DC-Natives, Chelsea Lee and Max and Spencer Ernst comprise the band known as SHAED. Max and Spencer are multi-instrumentalist producers who fuse their buoyant sound with Chelsea’s raw, stunning vocals. SHAED has quickly ascended from DC’s ample music scene to the national spotlight with their vibrant synth-pop music. The trio hits the road next week as special guests of X Ambassadors, starting with a show in Salt Lake City on May 4th. Last month, we sat down to chat with the band before their performance at the 9:30 Club to discuss their evolution as a band, their thoughts on DC's music scene, and more. Check out the conversation below and make sure to catch them when they make their way through your city. For a list of tour dates click here.
Capitol Sound DC: You started out as separate artists, came together as the Walking Sticks, and then formed SHAED. You see this with new and even established bands, where they’re trying to figure out their style. At what point did you decide to pivot from the Walking Sticks to SHAED? When did you decide the style didn’t fit and that it was time to go in a new direction?
Spencer: Walking Sticks was really Max and I’s thing. When we met Chelsea, she was kind of singing with us, and then when we got this really awesome Casio keyboard from the 80’s and all three of us wrote a song on that. It felt so different than everything else we were doing. That kind of got the wheels turning and made us realize this really isn’t the same project. That’s why we changed the name to SHAED.
Max: We didn’t keep any of the songs from Walking Sticks. It was a brand new, fresh start for us.
CSDC: Was it hard to move on from what you’d known and to justify that it was the right direction?
Chelsea: Definitely hard because we built up support in DC and it was scary to start fresh, but it ended up being really great change for us.
CSDC: You mentioned DC, which is lighting up music scene, especially with the introduction of the Wharf. How has DC been a part of your growth?
Max: The people here have always been supportive of live music in general, but I guess it’s just starting to show. It’s exciting that there’s new venues popping up all over the city. It’s very diverse and there’s an exciting house show scene happening in DC. Our friend James runs this management company/label/house show venue called OTHERFEELS that has some really cool shows and brings together a lot of artists. There’s definitely a strong artist community here.
Chelsea: It’s very supportive. All the artists support other artists here and people are really into music so it’s awesome.
Max: There’s a bunch of different sounds- soulful R&B to ambient rock stuff all on the same bills. It’s interesting.
CSDC: What could D.C. do better to support these artists? It seems like some of them go to New York or Nashville or Los Angeles. What do you think is preventing them from getting to that next level here?
Max: What’s happening now with these new venues like Union Stage and the Anthem, just continuing to build up the scene with venues and house shows. I feel like the bigger it gets the more people will want to stay here. We’re staying here because we love it here. There’s plenty of opportunity to work with other artists here in D.C. and there’s less need to go to other places.
Chelsea: I don’t know what we’d change. Maybe local radio could be a little bit stronger in terms of pushing local acts. Other than that, it’s been really great. We love being here. We live right outside the city. We have our own house and can do our own thing, then come in and play shows 15 minutes away.
CSDC: You all live together?
SHAED: *Collective smiles* Yes.
CSDC: Music is an emotional release; do you ever feel like [living together] is blocking that release in cases where you maybe haven’t communicated that you’re upset with one another?
Chelsea: If I’m mad, everyone probably knows. We’ve known each other for so long and we are so comfortable with each other. We spend 100% of our time together now, but even for at least five years we’ve spent like 99% of our time together. We just know each other so well that I can be like, “Okay, let’s go write a song about this time.”
Spencer: We still have our space in the house. If Chelsea wanted to go write some lyrics she could go lock herself up in her bedroom or something. I think, honestly, for us, the most important thing is having a healthy, creative space. You can channel more emotion into a song that way then if you’re pissed off or something like that. We’ve written better songs when we’re just healthy and focused.
Chelsea: We try not to get too mad at each other. *Laughs*
CSDC: In terms of an album - you guys are working on it?
Chelsea: Yeah, we moved into this house in September and we’ve been writing ever since. We’re definitely releasing new music soon. New music is recorded. We’re just trying to figure out the best way to release it.
Spencer: We can tell you exclusively that we’ll be releasing a new song before the X Ambassadors tour. That’ll be in the next month or so.
Max: We’ve been writing for a long time. We’re also very far into the production of these new songs. We’ve got at least five or six songs that we know we’re going to release it’s just a matter of doing it in the right way.
CSDC: Is there a narrative or are you just trying to release new stuff and see how people react to it?
Chelsea: It’s really the evolution of us being in this new spot and being all together. I think that we just have these really strong songs and not necessarily a narrative, but figuring out what fits with what, whether we do an EP or singles, figuring out how to release it so it makes sense.
Max: We’re leaning towards EP pretty heavily though. Then maybe doing another EP very shortly after. I don’t know. The album format is so crucial and it would be amazing to have one, but for where we are it makes more sense to consistently release more music. We don’t want to force an album.
Spencer: The tracks that we’re putting together, we’ll put those out first since they have a collective feel and vibe that really work well together. That’s something we definitely consider when putting these tracks together.
CSDC: You wrote “Thunder” which was inspired by a political movement. If you had to curate an album for a movement what would it be? You can make up the movement or pick one that you’re really passionate about.
Max: We don’t have to make one up. There’s so many strong ones out there, for example, “Me Too” and “March for Our Lives” that was started by the kids in Florida. Not that the sentiment didn’t exist before, but it has been taken to this next level. Either one of those we could definitely back with an EP. We are super passionate about those and we were going to march at the rally in DC, but unfortunately, we won’t be here.
CSDC: Yeah, it’s pretty incredible. On a lighter note, you all do a lot of covers, if you could do a Disney cover, what would it be?
Spencer: That’s Chelsea’s wheelhouse.
Chelsea: I used to…I still listen to the Little Mermaid. It was my top watched movie as a kid, so something from that could be cool. That’s a really good idea.
Spencer: We have a record player at home and Chelsea recently came home with Pinocchio and Cinderella on vinyl.
Chelsea: I found it at an estate sale. I was like, “This is so great!” It’s like a story with some of the songs sprinkled in. It’s pretty wacky.
Spencer: It’s pretty cool. We flipped through it. It has pictures in the record.
Max: Yeah, we like all sat down and Chelsea is like reading us stories.
Keep up with SHAED at the links below.
All photos by Raelena Kniff for Capitol Sound DC.