Mustard had the pleasure of speaking with Shangrila! Together we discussed the location of Shangrila, their influences, energetic live shows, and show much more!
1. Mustard is grateful to have Shangrila join them at Music Shelf. How is everyone doing?
We’re doing well! I (Grant) can only speak for myself, however, I know we’re all very excited for what we have in store for the near future. As for my bandmates, I feel confident in saying our bassist Scott seems to be doing very well and I know our drummer Ethan is looking forward to finally finishing up school next month. All in all, no complaints and we’re doing pretty well thanks for asking!
2. Shangrila is a remote beautiful location. Would you say you create your music in this location?
As much as I would love for that to be the case, the reality is our music often is created in the space we rehearse in (my basement) which is quite the opposite of a beautiful location on the surface. That said, it being the house I grew up in, this space contains a wealth of nostalgic emotion wrapped up in it and this constantly seeps into our creative process. Not only that, but our new song Popinjay, along with a bulk of our newer material, was entirely recorded there. This was a decision we made last year with the hope that the “unpolished-ness” of that room would better reflect what we are; a band that despite the imperfectionions surrounding them, is still trying to make the most enjoyable, “perfect by our standards” music that we can.
3. Mustard wonders how you came up with your band name. Did the concept of Shangrila inspire you?
I came up with the name from much simpler means, so I’d have to say that sadly, no, the concept of Shangrila wasn’t much the inspiration.
“Shangrila” itself came to me from a childhood book I read from the A to Z mysteries series. There was one titled “The Haunted Hotel” and the hotel in that novel was called Shangrila. For some reason it always stuck with me.
When I was initially looking for a band name, I was searching for something that above all had a three syllable ring to it, and preferably was only one word; that was me seeing/imitating what a good chunk of the bands that I listened to growing up did. In the months leading up to the official “formation” of the band, I was living in Texas and had pages upon pages of ideas trying to find a suitable name, with almost all being complete drivel. Although Shangrila had always stuck out to me, my friend at the time, who was potentially going to be the first other member of the band, was incessantly hesitant and vocally disapproving of the name due to its resemblance to a Mother Love Bone track featuring the word. After falling out of friendship with them and upon a bit more reflection, I started considering it more and more as our name. Following my move back to my hometown in Maryland partway through that year, I began seeing/hearing that phrase consistently in films, video games, tv etc until I didn’t have any other choice. It felt apt for the music I saw myself/us eventually making and thus was locked in.
4. Mustard has observed humans’ love origin stories. Can you recall the formation of Shangrila?
The formation of Shangrila was certainly an odd one. I went through a handful of friends who were so nearly “members,” but each one resulted in the same outcome of never panning out and ultimately falling out of friendship. I started to wonder if it was me or something I was doing. I figured the most rational idea would be to do everything on my end whilst keeping an eye out for new bandmates, so that’s what I did. All during 2018, I spent countless hours writing the tracks for what would be our debut album, Schizophonic.
The following year, I became friends with and joined a band in my local scene called Some Mess. This is where I met my friends Josh Hoffmeister (who would go on to produce, mix, and master our debut) and Zack Kaliush. Both of them, thankfully, were willing to step in as temporary members for live shows until I was able to find a more permanent solution. We managed to fit in our first live show in early 2020 just as COVID loomed around the corner.
During the pandemic’s time, Josh informed me it was his time to part ways with the band, so I was on the hunt for a new drummer. This came in the form of Ethan Leight. Zack and I had tried everything to find a new drummer from asking other bands to posting on social media and it wasn’t until Zack suggested we try Craigslist as a last resort that we were able to find someone. Lucky for us, we had one response from a 15 year old kid named Ethan who was interested in joining us. After deliberating due to his age, we offered him an audition and within the first 10 seconds we knew we found our drummer.
A few months down the road, Zack felt it was time for his tenure with Shangrila to end as well, and yet again we were on the hunt for another like-minded member. After going through a couple different bassists for live performances, (shoutout both Matt Battaglia and K Musante) we finally settled on an old coworker of mine from a music store I worked at back in 2018, Scott Nowaskey. Scott entered the band and immediately became the most talented member, which speaks volumes because Ethan is in all senses of the word, a prodigy.
