When Shamir Bailey’s first shining moment came, he had just started working at the Fashion Show mall, and didn’t realize how big a deal it was having his song posted on Pitchfork.
Pretty big deal, turns out.
“I had quit my old job and got a new one; it was at Topshop on the Strip,” recalls the singer, known otherwise as Shamir, a North Las Vegas native who’s set to appear at the opening of T-Mobile Arena on Wednesday. “And as soon as I got that job — like, literally, as soon as I got that job — that’s when that whole Pitchfork thing happened. I was at home waiting for a call back from the job, in my underwear, and everybody started tagging me with a link to that Pitchfork article.”
After having a minor panic attack, as he puts it, and not really understanding what the exposure meant, he headed off to work as if it were any other day.
“My now manager and Nick call me, and they’re like, ‘Bro, you have multiple labels hitting you up,’” Shamir remembers. “You have to go to South By (Southwest music festival) and meet with them. I was like, ‘I just started a job.’ Literally, that was my argument. They were like, ‘Shamir, you don’t understand what’s going on,’ and I was just like, ‘I guess I don’t. I just started this job that I really like, and I don’t want to have to ask for days off already.’ But I still went, and that’s where I met my label.”
Picking up press from Pitchfork was pivotal for the young singer-songwriter, born Shamir Bailey, as it led to him being profiled in The New York Times and praised by a plethora of other publications. Shamir has become the pride of his hometown, which is how he earned a slot on the T-Mobile bill, which also features Wayne Newton, a legendary Las Vegas performer, and fellow hometown heroes the Killers.
With his link to Las Vegas, it’s hard to believe Shamir has played his hometown only one other time, at Life Is Beautiful last fall.
Shamir was highly sought after before he could play shows locally. Like the Killers, he was embraced elsewhere before he became famous back at home.
Shamir sent a homemade demo to a record label in New York, only because it had released music from Yvette, a noise band he loved.
“I had no idea who was running the label,” says Shamir of Godmode, the Brooklyn-based imprint founded by journalist Nick Sylvester. “I had no idea that he used to write for Pitchfork. You know, I was just 18.”
After spinning Shamir’s songs, Sylvester responded almost immediately with an invitation to come to New York to record. That surprised Shamir, whose expectations had been low when he sent the tape.
“I recorded that demo in my bedroom to give to my family and friends,” he says.
When you hear Shamir’s playful, prodigious pop, made irresistible by his distinctive high-pitched vocals, it’s easy to see how Sylvester was hooked.
After Godmode issued Shamir “Northtown” EP in 2014, the prestigious XL imprint signed on to release “Ratchet,” his 2015 debut, which earned even more acclaim. Shamir, who lives in Philadelphia now, says he’s finally adjusted to the attention. He’s a long way from his Topshop days.
“They were such a good company,” Shamir said. “They were so good about getting time off for me. You know, I would tell them where I was going. I’d be like, ‘I kind of do music, and I have to go out and record. I’m working on EP, and I’m also playing a few shows,’ and they’re like, ‘OK, cool.’
“Once I went to London to do my photo shoot for Interview magazine, which is obviously, like a magazine that would be on the coffee table in the break room at a fashion store,” he continues. “They opened it up, and I’m on there, and everybody’s looking at me like, ‘Shamir, what the hell?’ After I got off work, they kept taking a picture of it and tagging me.”
Read more from Dave Herrera at reviewjournal.com/music. Contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @rjmusicdh on Twitter.