Portland Band Shy Girls Opens Up with a New Mixtape
Anyone else, in mining the sugar-sweet sounds of Kenny G, Luther Vandross, and the Backstreet Boys, might give music fans a toothache.
How exactly, then, has local band Shy Girls—and its mastermind, Dan Vidmar—managed to elevate easy listening to unabashed art?
Just a few short years ago, Shy Girls was swept out of North Portland obscurity when a few random bedroom recordings hit big online. Now, Vidmar, 27, rocks the summer festival circuit, sells tracks to major retailers, and generally enjoys widespread critical acclaim (scroll down for song "Under Attack" on Into the Woods TV).
On Friday, May 29, Shy Girls returns for a show at the Wonder Ballroom on the heels of recently released mixtape 4WZ. We caught up with Vidmar on one of his increasingly rare days at home.
Portland Monthly: At first you struggled to break into the music scene in Portland. Looking back on it now, why do you think that was?
Dan Vidmar: I think not being good at networking or making friends in a new city, that was probably part of it. I went to a lot of shows—I was going to Valentine’s and Holocene a lot, seeing local bands like Grouper, Yacht, and Y La Bamba—but I didn’t really feel like what I was doing was fitting in to that scene. The type of music I started making then was in some ways a deliberate rebelling against what was going on around here. Once the right people started to hear what I was doing, things progressed very quickly because, in retrospect, the city needed or wanted something a little bit less twee and flannel-y... something with a little more groove and funk.
PM: Why were you ultimately drawn to R&B and electronic pop?
Vidmar: First and foremost it is using the voice as an instrument. My music is built around that, and that is what a lot of that music is built around—that, and a strong sense of melody.
PM: You moved to town intending to make a totally different kind of music than what you ended up making with Shy Girls, right?
Vidmar: When I moved here I was doing a lot of experimental recording of live instruments, and I was definitely influenced by the freak folk movement. But out of necessity— I didn’t have a large studio space in which to do that type of music—I started working on the computer more, producing and just getting more and more familiar with electronic music and pop.
PM: So many people describe your music as “minimalist.” Do you think of your music that way?
Vidmar: Definitely. I’m not offended by that term but, like every label, it is kind of a reductionist thing to say. I tend to appreciate things more when they are not overproduced or overdone. Of course, there are times when I go all out and have a maximalist minute in my music, but I try to live as minimalist as possible.
PM: Do you ever have nostalgia for those old bedroom days?
Vidmar: I don't have to, I still have that. Making music on a computer means that that bedroom scene doesn’t really change; I still start most of my songs in my bedroom. They may end up in a studio at some point, but everything starts here. I even do my vocals in my room here.
PM: I've always wondered—why the name Shy Girls?
Vidmar: I like to think that my music has a more feminine quality than a lot of the harder hip hop, R&B, pop, or rock music. To me the phrase has that feminine quality and that minimalism that some people would consider a shyness or coyness.
PM: Is a new Shy Girls album on the horizon yet?
Vidmar: Yeah. I'm in the studio—which is five feet from me now, in my bedroom—working on new stuff all the time, I'm working pretty hard this summer, and there will definitely be new music before the end of the year.
PM: In the meantime, we have 4WZ. Why do you call it mixtape instead of an album?
Vidmar: I'm calling it a mixtape because it felt like it was something that I needed to put out for myself; I don't consider it presentable as an album. In some ways it's more like a diary or journal of my last year.
Shy Girls, May 29 at 9 pm, Wonder Ballroom