Shamir Bailey — known as Shamir — has had quite a year.
The piercingly contralto/tenor falsetto non-binary singer is no novice to the music biz. Along with being signed to XL Records for a debut LP, Shamir hails from a family with ties to producers and seasoned musicians. The performer received an Epiphone guitar at age 9 to start writing music.
Rather than continue along the lines of dance music, Shamir formed angular pop-punk bands, moved to New York City and then to Philadelphia to record two 2017 instant classics: “Hope” and “Revelations.” What Shamir demonstrates throughout his albums is a curiosity ranging from ’90s house tunes to soul to country (all on 2015’s “Ratchet” album) and, now, lo-fi neo-rock and fizzy pop in his most recent releases. The Vegas-to-NYC-to-Philly transplant has a singular voice, making songs identifiably his — whether they are silly (“90’s Kid”), heartbreaking (“Like a Bird”) or angrily disgusted (“I Fucking Hate You”) in their lyricism. You can check this out for yourself when Shamir plays the First Unitarian Church Dec. 16.
PGN: You come from Vegas. You also come from the Nation of Islam. I’m curious if or how those backgrounds show up in your music.
SB: I definitely don’t practice anymore. That was very much a part of my life, but if I’m being honest with myself, it isn’t so much that at present. At age 12-13, I sat my family down and was honest and open with them about that.
PGN: I have seen you refer to a country influence in your music. I know you spent time in the Southwest. How has that affected what you do?
SB: I think mostly in my lyrics — their simplicity. Plus, if you listen to my song “Cloudy,” that is a straight-up country song.
PGN: I know that you are a big Nina Simone fan too.
SB: She is like my mother — my mother in music. I have been listening to her since the womb. My mom always played her records when she was pregnant with me.
PGN: Do you write songs in solitude?
SB: Yeah, I think if anything, I like working at home by myself. The only song on “Revelations” that is cowritten with my best friend — literally since middle school — is “90’s Kids.”
PGN: “90’s Kids” is hilarious. Do you have a good vocal fry like you sing about in the song?
SB: Well, you’re talking to me. [Laughs]
PGN: So, why did you move to Philly? What was the lure?
SB: I fell in love with it when I was in New York City, recording my first record. I snuck off to Philly to go to a show and was completely taken aback by the city before I even got into the venue. I just loved the music scene, the DIY scene, how accessible music is out here. That spoke to me.
PGN: To paraphrase your one-time producer and manager Nick Sylvester, your music is pure. Do you see that? Do “Hope” and “Revelations” radiate that same purity?
SB: Yes, I think so. I try to be as honest as I possibly can. Even “Rachet”’s lyrics are pure, open and real, even if the music was bigger. Now, with “Hope” and “Revelations,” I’m just upping the pureness, giving 100-percent me.
PGN: Is that why the new album is considerably less layered than “Rachet”?
SB: Yes, totally. The technical aspects of recording — to me — are something I haven’t yet mastered. But that never seemed like a big deal to me. I never judged music by its size or its production quality. I go by the actual songs. I just hope that my songs are strong enough to hold up on their own without pristine production quality. Plus, I love lo-fi music because of that pureness — like “Beat Happening,” all that stuff.
PGN: Were you happy with “Rachet”’s sound quality? Did that level of production fit that set of songs, and the “Hope” and “Revelations” production fit its songs?
SB: “Rachet” is more of a collab album with Nick, one that does not showcase my songwriting values to the fullest. Like these new albums, the songs were started off on guitar. But with “Rachet,” they got handed off and made into big pop songs.
PGN: You’re knocking off album after album at this point. Is this a backlog of material or are you just hot and writing new songs all the time?
SB: It’s not even a restless thing. I’m writing new songs all the time. It’s my therapy.
PGN: Is there something that you’re running from or running toward?
SB: Not running, coping. And I hope that my coping helps other people.
Shamir will perform 9 p.m. Dec. 16 at the First Unitarian Church, 2125 Chestnut St. Visit http://ticketf.ly/2AdyLZW to purchase tickets.