I consider myself incredibly lucky to have two such talented people beside me bringing forward this music we’ve crafted and that we cherish so much.
5. Who or what influences Shangrila?
This list could be endless, truthfully, but I’ll keep it as brief as I can.
Music wise, a healthy combination of people I view in the same relative sonic landscape as our music (typically 90s alt rock) as well as a bunch of people I view as starkly contrast to that same landscape. This balance of drawing upon influences who are similar, plus artists who aren’t even remotely similar, is what lends itself to our sound.Additionally, there are so many other facets of art that greatly influence what we’re about. I, myself, am a massive film fan and spend most of my downtime watching new movies I haven’t seen before, and oftentimes I try to bring forward elements of ones that I end up head over heels with into my own art. Speaking on specifics, films like Trainspotting, Some Voices, Erin Brokavich, Thunderball, Amores Perros, and Profondo Rosso have all had an impact on one or more songs and their themes/ideas, but there are certainly many more beyond these few examples. And although I’m not the most well-versed in either of these, a handful of books and works of art have also played a part in a few of our songs as well as our art direction (which has been exponentially improved upon by our art director who we consider our fourth member, Elizabeth Sheehan).
Like I said, I could go on and on but essentially my aim is to keep an open eye and ear towards any form of art I come across and let it influence me however it sees fit with our art.
6. What is Shangrila’s creative process?
For the vast majority, I’ve acted as the sole songwriter for most of our material; we’re working on switching that with forthcoming releases, and Popinjay is a good example as a portion of the bass was written by Scott.
Typically, I begin with modeling a would be new song as a direct copy of an arrangement of whatever song I’m currently gravitating towards. I take from arrangements as I feel they’re the most flexible thing to fashion new material overtop whilst still sounding original. After this, I look towards the influences I mentioned in the previous question, the ones that sound nothing like what we do, in order to provide inspiration for the actual music. I’ll sit with an aspect of a song I like that falls into this category, then try and emulate it in a new setting for one of ours.
Once the groundwork has been laid, it’s pretty much about finding remaining parts that are appropriate for the track and seeing it through to its end.
Some songs that I know we’ve gleaned subtle inspirations from in the past and translated into our own are:
– An instrumental element of a Tina Turner song resulted in a guitar riff- A small Billie Eilish vocal delivery on one of her songs directly influenced the vocal production on one of our tracks- A Keith Urban song’s general structure was warped into a 90s grunge-esque track
– A Miles Davis drum beat we completely inverted and used in one of our grooves- A Lady Gaga melody we took and changed notes around to give a more minor feeling on a melody in one of our songs
We, or should I say I, view music, and specifically originality within music, as a sort of non-existent. Everyone “steals” from everyone at the end of the day, and by that I simply mean everyone gleans inspiration from someone else at the end of the day; some are more gifted at hiding it. This is what we live by and what we aim to do.
7. You describe your music as “aggressively dreamy music.” What makes it aggressive? Does it allow listeners a nice deep sleep?
I think this comes down to our influences. A handful of our favorite bands are ones that can lull you to sleep with a beautiful dreamy soft piece, then throttle you awake with a ripping punk or metal influenced tune; we try and do the same thing. We have a handful of songs that could be found on more shoegazey, dream pop records sandwiched between songs we turn everything up to 11 on and make sound like methodical, calculated chaos. Too often I feel that bands pigeonhole themselves into one specific sound and then make a record that’s just “that” for 30, 40, 50 minutes.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, some of my all time favorites are this way, but I find it infinitely more fascinating when a band can wade through (track by track) a myriad of influences that make it difficult to nail them down to one genre. Maybe it’s indicative of the ongoing shift in our culture to have less of an attention span, I don’t know, but I still feel it relevant nonetheless.
8. 2021 saw the release of your debut album “Schizophonic.” What was it like to put this album together?
