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3D Stereo Trouble
Flowers, gardens, colours, scents, shapes - those are associations that come to mind when listening to the beautiful, enchanting music of SHALLOW. The music of the quartet from Kansas (remember Oz?) has a certain dreamlike, innocent and naive air about it due to the playful way it is displayed - jingling guitars, floating sounds, effects and an overall unusual approach on songstructure - and especially because of the elf-like singing of JULIE PHELPS, who also plays flute and cello occasionally. The band consists of the juvenile couple of JULIE and JASON SHIELDS and guitarist RYAN NEWTON plus STEPHEN KRETSINGER (who look like twin brothers but aren't). The band know themselves from childhood (except STEPHEN who joined later). I was wondering why they called themselves SHALLOW. Is this some sort of understatement?
STEPHEN: There are theories about that. There was this bar in Kansas called "The Shadow" but everyone just called it "Shallow" because of the rather shallow personalities who used to come there. We don't like to think of ourselves as incredible deep, poetic people, we just like to play music - so it's kind of shallow. Plus it has a pretty nice flow to it.

Their debut record is called "3D Stereo Trouble" - and that's exactly how it sounds. It comes across rather flat on stereo, but sounds quite three dimensional over headphones. What happened there?

STEPHEN: I think it sounds better with headphones. We really don't know what we were doing.

RYAN: We are not happy with it.

STEPHEN: We wanted to make sure that there was a lot of psychedelic stuff going on. Our producer called it "Ear candy for headphones".

JULIE: When we did it we made sure that our producer put in a lot of little things that you could hear here and there. It's just that when you listen to it on a stereo I think it doesn't sound as good as with headphones.

JASON: When we are back from Europe we will go directly into the studio with the guy who produced some of the FLAMING LIPS stuff and it's going to be more straight forward psychedelic stuff.

JULIE: It was our first record and we worked with a producer who was our friend rather than a good producer and we really didn't think that it would affect it the way it did. We only went into the studio for two weeks. We didn't know the difference between digital and analog. We recorded on A-DAT and it sounded really flat. Now we know. The EP sounds so much fuller and brighter. We recorded it into our basement on a 8-Track.

If you listen to SHALLOW's record you will notice the unusual use of instruments: A bass sounding like a guitar, guitars sounding like keyboards and stuff like that. How come?

JASON: I really think that comes from the fact that we are all self-taught. No one took any lessons or stuff like that. When we sit down and write something we just do it because it sounds right.

JULIE: We do whatever comes into our head and not what the bass is supposed to play or something. If you hear a bassline in your head and play it on the guitar noone will say to do otherwise, you know.

STEPHEN: Everybody does his thing and then we put a structure to it. When playing live we like to improvise a lot.

That's interesting, because when you don't have formal training you can come up with stuff that trained musicians cannot. So that sort of makes it up.

JASON: I agree. I think trained musicians are sometimes even limited in that way.

STEPHEN: We don't know what chord is supposed to be next. So we make up our own.

What exactly is the function of the little instrumentals without a name (there are stars on the sleeve instead).

RYAN: Whenever we are in the studio we just do something, play as much as possible - for instance when we were waiting for the producer to do something. He would meanwhile record it. Those are basically little studio jam sessions.

STEPHEN: The funny thing is when we first heard it we didn't even want to put names for those on the cover. Just like OASIS did on their last album - they have this instrumental which appears three times. We liked that. One of the star-bits on the record is actually a song now, called "Deep blue".

RYAN: Did you see the broadcast of OASIS playing the Edinburgh festival to 250.000 people? That was amazing. Was I mistaken or was that RINGO STARR on stage there? They played "Octopusses Garden".

But speaking a little bit more about SHALLOW: What would be their approach on songwriting then?

RYAN: We sometimes have to sit down to practise our old stuff to have it ready for the live shows. But then we start playing and before you know it we have a 15 minute jam session and then we have a new song.

STEPHEN: That's a problem with the next record, because we have so many songs. It's about 30 right now.

JULIE: You know after we recorded our last record we actually had enough songs to record a new one. And we are ready to go.

JASON: We are addicted to writing songs. And that is our main problem. I mean it's a nice problem to have, but sometimes we will have to go back to the old stuff and listen to it to remember it.

So how do the lyrics fit in there (most of which are written by JULIE)?

JULIE: I usually do them 5 minutes before we record. Sometimes at least. I never write the lyrics ahead of time. The song is usually first. Sometimes when I write a vocal line I hear words in my head that will go in certain spots. We wrote this song for this radio thing and didn't have any lyrics. And the guy who was recording it went "You don't have any lyrics?" and he was freaking and thought it would be a real disaster and I went "No, no, it's cool" and sat down and wrote the lyrics in about 10 minutes. It's no big thing. And then I went and recorded it.

