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Sheer Mag’s Kyle Seely Roughs Up Classic Rock

“We just like that range of fidelity,” says guitarist of band’s penchant for lo-fi sounds

WHO: Sheer Mag guitarist Kyle Seely acknowledges that “everyone thinks I was born and raised on nothing but Seventies rock,” and it isn’t hard to understand why. His boogie-ing, fuzz-drenched riffs and barbed-wire solos often draw comparisons to acts like Thin Lizzy and Lynyrd Skynyrd, while his band’s tuneful, if raw and ragged, major-key melodies at times recall first-wave American punkers like the Dictators. But the 24-year-old Seely says he didn’t get much into music of that era until more recently; rather, early on he was influenced by “post-hardcore stuff like At the Drive-In and Bear vs. Shark, which was what I was super into in high school. And then I also had a few pop loves, like Abba.” Even so, if people want to home in on the Thin Lizzy thing, that’s okay by him. “It doesn’t make me upset or anything,” Seely says. “Because, like, Thin Lizzy is the greatest band in the entire fucking world. So it’s cool.”

BEDROOM TAPES: Sheer Mag came together a few years back in Westchester, New York, where most of the band, including Seely, his older brother and bassist Hart and soulful singer Christina Halladay, attended college at SUNY Purchase. The group then relocated to South Philly, rehearsing, recording and living together in a building they dubbed the Nuthouse. In the fall of 2014 they released their first EP, a self-titled four-song seven-inch recorded in Hart’s bedroom. “The recording end of the band is more of a project between me and my brother,” Seely says. “I do the drums, Hart plays the bass and I add guitars after that. We had this eight-track machine, like an old Tascam, and we would just set shit up and go track-by-track. It was pretty bare-bones.” Just how bare-bones? For one song, “Fan the Flames,” which appears on Sheer Mag’s second EP, 2015’s II, Seely recorded his guitar through a boombox instead of an amp. “Hart and I like to mess around with weird sounds and gritty, dirty guitar tones,” Seely says. “And that was just one of the many dumb ideas we’ve had.”

AESTHETIC VALUE: Though Sheer Mag’s recordings exude a decidedly lo-fi vibe, Seely insists their sound doesn’t stem from some sort of “punker-than-you” ethos. “We just like that range of fidelity,” he says. “So it’s an aesthetic choice, the same way it would be an aesthetic choice to record something really well.” That preference, similar to Seely and his brother’s decision to lay down the instrumental tracks individually, contributes to Sheer Mag’s distinct recorded sound. “It’s a pretty different vibe from the live show, for sure,” he says. “I don’t think of our recordings as being crazy energetic. The drums are pretty chill and thumpy, and the tempos are slower. Whereas onstage there’s so much more energy. And we play our songs a lot faster — sometimes crazy fast. The live show is where we strive to get that standard, ass-kicking rock-band thing happening. Because that’s how we want the music to be consumed.”

HUNGARY HEART: Currently, Sheer Mag are in the midst of their first international tour (when Seely gets on the phone with Rolling Stone, it’s from backstage at a venue in Budapest), making their way through much of continental Europe “playing a mix of smaller venues, like pizza shops and stuff, and also real clubs.” So have there been any particularly strange gigs? “At one show in Finland, this guy threw up into his hand while we were playing, and then a little later on he was trying to get a cigarette out of his pack and he just fell asleep,” Seely recalls. “That doesn’t really count as a crazy gig, but it was definitely bizarre.” Even so, he continues, “the shows overall have been great — every night there’s been, like, a solid fortress of people right in front singing all the words to our songs. I mean, this is the first band I’ve ever been in where people actually do that. That they’re doing it in fucking Budapest is really insane.”

GO YOUR OWN WAY: Following their European tour Sheer Mag will return to Philly to put the finishing touches on their third EP, another four-song seven-inch that they will self-release. “Some of the songs are rock-and-roll bangers,” Seely confirms, “but we’re also sort of branching out a little bit, because we don’t want to constrict what we do and start saying things like, ‘This isn’t Sheer Mag–y enough. …'” As for what new sounds we might hear on the EP? “I love Seventies and Eighties disco-type stuff, so we’re adding in some elements of dance and funk,” Seely says. “Also, another one of my favorite bands is Fleetwood Mac, so we have a few songs that are more … I don’t want to say ‘power ballads,’ because that’s cheesy. But they’re a little more tender and chilled-out, perhaps.”

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