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Meet our BOTW: Shy Girls

Portland-via-Pennsylvania’s Dan Vidmar, who produces crystalline, sensuous RnB under the guise of Shy Girls, first came to our attention earlier this year with a beguiling guest turn on Cyril Hahn‘s glistening summer gem, ‘Perfect Form‘. Now back and flying solo, the ascendent, silky-voiced beat-maker returns this week with the Timeshare EP: six tracks of seductive, small-hours balladry underpinned by an intangible darkness that cuts through the transparent, open-hearted production.

It’s this cloaked urgency that helps to keep Timeshare so engaging. For every flickering candle and fleeting whiff of lustful perfume, there’s something hidden in the ether between: a sense and a desperation that nothing’s quite as it seems. Eventually, it all erupts, as closer ‘Under Attack’ lets fire with bleats of hair-raising sax – courtesy of tUnE-yArDs‘ Noah Bernstein – atop heavenly keys and flashes of jangled guitar.

Below, you can stream Timeshare in full:

We caught up with Vidmar for a Friday evening Skype to find out more about this elusive darkness nestled within Timeshare, the constant evolution of Portland’s thriving music scene and the vitality of Kelela‘s Cut 4 Me:

PlanetNotion: Your day job is spent working in an emergency room. What’s your role there?
Dan Vidmar: I’m kind of like a social worker; I work with the mental health patients.

PN: Have you found that your work there has fed into your music at all?
DV: Yeah, I think it probably has; in the sense that every day I’m working with, and am surrounded by, people who act very differently and have very different issues than most people. I guess in that sense, my relationships with other people, or at least how I view relationships, is very different. I’m sure that affects my music in some way but I don’t think it has a huge influence.

PN: So, it’s perhaps a little less of a life and death case than the ‘emergency room’ quote would have you believe.
DV: In some sense, there’s a little bit of that but not in the way that you’re thinking. It’s more psychological, emotional issues.

PN: With the artwork for the EP, given a cursory glance it appears to be of a girl drowning with one hand around her throat. It’s quite a morbid image when viewed in that way. What’s the story behind it?
DV: You’re pretty spot on there. It came about because somebody turned me on to this photographer, Lou Cass, and his work on Flickr or one of those sites, around the time that I was looking for artwork. I looked through hundreds of images by friends who were photographers – and some of my own too – and nothing really clicked in the way that I’d wanted to. For a cover, it’s got to be bold and it’s got to make a statement, and when I saw that image it was instantly like, ‘yes. This is it.’

I think it is what you said: it feels like there is a little bit of a struggle in the EP, in the pace of it. It’s slower. It’s not a get up and go, we’re having a good time kind of record. I felt like that imagery really hammered that in.

PN: I found it funny how when you think of bubble baths in relation to music, you typically envisage love-making music, and there’s this dichotomy between what could be referred to as love-making music in what you do as Shy Girls and something darker.
DV: I think that’s exactly what I was getting at, which is that there is this dark element to the EP. It’s not a particularly happy-go-lucky set of songs, but it does, in some ways, have this feeling that is intimate. I think that with this bathtub imagery, it’s this intimate feel; it’s being alone in a bathroom and not out at some crazy party.

PN: Portland has a reputation for being a hotbed of musical talent in the Northwestern US. Did you grow up there?
DV: No, I actually moved to Portland four years ago. I grew up in Pennsylvania, right in the middle of nowhere: a three-hour drive from Philadelphia, a three-hour drive from New York.

PN: Did you find yourself quite musically isolated as a kid?
DV: In a good way, yeah. I didn’t have a lot of external influences in terms of what I was supposed to listen to, or people shoving music down my throat. My parents didn’t listen to a lot of music so I was kind of a blank slate.

PN: What sort of records did you play when you were listening to music?
DV: I grew up with a lot of pop radio because that’s what was available when I was a kid to listen to that was appropriate. When I was really young, I wasn’t going to go out and buy CDs so that’s what I listened to. I gradually got into older folk stuff, singer-songwriters and lyricists and then a whole complicated mess from then on; everything you could imagine.

PN: With your work as Shy Girls, it feels as though you’ve emerged with a fully-formed musical aesthetic; something that it must have taken you years of working on. Before Shy Girls, were you involved in many other projects?
DV: Yeah, I’ve been a musician in some respect since I was 14 or 15. It’s not a new thing, but the stuff with Shy Girls started about two years ago. I guess to me it’s not a fully-formed thing; I feel like I’m constantly getting way better at it and it’s becoming what it is. That’s just my perspective because I’m a perfectionist.

PN: What sort of bands were you in before Shy Girls?
DV: I was working on some more experimental electronic stuff that was a little harder and I used to be in a folk rock band back in high school and college, oddly enough.

PN: When I think of Portland as a musical city, RnB isn’t necessarily something that springs to mind immediately. How have you found your live shows have gone down there so far?
DV: Since it’s our hometown, we do have our biggest fanbase here but when I first moved here, I didn’t think people would be into the music that I was making. But, the more I started doing Shy Girls, the more I was thinking, ‘well, they’re definitely not going to be into this.’ It’s been shocking to watch the reactions over the last year or so; I still don’t understand it. Portland is a very indie-rock city, but I think that’s gradually changing and we’ve carved a little niche here. We’ve got a couple of other local groups or artists and together we’re breaking down some of those boundaries.

PN: During your time as Shy Girls so far, where’s been your favourite place to play?
DV: We had a fun show at Glasslands in Brooklyn last week: that was cool. Honestly, our favourite place to play is this venue in Portland called Holocene that’s like our home turf. We’re just comfortable there. We know all our friends are going to come out and see us; it’s always just a big fun party when we play there.

PN: If you had to pick one person right now who’s doing really interesting things with RnB, who would it be?
DV: Right now, today and this week, I’m really into the Kelela mixtape, Cut 4 Me. It’s really good and I really like the way that she – and the whole Fade to Mind crew – really hopped on that project and took it to the next level with the futuristic RnB; the production is really great.

PN: Have you got much planned around the EP release? Any tours lined up?
DV: I’m working on a full-length follow-up to the EP right now. I’m really happy with the new songs. It’s one of those things where you finish something and it takes four months to come out due to manufacturing and PR, and so by that time, you’ve mentally moved on to new stuff. I’m halfway deep into an album so I’ll be busy with that, and then we’re probably going to tour in December but there’s nothing set in stone right now.

PN: It’s early days I know, but how do you see the album going stylistically in comparison to the EP?
DV: I guess the best way I can describe it is as more mature, a little darker and just a bit more dynamic as well. The EP is a set of six very cohesive songs that sets a mood whereas the album is more of a journey. That sounds cheesy…

- Alex Cull

Timeshare is available now on ASL. You can buy it here.

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