RYAN: That's the thing about being called SHALLOW. Our only message is that we have no message. It's like with the BEATLES. You know, when they started they just wanted to hold your hand.

JULIE: We want people to enjoy it. We don't have lyrics that preach things to people. It's just about being happy and enjoying our stuff. We want people to figure out for themselves what it's about.

RYAN: It's more the flow of words and their sound that's important rather than the contents.

JULIE: Since it's so simple you cannot say. It's not that you could say that this song is about blah blah blah or anything. Well, I have in my head a certain image. I know what I'm singing about but I won't tell anyone else. You know - let the people know what song is particularly about. They might think it's about their dog or their house. You know, put it to whatever.

STEPHEN: Remember the movie "Imagine" about JOHN LENNON? There was this guy at his house and he was going "I swear that song is about me". And JOHN said "I don't think so because I was sitting on the toilet when I wrote it. It's about nothing."

But I guess the contents of the lyrics is reflected through the situation one is in when one writes it, right?

JULIE: Yeah exactly. It's about how I feel at the time I write it, the kind of mood you're in. But it's not some long, thought-out process or anything. You just grab something. But it's not meaningless. It makes sense, because it is something that you are thinking about. It's not a meaningless jumble of words, but I like to keep it open. Know what I mean?

STEPHEN: But I mean still: Someone could take that another way. There's a song on our EP called "Get By" which sounds like a love song but it's actually about us firing a manager.

But isn't that a love song? Well, that in mind I could imagine they would be interested to record under circumstances which then would reflect on the music?

JULIE: Yeah, sure. Really, it does affect you, wherever you are. It's kind of different when you are in a big city - you kind of feel like crazy, stressed out. When we were in New York for instance and recorded a couple of songs for the EP we were like ready to go home and everything. It really affects your thinking.

So what about the future developments?

STEPHEN: I think we will keep the psychedelic elements and the melodic things. I guess people could dance to some of the tracks for our new album whereas they couldn't dance to the last one.

What's the overall idea behind this psychedelic thing?

JULIE: It's fun to play with, you know. Toys. You can get some whacky pedal and fool around with.

JASON: Usually our songwriting starts with no effects, though. It's just us and no effects. As compared to many bands we first write a song and then put effects on it.

STEPHEN: A lot of bands were influenced by noise. I love SONIC YOUTH. And the SPACEMEN 3.

JULIE: You should check out ROLLERSKATE SKINNY. They are the best. I have the record with me. It is amazing. It's fucking great it's the best thing you'll ever hear. It's keeps you interested the whole time. It's amazing.

Well, even if that's not exactly what I had imagined about being psychedelic it seems to be okay. What about the live approach then? They mentioned that they weren't pleased with the production of the first album. What's the difference?

RYAN: I wished that our first record had been better produced. Because sometimes I have people coming to me and say: "You know I heard the CD and thought it was okay. But then I heard you live and you blew me away." I think the CD sounds really mediocre.

STEPHEN: On the record you can't sometimes hear RYAN's guitars. The guitars are really loud live.

How does this mix with JULIE's rather fragile, girlish voice? It must be hard for her to sing to loud music.

JULIE: Yeah, it's hard. Sometimes the PA's cannot get as loud as we want to be live. Sometimes you just can't hear anything. We did this show with SONIC YOUTH in New York a couple of weeks ago and I couldn't hear anything. All I could hear was RYAN's guitar and his Kickdrum. It was so hard because there's nothing to sing to. It's very hard when playing loud. But see for yourself. We're gonna play a lot of new songs tonight. Any song you don't recognise from the CD will be a new one. See what you think.

Well, what did I think? To be honest it was not the revelation it could have been. Whereas SHALLOW come across quite lively and cheerful in person, on stage they are somewhat static. There's no real adressing the audience and the show runs along in "Shoegazer-mode". But it could have had to do with the fact that this evening SHALLOW were opening the first show of the European tour of the ZERO HOUR package-tour at the Popkomm, which was also being filmed by a very intrusive TV-crew which occupied a third of the stage for a better part of the show. JULIE, who was the sole focus of attention, played some flute and strangely shaped Silvertone-guitars. The new songs blended in nicely with the old ones and while the sound was overall louder than on the record it was not that loud. BUT: SHALLOW got a lot of potential and we can look forward to hearing a lot of interesting stuff from them in the future.

[Erstveröffentlichung im Baby Talk-Fanzine #9, Dezember 1996]

Interview: -Ullrich Maurer-
Fotos: -Ullrich Maurer-


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