Philadelphia rockers use political unrest to fuel fiery new album
When “Meet Me in the Street” kick-starts Sheer Mag's debut full-length, Need to Feel Your Love, the guitar riff sends mixed messages. The palm-muted power chords give the song a punk-rock feel, yet the guitar tone is something off of Boston's Greatest Hits.
But once Tina Halladay enters the fray, singing like a Drano-gurgling Joan Jett and painting an invigorating, chaotic image of roadways clogged with broken glass, bricks and smoke, it's clear Sheer Mag is the furthest thing from corporate rock.
“Meet Me in the Street” is both a rallying cry and a specific recollection of when Halladay's bandmates traveled from their hometown of Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. on Inauguration Day in January. Rather than comment on the new president's yuge crowds, however, Sheer Mag zooms in on the protesters spilling onto the pavement of our nation's capital.
That sense of political outrage is similarly palpable on “Expect the Bayonet,” which describes the band's election-night dread (“When the name came down/I covered my ears, afraid of the sound”) and its commitment to forceful resistance. “If you don't give us the ballot, expect the bayonet,” Halladay sings, unafraid to incorporate anarchic imagery as a means to communicate urgency.
“All these songs were written around January. Everyone was feeling really hopeless and angry,” Halladay said recently by phone. She went on to decry a lack of “human decency” and “being greed-driven instead of caring about other human beings around you.”
And, yet, Need to Feel Your Love is not a one-note record. The title track, for instance, is a straightforward love song. “Baby, I need to feel your love/Baby, I need to be a part of your everything,” Halladay soulfully sings.
“We're not all just political beings and nothing else,” Halladay said. “That's important to realize.”
Sheer Mag is similarly not beholden to any one genre. Since its buzz-building series of three EPs, the band has comfortably mixed lo-fi recording techniques with power-pop melodies (courtesy of hooks-aplenty guitarists Kyle Seely and Matt Palmer) and a punk-rock ethos that informs the band's career decisions. Sheer Mag eschews record labels (all its releases can be found on Bandcamp), and, early on, the band's commitment to stay off social media and to decline interviews shrouded it in mystery.
“We didn't initially do a million interviews when everyone wanted us to,” Halladay said, noting a desire for fans to form their own opinions and make their own stories. “We waited [to grant interviews] until we knew what we were and what we wanted to be about.”
As far as social media, Sheer Mag now has an Instagram account, though it's mostly used to post photos of flyers for upcoming shows. “Maybe it's because other bands have labels and people doing other work for them that they can do a bunch of social media bullshit. But we have other things we need to do. We're all pretty busy,” Halladay said. “And when I'm about to play a show, the last thing I wanna do is update all my social media.”