Analogue Music | SHAED


By Matt Conner

What happens when the chaos, the noise, the demands stop long enough for a chance to truly listen?

For the members of SHAED, the industry slowdown forced by a global pandemic was, at first, a confusing and anxious reality—just as it was for all of us. Over time, however, the cessation of activity after years of constant touring and promotion allowed the trio of Chelsea Lee, Max Ernst, and Spencer Ernst to completely re-evaluate their creative process. The end result was a full album shelved.

Over the last year, SHAED has worked hard on a brand new set of songs, one marked by vulnerability and honesty, and the end result is the infectious High Dive. These are more than songs; they are shared stories, and the band says they weren't willing to move forward unless they had something truly meaningful and personal to share with their fans.

We recently caught up with all three members of SHAED to hear more about decisions made in the past year and how they've reoriented themselves on the other side.

Analogue: I read that an entire album was shelved before starting anew. I’d love to start there. Can you take me back to what was happening that made that happen in the first place?

Chelsea Lee: Well, when the pandemic first started, we were about to hit the road and go to Europe and do some PR and a bit of touring there. Everything stopped full force, which we hadn’t had that in many years. With “Trampoline,” we were touring all the time, doing all these radio shows, going international. So this gave us a second to take a deep breath and figure out what we had.

We did have an album’s worth of music from writing with various songwriters over the years or in between tours. But it didn’t feel genuine anymore. It didn’t tell our story, so we looked at it and decided as a group to scrap it.

"We did have an album’s worth of music from writing with various songwriters over the years or in between tours. But it didn’t feel genuine anymore. It didn’t tell our story, so we looked at it and decided as a group to scrap it." -Chelsea Lee

It felt so traumatic, because even thinking about being creative at the beginning of the pandemic was so hard. We were just so confused and there was so much anxiety around everything. It took us a couple weeks after scrapping it to start fresh. This album is really about our time during the pandemic.

Analogue: Was that an easy conversation for all of you? Did everyone have misgivings or was it driven by one?

Chelsea: It was me. It’s always me. [Laughs] I stir things up sometimes. But I was listening to everything we’d done and a couple songs we’d just recently worked on and felt like, ‘I don’t know about this.’

Spencer: Well, Max and I… I remember we were deep into production on these songs at this point. Max and I were each working on a song, just really trying to dial in the sounds and Chelsea’s voice and everything with headphones on. We were like, ‘Hey Chelsea, listen through everything we have and let’s get a fresh perspective on it.’ We’d been in the middle of touring and had a break.

So we were working on stuff and Chelsea was like, ‘Guys…’ She tapped us on the shoulder and tears were pouring out of her eyes—

Chelsea: No, we were skipping that part! [Laughs]

Spencer: She said, ‘This album is not who we are. This is not what we want to release.’ I think it took Max and I a second. It was heavy, but the more we thought about it and listened, we thought that it wasn’t the kind of honest material we wanted to present to our fans as this next chapter. It had been rushed with sessions and—

Chelsea: It felt like we were telling other people’s stories. We were putting ourselves in other people’s shoes and writing from that perspective. I shed a couple tears and we have an incredible team who is so supportive. We love our label. It’s very small. They really trusted us and said, ‘If this is what you feel, that’s fine. We want you to give us a body of work you’re really in love with.’ And the timing worked out great since we didn’t have any shows. So we had to dive into making the music and it ended up being very freeing at the end.

Analogue: Can you describe that a bit further? I think I get what you’re saying but you say it was dishonest, yet it’s not like you were lying and you also helped write those songs. So what’s the before and after here?

Chelsea: I would say “Trampoline” is a very honest song for us. It’s about facing our fears, and for me, my biggest fear is dying, so it’s this whole song wrapped around this Alice in Wonderland-kind of… facing this death but feeling free about it. Past EPs that we’ve done, yes, they’ve been truthful to us.

After the success of “Trampoline”, we were clouded by the pressure to write the next big hit. Going into a room with songwriters is a great experience, but you have five hours to meet someone, write a song, potentially record it, and there you go. We’ve known each other for 13 or 14-plus years, so we have an honesty we can’t give to someone else in such a short time frame.

Over the years, everything felt really rushed anyway, just because we were so on the go, so just getting into a room with someone and going into your deepest darkest fear, it’s hard to connect with people. The experiences were great, but for this album, there’s a certain honesty that comes with writing just us three. We’re so close with each other that we can be raw and real and not feel judged or anything like that. I think that was big for us.