It was both partly never-ending and partly over in the blink of an eye. Myself and our producer, the aforementioned Josh Hoffmeister, decided on a whim to do this. He was looking to get into production and needed something for his credits, and I was looking for someone to help me give a professional sounding touch to our songs; so the match was made in heaven. Josh and I got together at a very leisurely pace throughout 2019 and 2020 to have me track everything. We would do a couple days a week, whatever worked with our work schedules, record in his townhouse basement what we could until noise ordinance laws came into effect, call it a day, then rinse and repeat. Thankfully his neighbors were all extremely supportive of him and his musical pursuits, so they didn’t mind the noise throughout the day. Finally in late 2020 the album was fully recorded and we moved into the mixing phase. I recall around this time, Josh and I somewhat began clashing with opinions. We definitely differed from a mixing point of view as to what our preferences were, but no matter what, we tried to put them aside and always serve the song. We finally wrapped it up and he did all the mastering on his end. Tensions definitely got a bit heated near the end, but I think this ultimately resulted in the album sounding the way it does. Once it was finished though, he and I returned to being good friends; and I must say I’m very, very glad it ended up this way.
9. Can you provide readers a montage of Shangrila?
Truthfully, and all self-promotion aside, I think Instagram has been a great tool for this type of thing. We post new live videos quite often, yet tend to keep only a handful of them live that we feel accurately represent who we are and where our sound currently resides. Anyone’s able to get a glimpse of both released and unreleased material, and in only a short span of time, would have a good idea of what we sound like.
10. What would make Shangrila abandon ship?
Not sure if I’m honest, when we start taking water and the ship’s going down I guess? We’ll cross that bridge if and when we come to it but fingers crossed we don’t have to; I’ve had the best sea legs, anyways.
11. You have a reputation for having energetic live shows. How do you plan and prepare for your live shows?
For a while we kind of just “delivered” the music at our live shows; the music was great but it didn’t feel like a “show” if that makes sense. That changed due to a combination of two things: one being the band IDLES, and the other being one of our bassists, K Musante. K started playing bass for us in 2021, and came from a metalcore, punkier background than both Ethan and I, which definitely showed at our first couple of performances. K was visually much more active onstage and it eventually forced me to match that energy. K’s presence in our band collided with me seeing IDLES at a show back in 2021. Their performance was one of the most captivating shows I’ve seen and one of the most lively audiences I’ve ever been a part of. Following this, I had a revelation and realized that if you’re meant to practice how you’re going to play, why wouldn’t that apply to physicality and stage presence as well. It felt a little asinine in the beginning, however that feeling slowly went away and our live shows’ energy significantly benefited from then on.
12. Do you have any upcoming shows?
We do! We have two coming up in May, one on the 14th (Mother’s Day so bring your moms) at Zissimos in Baltimore, and one on the 28th at The Camel in Richmond. After that we’re taking some time off to put the final touches on our next releases. Then we’ll be back for shows in August, one on the 26th at Ortlieb’s in Philadelphia, and we mayyy have one the night before on the 25th in Baltimore, but that has yet to be solidified.
13. What is next for Shangrila?
Apart from those shows, we’re gearing up for our sophomore album release. It’ll be the first thing to feature Scott and Ethan and we’re super proud of what we got to share. It began as a poor man’s Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness; our version of an extended double/triple album. After writing 30 songs for it though, we realized this may come across as a bit pretentious from a small DIY band so we decided that instead we’d drop album # 2 across 5 different EPs. This way we can also keep up a pretty steady stream of new tunes for people who dig us, as new releases are long overdue and our fans have been waiting on it for about 2 years now.
14. Where can readers listen to your music?
We’re on all major streaming platforms, and I think we just might have one or two more Schizophonic vinyl available for anyone who would be interested in getting their hands on a physical copy.
The most direct way to support us, apart from coming to our shows, (like many other small DIY bands) is through Bandcamp. If anyone’s interested in hearing some future tunes of ours, they can always check out our Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube, where we often post clips (and sometimes full length version) of unreleased songs.