A screaming-in-your-face-in-a-dark-basement approach to sentimental collage pop
Shane Lavers wants to get up close. He likes small, dark venues; events that feel more like parties than concerts. “Ideally, we’re not onstage, we’re level with people,” the Chanel Beads frontman says. “The intimacy becomes like a release.” That release comes as his voice rises, singing louder and louder as he prowls the floor right in front of your face. “I’m addicted to screaming at people now,” he says with a laugh.
That unsettling but stirring vibe, equally intimate and aggressive, may surprise fans who discovered Chanel Beads on Soundcloud. On record, Lavers sings sweetly. His breakthrough single ‘Ef’ sounds more like Animal Collective or Oneohtrix Point Never’s gentler work than HEALTH or hardcore. The music has grit, which comes from Lavers’ penchant for sampling lo-fi audio rips and taking unfiltered street recordings. With Maya McGrory and Zachary Paul, he makes eclectic songs that blend pop and sound collage; they sound like the soundtrack to a montage of every dream you’ve ever had. Their debut record arrives this spring via Jagjaguwar.
It took a long time for Chanel Beads to arrive at this song and style. Lavers grew up in the suburbs of Minnesota, where his parents mostly played Karen Carpenter and pop country. He likes both, and recommends Brad Paisley’s ‘Ticks’ if you’re uninitiated to big budget country songs. His older brother listened to a surprising combo of crunk southern rap and Slipknot. So like many suburban millennials, his musical taste evolved out of the strange musical grab bags you used to find on torrent sites. Without the internet he never would have found crate-digger grails of strange New Age ambient – or Pet Sounds.
After graduating college, Lavers harbored loose ambitions of becoming a musician, so he followed a friend to Seattle, where he played a few basement shows in the local DIY scene in 2017. At the time, he was doing “a gimmicky sound collage thing, which is my favorite music.” But for those first few years, he felt adrift.
His one anchor was a job at the Washington Talking Book and Braille Library. “There’s this program in the US where every state has to have this kind of audio book or Braille programme for anyone who registers as having a sight disability,” said Lavers. (Fun fact: This is due to the 1931 Pratt-Smoot Act in the United States. There is no corresponding programme in the UK.) “You can qualify for this program, and we’ll mail you either Braille or this proprietary audio book format that mimics a cassette but it’s a USB. So for two years I was in this warehouse, pretty much alone, in this big garage in downtown Seattle, and I would go through stacks of these identical… like eight-tracks, and you’d open it up and it would have this little USB thing and it would just have a serial number and say The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown.” The days were long. He’d print out 1000 orders, put his headphones in, and fill requests while listening to music for 8 hours. He loved it though, and considered getting a masters degree in library science.
Then, one night, he had a lightning-like epiphany at a late night jam session. “I joke about this with some people, where I feel like I was asleep my whole life, then I woke up at 26,” he said. “Halfway through Seattle I was like, ‘Oh wait, I should take charge of who I am.’”
The catalyst was something simple. He was in a room with another musician, who was telling him about something they were working on. Then they just… started playing it for him on a guitar. “If we’re in a room, and you’re a songwriter and you have a guitar, you can play me a song that you just wrote. And I couldn’t do the same,” says Lavers. “I got an [Roland sampler] SP404 when I was 15, but I barely knew how to work it. So I just tried to teach myself to write songs,” he remembers. “That week, I was like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna use this acoustic guitar to make some Steve Reich, Animal Collective pop thing. I’m actually going to tune it, pick some chords and write words that could be clearly understood, read aloud, and I wouldn’t be embarrassed about it.’”
It was a call to get serious. “It sounds like this Wonderwall moment,” he jokes. But joke or not, Lavers threw himself into a more rigorous songwriting practice. He still worked with his laptop and sound collages, but he took a more intentional approach to lyrics and song structure.
Perhaps more importantly, he moved to New York (he had soured on Los Angeles after a disappointing internship a few years back). The members of Chanel Beads knew few people beyond each other. It took time to find a scene – and friends – but they were writing and performing wherever they could book a gig, and found an unexpected blessing: older musicians and DJs. “There were a few years we were starved for mentorship,” Lavers says. A little guidance went a long way.
That’s not to say it wasn’t hard starting out. “When we play live, it’s like the scariest way to play music, which is my cue to track. I have a microphone, and half the track I don’t sing.” He remembers an early show where half the set was pressing play on a really aggressive instrumental and he would walk around staring people down. “It sounds way more like performance art than it was,” Lavers says. “It was a nervous guy pacing, making eye contact with you.” You can imagine how that nervous energy developed into the intensity of Chanel Beads’ current live set.
‘Ef’ changed things. Lavers started to notice the audience nodding back at him, even singing along when he performed the track. People also started to approach him at shows, making it easier to break into new scenes. But it also brought pressure. It took five years to write that song, now he thought, “Fuck, I got to write 10 more songs like that.”
That’s not what he did. Chanel Bead’s debut album reproduces ‘Ef’s uncanny pop in a few places – most notably lead single and album highlight ‘Police Scanner’ – but it wanders off on some weirder tangents, too, like on the album’s longest track ‘Coffee Culture’. That song is composed almost entirely from isolated samples of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Arguably, these are the two most different tracks on the record, and yet the things they have in common reveal a lot about what makes a Chanel Beads song: the crafty sampling, (Lavers talks about trying to “Trojan Horse” something into a song), the humming drone, a certain sentimental vibe that never becomes too treacly or trite.
That may seem incongruent with the image you have of Lavers’ live performance, the prowling and howling frontman who wants to get in your face. When Chanel Beads was testing out the material, they played it to the small dark venues Lavers loves, and, as expected, the sound got more aggressive. “The album is gonna come out and people are going to think it’s way mellower than that thing I just saw,” said Lavers. He’s right – it is.
That’s fitting, though. Lavers sees the loud live performances and carefully constructed recordings as two sides of the same coin. “Everything I was trying to do with the album was make this beautiful, shitty record,” he says.
The contradictions feel like a culmination. When Lavers woke up one day in Seattle and decided to get serious, he realized he had to work harder to get the sound (and the career) he wanted. That meant writing more sincerely, singing more fearlessly, and following his instincts more honestly. “I still don’t know what to do, and that’s why we play the way we play. It’s scary, and it feels like a challenge.” You can hear that spirit in ‘Police Scanner’: “You owe it to yourself / Gotta believe in something else.”
Back to the screaming, and keep all that – the contradictions, the convictions, the little bit of fear – in mind. Lavers takes his words seriously, he only writes them if he means them. “Lyrically, how could you not say that as loud as possible?” he asks. “It’s almost like you’re in a fight with a family member and you don’t even know what you’re fighting about anymore. I want to scream, and I want to hug you.”