photo credit: Omar Kasrawi

The Next Big Thing You’ll Want To Share With Everyone You Know

You know that feeling when you listen to a new song on repeat because it’s just so good, and you’re starting to learn the chorus with each new listen, which only makes the next listen even better because you’re now singing along and everything just seems so satisfying? Or have you ever been on a road trip, or hanging at home, with a best friend and one of the reasons you know you’re best friends is because you’re both so satisfied by listening to the same song on a loop? This is exactly what happened at a Shirley House show. Shirley was playing on the Lower East Side at Mercury Lounge to a packed venue. When their set ended the crowd started yelling for an encore. I should note — with each new show SH plays, the venues seem to get bigger, their sets get longer, and the crowd gets denser. This was the first time SH was faced with a screaming crowd yelling for an encore. Sam, the lead performer, bashfully looked behind him to Gillian, his Timbaland-esque DJ, who was looking back at him with a surprised, yet grateful, expression on her face. Sam glanced over to the dancers and backup singers, who were also smiling, and then said with a humbled grin:

‘Well we don’t have anything else rehearsed so let’s take it back to the top and do the opener!’

The crowd — not sure at first if they were going to get another song — erupted with overwhelming joy. I was a part of the crowd that night, and it felt like we were being indulgently carefree, like when someone listens to the same song on repeat. It was completely prompted by the audience’s demand to not allow the show to end. The entire room felt like we were all best friends unanimously agreeing that getting one more song would be so utterly satisfying.

photo credit: Omar Kasrawi

Let’s back up a bit. Who is Shirley House? SH has grown into an ensemble of many, complete with African-vogue dancers, gospel singers, a full band, Sam Brady— the lead performer, and Gillian Sandman — the beat-maker/DJ. What is Shirley House? First it’s the rhythm: a tessellated electronica heartbeat. Then it’s the voice: a honey-colored, R&B-inflected baritone. Lastly, it’s the performance: all ratchet ballet and Afrik vogue, twerking and pirouettes. This blend of voice, smart and original lyrics, dance, live and electronic music makes Shirley House in no way traditional.

The first time I realized the raw talent and artistry of SH was a few years ago in Sam’s backyard on a summer afternoon. I tagged along with two friends who were co-directing Shirley House’s first music video. We went to Sam’s apartment where they were filming a fundraising video for the music video shoot. The most important job I had that day was to go out and get a couple of 6-packs, so basically I was just a spectator. Several hours went by, the sun was starting to set, and the directors had run through a long list of interview questions with the duo. Then at one point Gillian started beat-boxing off the cuff, and Sam began to accompany the beat with this soulful improvisational vocal. I stood up from my seated position in my lawn chair and looked at the directors to make sure they were filming. Gillian and Sam went on this riff for probably a good minute, and with each passing second my mind was getting closer and closer to self-destructing because I couldn’t tell if this was a rehearsed moment or if it was completely organic and just spilling out of these two people. I thought, either way, what I’m witnessing is something unbelievably special. Needless to say that moment ended up being the fundraising video. Just like my 10th grade English teacher always said, ‘Show people, don’t tell them.’ Shirley House definitely showed me that day.

I don’t rave about musical bands you should go see. I’m not one to put my taste onto yours. There’s so much talent out there AND subjective opinion — who am I to tell you what you’d like. However. When it comes to Shirley House I gush about them like a teenager bursting over a new crush. I’ve never been so self-assured that when I say,

“You need to go to their show. You won’t regret it. You will be moved!”

that all those things will be undeniably true. I don’t invite someone to their show so I have a buddy to hang with — I invite them to their show because I want that person to have the therapeutic experience that is Shirley House.

At their most recent show I was standing in the front row and had another revelatory moment looking up on stage towards the variance of genders, ethnicities, and skills of all these artists that make up Shirley House. At one point Ryan Gray, one of the backup singers who had stepped forward to do a solo, cracked a smile that turned into a small laugh, and still even through that grin these heartfelt, perfectly controlled notes came pouring out of his mouth. It was one of many subtle moments that encapsulated what Shirley is offering — a departure from the real world and an open-arms invitation into their family. A family where everyone is tapping into a deeper part of themselves, an authentic part that sees no hierarchies or differences, but celebrates what is uniting us. The part that celebrates truth, expression, love and positive energy via their synthed beats and perfect harmony.

photo credit: Omar Kasrawi

Shirley is an extremely special breed; as in their music and their shows transcend genre and demographic. Trust me — after seeing one of their shows try explaining what you just saw. You’ll need a minute to find the words, amidst the mind/body euphoria you’re still coming down from. Their collective talent feels like it exceeds the venues where they’re performing. In New York City there’s art everywhere, there’s music everywhere, you rub shoulders every day with an artist creating. But these creatives who make up Shirley House are people that live music. That live dance. That don’t escape rhythm when they walk off stage, but live it everywhere they go, and share it like a gift with anyone who comes in contact with them. It’s intrinsic. It’s full-bodied. It’s not everyday these are the artists you’re watching or listening to.

Come out and experience this euphoria for yourself. You’ll either walk away just genuinely appreciating the array of talent you just witnessed OR you’ll frantically need to find out when the next show is so you can bring everyone you know within the tri-state area — either way, it’s a win. You most definitely won’t be disappointed, I promise.

10/6 & 10/13 10pm // NO COVER
@ McKittrick Hotel (532 W. 27th st.)