hard at work on a project with Capital Pride to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community in the District.
“Because we can’t play right now, we’re really trying to find ways to make an impact in our hometown through partnerships with D.C.-based organizations,” Max continues. “We want to make D.C. a big part of this release: to celebrate and make an impact locally, and do some fun things and partnerships within D.C.”
It’s a beautiful effort that brings the authenticity of the record full circle. SHAED’s closeness to one another is their superpower. It comes through in every song — no matter the subject matter, tempo, feature or length.
“I’m just super excited to put out any music, but especially music we’re connected with feels so special to us,” Lee says. “It’s been a while since we released new music and it’s nice to be able to — finally, after a year of despair but also of extreme happiness — give people a glimpse into our life.”
“High Dive” comes out on May 14. Album track “Osaka” will be released on April 9; listen to that as well as “Part Time Psycho (with Two Feet),” “Once Upon a Time” and “No Other Way” now. To preorder the album, merch or to learn more, visit www.shaedband.com and follow them on Instagram and Twitter @shaedband.
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