It's cool in the shade, but things are heating up for the band.
Local musician Louie Bash likes wearing sunglasses. If you go downtown on a Friday or Saturday night, you might see him sporting a pair (he was wearing some when Boise Weekly met him for an interview). However, he said his band's name, Shades, has nothing to do with his fashion sense. Instead the moniker refers to synesthesia, a rare neurological condition in which one type of sensory experience triggers another--i.e., letters and numbers are associated with colors, sights spur smells and, as with Bash, sounds prompt visions.
"I see a lot of colors when I make songs," he explained, "so the name Shades, that's kind of what it means."
The group designed its live show, which features pillars of lights that flash different colors in sync with a song's notes, partially to replicate this experience.
"Being able to portray that live was really important," Bash said. "So whenever you're feeling, like, 'Oh man, that song feels so purple to me,' you can really [see it]."
Whatever people may see, they like what they hear in the music. Since forming in 2011, Shades has built a large, enthusiastic local following. In addition to playing Treefort Music Fest and Denver's Underground Music Showcase, the four-man electronica group has gone on short tours with Finn Riggins and Magic Sword. Paste Magazine featured Shades last year in the article "10 Idaho Bands You Should Listen To Right Now."
On April 24, Shades played a "soft" release show at Neurolux for its new album, Common Desire (self-released, 2015). Bash and his bandmates—David Mikkelson, Nathan Hope and Tom Racine—plan to make the album available for a week. After that, the group will remove Common Desire from the web and hold an official release later this summer. Shades also signed recently with PR firm Green Light Go, which has mapped out a three-month promotional campaign for the album.
The nucleus of Shades formed when Bash met Mikkelson at a coffee shop.
"I think I was playing some music off my laptop that he'd never heard," Bash remembered. "I told him it was something I was working on. And then he showed me some stuff he was working on, and we started collaborating right away."
Eventually, Racine and Hope joined the lineup. Influenced by acts like Washed Out and Blackbird Blackbird, the group developed a dense, intricate sound composed of steady beats, wistful melodies and dreamy keyboard lines. This sound—captured effectively on Shades' debut album, Clear Motions (Synth Records, 2012)—led people to brand the group as "chillwave," which the four musicians grew to resent.
"At the time we did it, [chillwave] wasn't a coined thing yet," Hope said. "I think when it actually took off as a thing, we kind of got lumped into that pretty quickly."
Still, the labeling—and the hunger for new trends and fads that fueled it—had a positive effect.
"One of the things that's good about being within this current time with music, because things are being pushed so fast, you're constantly wanting to develop something new," Mikkelson said. "So for a musician, it's constantly pushing you to get into different things [or] force yourself into different things that you wouldn't normally do."
The new album reflects that drive to innovate. Common Desire features slower, more sinuous rhythms as well as a more spacious sound. According to Hope, the band needed the three years between albums to develop the material.
"One of our biggest problems was we didn't have a coherent set of songs that sounded like the same band and the same album," he said. "It sounded like 12 different bands. For this album, I think we went through probably close to 20 or 30 songs within that three-year span."
The work seems to have paid off. Hope, Mikkelson and Bash all laughed about how quickly they wrote the last two songs to make the album.
"I think that was the week of Treefort," Hope said. "We added two new songs that we had never even played before. They weren't even songs a week and a half before that, and they ended up replacing two songs on the album."
He and his bandmates look forward to the work ahead of them, which includes learning more about marketing their music.
"I think especially now, that's what you're finding so many artists do," Mikkelson said. "The idea used to be that you would just give your music and someone would take care of all that. ... But now, you literally have to start to know."
Shades isn't just focusing on the business side of the music business.
"We're going to keep writing music," Bash said. "I've already been working on stuff. We're always working on stuff."