There’s something to be said for a band that’s taken control of its own fate. Philadelphia’s Sheer Mag reached cult status before they were signed becoming hometown heroes thanks to their no-frills American rock ‘n roll and DIY approach. At a recent gig in Hamden, Connecticut’s Space Ballroom, the band brought its scrappy, scuzzy tunes front and center as ’70s riffs, fuzzy textures, and raspy soul-filled vocals courtesy of Tina Halladay exploded from the sound system.
On the surface, Sheer Mag’s brand of rock is danceable and dirty while occasionally boasting the accessibility of Tom Petty’s pop-crossover hits. But there’s a rugged attitude and warrior stature lurking behind the scenes that adds to the band’s formerly-underground fire. They self-released three 7-inches between 2014 and 2016 using money earned from a Coachella spot to pay for production. Despite festival gigs, an appearance on Late Night With Seth Meyers, and a huge year blowing up clubs at SXSW, the band turned down label offers and press requests opting instead to forge forward as they had been, promoting their music through live shows that would eventually help fund future business endearvors. Although they finally dipped toes into social media after joining Instagram around the release of their debut record Need To Feel Your Love, Sheer Mag is all about hand-delivering its music and messages directly to those willing to listen. They didn’t have to cut out any middle man because they never had one.
When you’re in the crowd at a Sheer Mag show, you’ll find yourself surrounded by multiple generations and types of scenesters. From classic rockers, metal heads, and punks to younger indie kids, the band’s blend of groovy licks and bold convictions casts a wide net. The tracks are hooky enough to sing to, but infused with searing solos by lead guitarist Kyle Seely. Kyle’s brother Hart lays down the bass, while rhythm guitarist Matt Palmer writes most of the lyrics, which are then polished and re-interpreted by Halladay, who brings them to life when she growls into the mic.
While Sheer Mag doesn’t seem to give a shit about what’s happening in music or on social media, their lyrics confront politics and social injustice head-on. “Fan the Flames” is about the housing market in Philly, while “Can’t Stop Fighting” revolves around the hundreds of women murdered in Mexico’s Ciudad Juarez every year. “(Say Goodbye To) Sophie Scholl” laments a University of Munich student and activist executed by guillotine in 1943 after she was caught distributing anti-Nazi literature. In writing, it may seem overly political for a night out on the town, however, the tracks are empowering live and hardly skimp on the raging sonic storm that keeps the band and its audience afloat.
The Seely brothers naturally gel on stage providing a fortified foundation for the rest of the band to build on. The Seely’s come alive playing side-by-side, and that energy spreads stage right to the other members. There’s an inherent punk spirit riding shotgun on Sheer Mag’s set, which isn’t surprising considering the band cut its teeth playing to underground punk and hardcore scenes when they were coming up. Perhaps it was those formative experiences that led to the band’s self-released vinyl and own web store/imprint Wilsuns RC. Punks may look like they DGAF, but its a genre that often waxes poetic about society’s injustices and bullshit; being surrounded by those attitudes helped Sheer Mag build a collective identity.
The hour-long set flip-flopped from classic ’70s sounds to tracks that were dirtier and rougher around the edges. Halladay’s vocals were befitting either way and the crowd responded, dancing and banging their heads throughout. Sheer Mag doesn’t take much time out to banter with the crowd but it works with their vibe: get in, shake asses, get out. You can call it a back-to-basics approach, but that’s not a negative; it harks back to rock’s early days when social media didn’t exist and you attended shows to party and get your face melted off. It feels akin to the days when what was happening outside the club didn’t matter, but the words being belted from the stage in that moment did.
As with their records, Sheer Mag’s performance is equal parts feisty and fun; whether you feel like stickin’ it to the man or just exorcising toxic energy, everyone is fam and everything is copacetic. While art is often cyclical allowing older sounds to become new again, this isn’t a Greta Van Fleet-style money-grab copycat. Sheer Mag plays by its own rules infusing a fresh edge and new approach into its rich, timeless homage to rock ‘n roll history.
Director: Philip Steiger & James Rodenhouse Cinematographer : Ben Mullen Production Designer: Al Svoboda Executive Producer: James Rodenhouse Associate Producer: Wake Media Editor: Philip Steiger 1st AC : Jacob Perry Gaffer: Joseph Ramsey Gaffer: John Corum Grip Swing: Hayden Klemes Production Coordinator: Travis Kaupp Production Assistant: Ford Bostwick Production Assistant: Mike Kriebel Special Thanks: Wake Media Pollution Studios Settlers LA East 7th Jewels Catch One Blundertown Fotokem nancy shirley 2015 firstname.lastname@example.org https://sheermag.bandcamp.com/