Any musician you talk to that is familiar with Shellshag regularly uses one word to describe these DIY stalwarts: Inspiring. Over the years, the duo has grown into Brooklyn’s answer to Dead Moon, transcending the simple label of “a band” and becoming an institution in their own right. They are true out-and-out lifers, in it for the long haul, and a reminder that perseverance is key in any artistic endeavor.
While many of their fans were too young to have even heard about “punk” in the mid-‘90s, Jen Shagawat was already running the infamous Starcleaner Warehouse in San Francisco, an integral part of the city’s independent music scene, and playing in a number of Bay Area bands. In the meantime, John “Shellhead” Driver was touring throughout the country with his band 50 Million and penning songs for his stripped down acoustic project, some of which would later be re-worked as Shellshag staples and crowd favorites.
After meeting in the Mission in the late ‘90s, romance ensued, as did their music together, and the two have never parted. With each LP and every tour that has taken them across the US and back again, Shellshag have proven that they cannot only survive in a changing music industry, ethics intact, but can thrive as underground musicians without compromise.
Why’d I Have to Get So High? is Shellshag’s fifth LP, and the culmination of 20 plus years of resilient effort and artistic growth. Recorded by Jerri Queen (Vacation) and John Petty (Vacation, Sleeves) at The Lodge (Kentucky), the sixteen tracks represent the band at the peak of their career, reinforcing their stripped down sound with additional instrumentation and the occasional lush arrangement, and guest appearances from members of Vacation, Tweens, Pretty Pretty, Swim Team, and Black Planet, and from long-time collaborator Marissa Paternoster of Screaming Females.
The LP is chock full of the brazen jangly distorted pop that typifies the Shellshag sound, with songs like “Pretty Eyes,” “Rattletrap,” and “Baby Come Back.” “Captivator,” “Tiger Stripes,” and “Sun, Moon, and Stars” turn the aggression up to 11, harkening back to some of the band’s earliest punk-inspired rippers. The piano lines and echo chamber guitars of “RIP” and the fuzzed out closer “Down the River” take the record in some haunting new territory, while no one could deny that the honesty of the harmony-laden “Blowin It,” the ‘90s alt-rock vibe of “Hold You In My Arms,” the emotional “5 1 and Change,” and the melancholy-turns-glam “’90s Problem” showcase some of Shellshag’s best material to date. These are songs of turmoil and love, hate and longevity, regret and hope, from two people who know the subject matter intimately.
Seeing Shellshag live is an experience unto itself—two people giving it their all, free of pretense, whipping up a sweaty frenzy of fans singing along to every word. They will be on tour throughout October and November, hitting almost every major, and some not-so-major, US cities in support of the new LP, which will be released October 6th on Don Giovanni Records and, Shellshag’s own, Starcleaner Records.Tracklist: