Tina Halladay and I crouched in a basement hallway at the Fine Line Music Café, talk-yelling over the throbbing riffs of the hardcore/metal crossover band Red Death, who were playing upstairs on a lineup with Halladay’s band Sheer Mag.
The sound of Halladay’s Philadelphia band is hard to place, and yet familiar at the same time: think ’70s stadium rock by way of modern DIY and garage punk. They’ve been on the come-up in the past couple of years, having rocketed to the top of music critics’ must-listen lists with their first few singles and gaining popularity since the release of their debut full-length Need To Feel Your Love last year.
They’re currently the less-thrashy outlier on a tour with a pretty heavy lineup — Red Death, Fury, and Power Trip — but at the show Sunday night, Sheer Mag proved themselves worthy of rocking along with the rest of them.
To start, for anyone who may not be familiar with ya’ll, do you want to give a little background on how Sheer Mag started?
Well, we all went to the same college just at different times and Matt [Palmer] and I were kind of friends before I graduated. I knew Hart [Seely], and Kyle [Seely] started the year after I left college. Then we all played with each other’s bands: their bands would go on tour together and stuff, and I know me and Hart’s bands played together. Then I was one of the first of the wave of kids from my school [SUNY Purchase] who moved to Philadelphia instead of New York and then they all eventually all ended up moving there and we all moved in together around the time all our previous bands broke up, so Kyle and Hart were upstairs working on stuff and as we got closer as friends, we decided to start a band together.
There’s a ton of incredible music coming out of Philadelphia and New York. Have any of those bands influenced Sheer Mag’s sound?
When I was younger I didn’t listen to a lot of punk until, maybe, my cousins told me about NOFX or something because I was from Long Island. It was a lot of emo and screamo, whatever you want to call it! So that’s what kind of shows I was going to when I was younger, and I don’t know if that really influenced what I do now, but…I think a lot of people’s parents encouraged them in music in a lot of ways and I never really had that. My mom wasn’t a big music fan, and my dad wasn’t around. It took me a while to figure out what I like, and I like a lot of different things and the boys like a lot of different things. There’s some stuff we all like and some that are just super different as well, and the combination of us liking all different kinds of music is maybe why we’re influenced by so many different things.
You often get compared to Thin Lizzy, and I hear from a lot of bands who consistently get compared to a specific artist a lot that they don’t necessarily agree with it. Are there any bands like that for you guys?
Yeah, I don’t think anybody really likes being compared to other bands…but Thin Lizzy is one of my favorite bands ever and I don’t really mind! It’s just the hive mind: as soon as one comparison happens, it just happens over and over and over again. Obviously I get compared to people just because of the way I look or because I’m a woman, and that is irritating. There have been times when I’ll be talking to someone, having a good conversation, and then they’ll be like, “Yeah, like Alabama Shakes!” and I’m just like, “Shut the f— up.” It’s literally so insulting, the only reason you’re saying that is because we’re both fat and female singers, and what, we both kind of sing bluesy or something. It’s like, shut up! If you thought for literally ten seconds, you would realize that that’s super insulting to both of us.
You value your independence as a band — not having a press agent or a manager. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Yeah, we actually just hired a manager a few weeks ago and, I mean, it’s just important for us to pace ourselves. People push you to grow past where you should be when things get hyped, kind of pushing you to be bigger than your britches before you’re ready, and we were trying to make sure we weren’t doing that. People get taken advantage of, and we just wanted to prove it to ourselves and everyone else that you can do it your way and on your own terms and in your own time and still try to be successful and try to grow. It’s hard to ignore people pushing you to do things from the outside, and I think people get wrapped up in that a lot. At some point labels and stuff aren’t looking out for bands, they’re looking out for themselves. If you can do it without them, why wouldn’t you?
A lot of people find solace and empowerment in your music and your commanding stage performance. Is that purposeful?
Of course, but I mean it’s not all entirely thought out, it’s just kind of who I am as a person. There’s something about that that can inspire someone, or it can really f—ing p— some people off too, that I’m demanding space and attention and am being a human being. [laughs] Being treated like a human being or being treated like an artist and a performer, it’s been so homogenized for so long it is crazy that there are not more people who don’t look like me. It’s just so hard, for women especially, to demand space. For me, it’s either like you don’t want to sexualize me and that’s all you can do with someone who’s up on the stage who doesn’t look like you, or just like how I can have power over you on stage because you’re in the audience acting like a f—ing a–hole and I can be like, “Go away! F— off or I’ll bonk your heads together!”
On this tour, Sheer Mag don’t sound very much like the band playing right now, or the rest of the metal bands on the bill. Is there a reason for putting together a tour like this?
Yeah, we really wanted to do this tour. We’re friends with Power Trip and everyone is so fun and nice and cool. I was a little worried coming into it…obviously, being with like 25 dudes can be a little intimidating when you don’t know everyone, but everyone is so sweet and kind. I’ve been a little bit injured and it sucks that I can’t do the full performance that I would prefer to do, but the past couple days have been asking me how I am and being accommodating.
We’ve always chosen to play with hardcore bands, and I know it’s a huge difference except that we’re not headlining this tour so it can be a little weird. You’ll have the fans of Power Trip who learned about them from like a weird metal fest they were on or a tour with like Cannibal Corpse or they’ve played twice with like Alice in Chains twice in like the past week. So there’s like those metalhead guys who haven’t ever expanded beyond that kind of music and they come to the show and stand up front for the entire thing and shake their head at you, but I don’t really give a shit! [laughs] But I’ve grown to love all of these bands on this tour. I think it’s such a sick lineup, and I’m glad to be hearing it every day, which is weird and rare. I’m probably pretty lucky, because a lot of times I’m kind of over it on tour.