Shy Girls sounds relieved. Listening to the almost gospel-tinged euphoria on his comeback single released last month, "Hallelujah," evokes the feeling of someone who's finally emerged on the other side of dark times and thoughts not only intact but better for it. Before then, we hadn't heard much from the Portland-based alternative artist, born Dan Vidmar, since his January 2017 debut album Salt. That album was quite the introduction, with big, sweeping tracks like the crown jewel "Trivial Motion." At the time of its release, Vidmar described that song to me as "coming to terms with absurd constructs"; Salt's album cover depicts flowers frozen in a block of ice. Fast forward to fall 2018, and it appears the ice finally melted. In its wake, songs like "Hallelujah" that exhibit warmth, prioritizing mood over lyrics, with a sunny, lush video to match.
His run of new material continues today with "Headfucked," a title that puts the theme of being lost in ones own head right there pretty clearly. The video takes the text even further, with Vidmar's face presented in extreme close-up for the entirety, as we track his emotions in real-time. Watch the video above, and read a chat Complex had with him below where he confirms this is building to a new project—set to drop early 2019—and teases what we can expect from it sonically and thematically.
The two songs you worked on so far seem to be way more minimal than your past work. Was that intentional conceptually?
I’ve always been kind of into minimalism in music and I think a lot of my stuff was always considered more minimal, but I think in my life and partially over the past year or two I’ve been trying to scrape away all the bullshit and maybe that bled into the music a little bit. And also I think what I’ve been listening to is so varied at this point that stylistically the thing that felt most me was to strip away all the layers and let it be all drums and bass, and that's what a lot of the album sounded like.
What have you been listening to?
Aw man, a lot of stuff. I think before I really delved into writing and producing this album I was listening to a lot of Jaco Pastorius, Joni Mitchell again, a lot of J Dilla and Madlib, things like that. Weather Report and things like that, kind of like older funk outfits. A lot of different stuff, none of which I guess particularly, similar to what my previous album sounded like.
Talk to me about crafting the visuals. "Hallelujah" has a really lush setting and this new one is striking in its own way. Both command your attention, which is more than you can say for most music videos these days.
I’m not a video director but I directed both of these, so I think partially just the idea of me coming at it from my own perspective and not letting a video director who does this professionally come in and do it is maybe why they look and feel different or odd—which is what I want at the end of the day. I want the whole thing to feel like me and be cohesive and be a little window into my imagination in some ways. The "Headfucked" video was shot on the same day as the "Hallelujah" video so there’s a literal cohesiveness as well. But for both the videos I came up with a concept in my head that felt unique, different, new and fresh, and then figured out a way to pull it off logistically by myself without involving too many other creative forces. Which was a challenge, but ultimately pretty interesting.
What are you trying to get across in the "Headfucked" video specifically?
I mean the song is fairly straightforward lyrically and in the video, I wanted to show that idea of claustrophobia in your own mind, feeling a little bit like you're going crazy.
When we last spoke before Salt, you said the theme of that album was about constructs, both breaking them down and trying to be aware of them. What are the themes going into this album?
It’s a little more carefree, funky, and like you said, minimalist. A lot of Salt was about growing up and feeling like I was losing part of my childhood, it was about nostalgia at some point and this one feels like the themes are more about a new chapter, turning over a new leaf, they’re more hopeful themes about loss and youth.
What did it take to get into that mindset?
Oh man, I could do a whole psychotherapy session. Just life. Everyone goes into stages in their life where you feel more nostalgic about things and feel more hopeful but also musically, I think I got to a point in Salt where I had a lot of things I really wanted to say that were important to me, and there was a certain amount of pressure on my debut album to fit all of the things I was previously trying to say into the album. And then after it came out, there was this release and the pressure was off. I think part of making this album was feeling like there’s no pressure at all, like even if ten people hear it, that’s great. There’s no commercial pressure on me and no creative pressure because I kind of felt like I said what I wanted to say on my debut. That stuff just came up a lot more easier and it just felt a lot more natural in some ways.
Going off the first two singles, would it be fair to say that a lot of the album is going to be driven by songs that have a lot more to do with overall feeling more so than lyrics?
There’s a whole bunch of stuff on the album that, when it comes out, you will have your own opinions about. My opinion was that the focus for me was much more on groove and instrumentation, but there were a handful of songs that, I feel like, go lyrically deeper than anything I’ve done in the past. I don’t think the first two singles necessarily do, but [lyrical] songs definitely exist on the project.