I’ve been listening to a bootleg of Shellshag’s new album for a few months now.When I interviewed the band at a three-story apartment in Bushwick, I left my tape recorder on a table with the unmixed tracks playing in the background while I toured the apartment. I ended up on the bathroom floor; the two of them were sitting in their bathtub and smoking out the window.We were drinking High Life and they were finishing each other’s sentences.We made our way back into their music room and realized I had the entire album bootlegged.They were nervous so they made me promise to lock it away in a vault until its official release.These last few months I’ve guarded it with my life, listening to the shitty recording over and over like I owned the holy grail of bootlegs, the best kept secret since The Vaselines. On Feb. 9, the rest of the world will hear Rumors in Disguise and I can finally scream to the goddamn heavens about how great it is.
Shellshag is Johnny Shell and Jen Shag. He sings and plays guitar and she sings and plays drums. For years they lived in San Francisco and ran Starcleaners, a record label and public arts space.They were in bands together (Kung Fu USA) and apart (Shell in 50 Million), but all that matters now is that they are Shellshag. Live, a wild beast. On record, sweet and fuzzy.
“We’ve been friends for 10 years and this band has only been the last five years,” says Shag, who offers me popcorn as Shell scans his record wall for something suitable to listen to. “Before that, we’ve done tons of stuff and we’re always just trying to have fun in different ways.”
Shell chooses Pavement’s Wowee Zowee and we talk about the sculptures they make to end all their shows.They stack their drums and amps and mic stand while Shell either stomps on his guitar or adds it to the sculpture. Shag plays three drums standing up while dancing so the windchimes and metal chains clank around to substitute for cymbals.The two face each other the whole show.
“She gets to see me do all the rock star stuff,” says Shell as he plays air guitar and makes a tough guy face. “It’s for her, you know. No one gets to see that fuckin’ shit except her.”
Rumors in Disguise is a 15-song, 32-minute punk pop classic for the new decade. Every song is catchy, but unlike Weezer or Matt & Kim, groups the band is foolishly compared to, Shellshag is anti-clever and anti-cute.
Songs like “Get Right” with its verse of “Blah blah blah blah blah/ is all I hear,” or the paranoia turned acceptance of “Wake Up” are real. It’s catchy enough for top 40 or fucking MTV, but if they ever played it on television, heads might explode.
The first time my head exploded Shellshag-style was in person—the best way. The band opened, or really co-headlined, with the Screaming Females at Mercury Lounge. I tell the two that I’ve never been so blown away by an opening band so much I lost interest in the band I was there to see. I equate Shellshag to The Who from the Rolling Stone’s Rock n’ Roll Circus when Jagger refused to air “A Quick One While He’s Away” because it made The Stones look bad.
“That’s right! That’s right!” says Shag. “We are so big on The Who, man,” says Shell.
“That’s our favorite thing in the world,” agrees Shag.
We all think it’s the best, so Shag turns his iMac around and we watch it. It was then I realized the only logical comparison to Shellshag. Forget the comparisons to any of those chick-and-dude duos.That’s lazy. Let’s try the 2010 equivalent to The Who in ’67. Shell has Entwistle’s sweetness and Townshend’s roar. Shag has Moon’s craze and Daltrey’s, uh, eyes. Shellshag creates a spectacle with the chops to back it up. In a better world, Shellshag would be the ones playing the Super Bowl’s Halftime Show and 100 million people’s heads would explode across the country simultaneously.
Feb. 6, Bowery Ballroom, 6 Delancey St. (betw. Bowery & Chrystie St.), 212-533-2111; 7, $15.