Photo courtesy of Matthew Parri Thomas
It’s easy to identify 20-year-old Vegas native Shamir Bailey’s voice. His distinctive countertenor crosses gender lines and floats above his spare electro-disco songs — equally at home in a pair of headphones or a dance club.
On his debut album “Ratchet,” his voice reached to the top of the Stratosphere casino on the ballad “Darker.” Then, on the low-key dance track “Hot Mess,” he pitched it down several octaves to declare, “This is the time.”
Unfortunately, when it was time for A&E to speak with Shamir, he lost his voice. But instead of calling it off, Shamir offered to answer our questions via email.
Coming of age
Shamir grew up in the desert outside of the glitz and glamour of the Vegas strip. His childhood home was across from a swine farm, where pigs were raised on the scraps from the city’s casinos, then slaughtered and eaten in those very same establishments.
“You can come to the city of sin and get away without bail,” he sings on opening track, “Vegas.” “But if you’re living in the city, oh you already in hell.”
It was here Shamir got his start writing and performing country songs — a far cry from the synth-driven music of “Ratchet.” Despite the change of instrumentation, most of
Shamir’s songs still start as country songs. “Even the ones on this record,” he said.
Shamir will even cover a country song from time to time. Last year, he covered Miranda Lambert’s “The House That Built Me” for Rookie Magazine and Brandy Clark’s
“Stripes” for Complex. Shamir even included a haunting cover of country singer-songwriter Lindi Ortega’s “Lived and Died Alone” on his 2014 EP “Northtown,” which was otherwise populated by the DIY house that would become his calling card.
Northtown to New York
Anybody who’s picked up an acoustic guitar has dreamt of a rise to fame like Shamir’s.
Shamir recorded the demos for “Northtown” in his bedroom, sent them to GodMode label head Nick Sylvester, and Sylvester flew him out to New York City to record just as Shamir was preparing to move from Nevada to Arkansas.
In New York, Sylvester helped him flesh out the songs of “Northtown” and introduced him to the old disco records — and the city — that influenced the sound of “Ratchet.”
In the span of two years, Shamir went from recording in his bedroom to televised performances and music festivals.
“It’s been pretty insane,” Shamir said. “My family is very proud but also sad I’m never around.”
A&E asked Shamir to picture himself back in Las Vegas 20 or 30 years in the future. He’s made millions of dollars, has released multiple platinum selling albums and is on his second greatest hits compilation.
“At what Las Vegas casino do you have your artist residency?” A&E asked.
“Casinos never last that long anyway, but I love the Cosmopolitan,” Shamir said. “If it stands the test of time, I’d love to perform there every day.”