The members of rollicking Philadelphia group Sheer Mag literally wear their influences on their sleeves: Vocalist Tina Halladay can often be seen sporting a denim vest studded with pins repping Thin Lizzy and AC/DC, signifying the way the band’s riff-heavy yet thrillingly compact and catchy songs are bringing old-school rock values back to modern lo-fi punk.
Sheer Mag’s recent hype-free ascent is an anomaly in modern indie rock. The band has neither a presence on social media nor a publicist. They helm their own merch table, where you can purchase Grim Reaper-esque Sheer Mag action figures “draped in the finery of rock n’ roll” (meaning their band logo). And while they can still be found gigging in DIY venues across the U.S. and Europe, they also played Coachella in April and will appear at Barcelona’s Primavera Sound in June. The band has reportedly been courted by major labels eager to back their first full-length (their discography to date consists of three seven-inches, each containing four excellent songs), but they’ve turned them down, preferring to stay rooted in the homegrown scene that spawned them.
On a recent Saturday, the Market Hotel – a DIY venue next to an elevated subway in Bushwick, Brooklyn – bustled with longhairs and leather-jacket-clad punks waiting to see the group. Before Halladay could get onstage to unleash her throttling, soul-inspired vocals to the sold-out crowd, she had to take care of some personal business. “Hold on,” she says, moments after meeting up with Rolling Stone. “I have to go say hi to my mom.” Halladay, who hails from the New York area, hugged her family members in line and posed for photos with them. When she returns, she’s holding a new pin she procured in the past few minutes: This time, it’s one her mom made. “It’s a really weird photo of us – I don’t know how she got it,” Halladay smiles. “It’s me and two of the guys in my band. She cut everyone else out of it, I guess, though.”
Halladay took some time to discuss Sheer Mag’s Coachella experience, the band’s Philly HQ and how guitarist Matt Palmer is her Robbie Robertson.
You all just performed at Coachella. Was it what you were expecting?
It was … weird [laughs]. I mean, we were there the day we played and were all taken care of. It was really fun to play there. It was so loud; it was sick. It’s funny because I can’t wear it as a joke, but Matt [Palmer, guitarist] was wearing the flower crown we found on the ground there. It’s like, “Goddammit.” I wish that were funny for me to do. But it’s, like, not.
Was that the biggest show Sheer Mag had played to date?
Definitely the loudest [laughs]. The first weekend they were having a problem with the wristbands so not that many people were able to see [us] … besides VIPs, they didn’t let people in until 15 minutes into our set. I feel bad for people who played at 11 and stuff, cause nobody was there.