Back in 2015, Shamir Bailey had the world at his fingertips. He had signed to XL, the label that helped turn artists like Adele, Vampire Weekend and FKA Twigs into megastars. His debut album, Ratchet, and viral electro-pop single "On the Regular" had earned him serious buzz. But between then and the release of his new LP, the much more lo-fi Revelations, he has seen his career – and his mental health – go through the ringer.
"I thought that it was just going to be a humble debut," Bailey says, looking back on Ratchet while drinking a whiskey at Brooklyn restaurant Roberta's on a sunny October afternoon. He had written much of that album a 15-minute walk away at the Silent Barn, a DIY collective where he had also lived for a bit of time. "I didn't think it would [take off]. Towards the end of that I was like, 'What have I done?'"
Back in his hometown of Las Vegas, Bailey had played with punk and DIY bands in the city's tiny scene. He eventually made it to South by Southwest and gained a small following, issuing his first EP and single through indie label Godmode.
"I had no big label aspirations," he admits. "It was just a whirlwind, and I just went along with it the best I could, really."
The cracks began to show early. "I used to get in trouble because I would sneak away to Philly," he recalls. Bailey ended up moving there after wrapping up Ratchet promotional tours at the end of 2015. But it wasn't until last year that he really "shot the first shot," as he describes, the one that would set in motion the termination of his record contract.
"I was depressed because I was actually scared to write music. I was like, 'I'm not going to be able to write music by myself anymore,'" he explains. He began binge-eating and gained 60 pounds. The day before he had to launch festival-season gigs, he showed up to a meeting with his A&R sporting a shaved head.
"They didn't say [they were mad] to my face, but I was dropped a few months later," he says of his drastic appearance change. As Bailey perceives it, XL's focus had been on artists with more "niche" careers, sounds and styles; specifically he singles out signees Adele and FKA Twigs. Shaving his head was a rebellion against feeling trapped in certain sound and image.
After he was dropped from XL, his now-former management team set up sessions with big-name producers in Los Angeles who had worked with artists like Kanye West and Justin Bieber. The resulting unreleased material was too "clean," Bailey says. So he went back to Philly and recorded a full album's worth of fresh songs with a close friend before the friend, whose name he says he'd like to keep anonymous, had a "freak out," as he describes.
"That was so hard. I was just like, 'Wow, I scrapped two albums,'" he says.
Then came Hope. It's a messy, gritty, fuzzy lo-fi rock album Bailey debuted on SoundCloud in April, the weekend after his friend refused to release the album they had worked on together. "In the back of my mind, I was going to quit music. But I was going to have the last laugh."
The outpouring was unexpected. Fans reacted positively to the quickly written and recorded songs, responding to visceral sound of Bailey's playing and singing. He started reevaluating his decision to leave music behind. A week after Hope's release, Bailey's best friend from Las Vegas came to visit him in Philly to record some music. But at the time, when Bailey was feeling as positive about creating music and his career as he had in years, he was suffering a severe manic episode that he wasn't totally aware of.
"Hope was the starting point of this time being manic," he explains. "I have had the downs before but never a manic episode. I started being super delusional. There were voices in my head telling me to do certain things, and I believed it. I felt bad for my friend because she didn't know how to react."
Bailey began to believe he had gained psychic abilities in the weeks following. He made the mistake of self-medicating with marijuana to ease the anxiety and insomnia but it sent him deeper into his delusions. "I fell into psychosis," he says. "My friend who had just visited messaged me something on Facebook, and [my response] scared her so she called me and my mom. I stayed on the phone with them until the police came."
His mom flew out from Vegas to be with him as he was checked into a local hospital for a week where he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She brought her son back to Vegas with her, where he stayed for most of this past summer before returning to Philly in July. It was in his hometown where Revelations, Bailey's third full-length album, was born. He transformed a corner of his aunt's house into a mini-studio with his 4-track and guitar. "That's what kept me company," he says.
What he created is an extension of Hope, though crafted with a bit more time and care. It was also a return to the guitar-driven sound of his early career. "Everyone I was close to and showed the songs to was just like, 'It sounds like you,'" he reveals. Revelations tracks like "You Have a Song" and "Her Story" feature heavy bass lines, crunchy guitars and general Nineties-leaning rock nostalgia. "They know that Ratchet was more of an experience of me that just took on a life of its own. My old band was more funk, guitar-driven stuff."
This time around, Bailey again has label support. San Francisco indie imprint Father/Daughter had reached out immediately following the self-release of Hope, though he was deep in his psychosis at the time. He dropped his old management, too, after their less-than-positive reaction to his sudden April album. Now, he manages himself.
"I think this is the most content I have felt in my career, period," he says with visible relief. "I didn't think I would get to this point so quickly, and if it weren't for the negative and bad things I went through, it wouldn't have happened."