We spoke with Max Shrager of The Shacks about their new EP on Big Crown Records.
Who makes up The Shacks? Where are you guys from? Is the EP your first release?
The Shacks are Shannon Wise and myself. Our friend Ben Borchers is closely involved in our creative process. Leon Michels is also part of the inner circle. All four of us write the music, either individually or in various combinations.
The Shacks EP is released on Big Crown Records. How was it working with the folks over there? Who produced the record? How did the recording process go?
The EP was co-produced by Leon Michels and myself. When Shannon and I were in high school, we started working with Leon on some tracks he had already recorded. "Strange Boy" and "No Surprise" are two of those tracks. Then, as it became clear that there was something special going on, we started working on new material from scratch. We would write songs and bring them into Leon's studio, The Diamond Mine. We recorded some of those early songs, like "Tidal Waves" and "Audrey Hepburn," with musicians from the Daptone/Truth and Soul crew. Homer Steinweiss, Nick Movshon, Tom Brenneck and Leon.
After a while, we began recording tracks outside of The Diamond Mine, and then bringing them into the studio, where Leon and I would add the final touches. For instance, "Left It With The Moon" was recorded on cassette at my parents' house in Princeton, NJ.
Now, I have my own home studio in my apartment in Brooklyn, where we've recorded tracks including "Rain" and "Hands In Your Pockets." I've always been really into home recording.
Is The Shacks the only band for you both? Do you play in any other groups?
I've played guitar and written songs with several other artists in the scene, like Charles Bradley, Lee Fields, Lady Wray, and Naomi Shelton and The Gospel Queens.
Though Naomi Shelton no longer performs, Ben and I play with The Gospel Queens every Friday at The Fat Cat in the West Village. Working with the band leaders Cliff Driver (who recently passed away) and his successor Jimmy Hill has been an amazing musical education for us. They are like time machines. Jimmy plays organ on a few cuts that'll be on the full length.
I also have a solo EP out on Big Crown called Thoughts Of You, which is essentially a collection of my work before The Shacks, as well as some tunes where I'm singing lead and Shannon is singing background vocals.
Are you touring the new EP?
Yes, we have an East Coast tour in late February with Khruangbin, and we are doing a southwest run that'll lead into SXSW with Chicano Batman, whose forthcoming record Leon produced.
Are you writing or recording any new material? If so, when can we expect to hear some new tunes?
We are always working on new material. Our first LP is all wrapped up and ready to be released, probably this summer. 14 brand new tracks. And we have some exciting new tracks in the works right now.
Recently, I've been really into Paul Simon's self-titled solo record, and Leonard Cohen's debut, so I think those influences are seeping into the music. And I've always loved country music, so that influence is always there. George Jones' records from the 50's are just unbelievable.
I'm interested in steering The Shacks' sound in a darker and heavier direction moving forward. I think that going on tour is going to push us in that direction, because we like to rock out.
At the moment, I'm really excited to start recording some new songs that Shannon wrote. She's the most natural musician and songwriter I've ever met, and her new songs kind of remind me of Joni Mitchell, but way spookier.