"We’re so close with each other that we can be raw and real and not feel judged or anything like that. I think that was big for us." -Chelsea Lee

Max: One hundred percent, everything Chelsea just said. It’s not that we’re not open to collaboration. We’ve collaborated with a bunch of artists and we’ve got a couple features on this album. We worked with Ariel Rechtshaid as a producer and Josh Fountain, who was adding amazing sounds, but for this album, the inception for the song came from us three. All the music we’ve released basically started with us three and then we brought others in when we felt comfortable doing so.

Analogue: Was this a complete overhaul then?

Max: It was a complete overhaul.

Chelsea: There was one song that we had started writing like a month before we scrapped everything, but it was a complete overhaul, yeah.

Analogue: Was any part of that painful to put away?

Chelsea: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think we were ready to just go forward.

Spencer: I think also, at the time, we knew we had this opportunity where we weren’t touring and we could really get into this groove of songwriting. It was difficult at first just because of what was happening around the world. We were seeing these horrible stats and everything. But once we were able to channel all these feelings we had into our songwriting and revisit pivotal moments in our friendship and write about those experiences, the songs really started to flow.

I think we felt better about that new material than the old stuff, so in theory, we could have probably brought back one of the older songs. But why would we do that when we feel so much better about the new songs?

Analogue: Was there a first track that made you realize you’d made the right decision?

Chelsea: I don’t remember if there was a very first song that we wrote, but I do remember when we got back into the swing of things. It was just the act of us writing again and diving deep gave us the confidence to know it was a good thing for us. There was just no meaning behind these other songs, so being able to write again with just the three of us and get back to what we’re doing previously really gave us a big boost of confidence.

Spencer: I do remember writing “Visible Woman”, which Chelsea can explain much better than me, but it felt very rewarding as that song was written and produced very early on with this album. It was a breath of fresh air. It’s like, ‘Wow, this is an extremely personal song for Chelsea’ and it’s something we can relate to as well, just being vulnerable and the pressure of being in the spotlight and all of that. That was a catalyst to continue to go down that path and be super honest with this new batch of songs.

Analogue: Chelsea, did you want to explain that further?

Chelsea: Yeah, I try to bring a journal on tour, because it’s easier to pull on ideas if you’re in real-time writing what you’re feeling instead of waiting until you’re ready to write songs and then try to figure out what you want to write about. I watched this hilarious Heidi Klum interview… every Halloween, she dresses in something ridiculous and over-the-top. This past year or the year before, she was the “Visible Woman”. You know the “visible man” you can see in every science class where you can see all this anatomy? I just thought that was such an interesting thing.

As a woman in a band or any female musician, you’re under such a microscope and it’s very hard to be vulnerable without being judged by everyone. I thought it was such an interesting thing, so “Visible Woman” is about me coming out of my shell and realizing I am strong and I don’t need to be weighed down by anyone else’s opinion.

Analogue: All this conversation makes it sound less about starting over musically on one album and that this pandemic has provided a real shedding of skin for you all personally and professionally. Like there’s a definite before-and-after for you all.

Max: Hearing you say that, I think that is pretty much the lesson in a nutshell. I don’t think we will go back to the place where we’re writing songs that aren’t fully honest or telling our story. What got us into that position in the first place was how little time we’ve had over the last two years.

We were traveling our asses off and driving the van ourselves around the country. We were really feeling a ton of pressure to create something every moment we had. We would be home for 3-4 days and then think, ‘Okay, we have to write.’ So not every song we scrapped was a song we wrote with other people. It was just such a crammed-in experience that it was hard to write honestly or get into that flow when you have two days to do so.

It taught us how not to write or how to not force something in a small window. If we have three or four weeks, we can use that time to get into a creative flow because it takes a second. It took us some time to reset. Then the songs poured out over the course of a few months, I’d say.

Chelsea: Yeah, we are a band that cannot say no. We will do anything and everything. If we have to fly to Chicago right now? Let’s go. But this year has taught us definitely about being more picky about how we spend our time so we don’t spread ourselves too thin. It’s also learning self-care. This year has let me focus on keeping my voice healthy, which I’ve never done before. It’s doing warm-ups every day and being really diligent trying to sustain vocal health. It’s understanding that there are moments where it’s okay to not be okay. Rest is important. Being mindful is important. We didn’t have a chance to learn that previously, but that’s what we’re learning now.