Seattle, the land of a million voices, is filled with people who don't want to hear yours. That's how it seems, at least, to Ragan Crowe, arguably the front man for Seattle heavyweight rock outfit Shim.
"There's kind of an established scene here, and we don't really fit into it," he says, adding that, though he feels no pressure to change his band's sound and has "complete and utter confidence" in the music, he nonetheless feels extreme pressure to "suck up to [KEXP] and the powers that be." It is a mystery to him why Shim's entire press presence is limited to a Three Imaginary Girls post and the article you are reading right now.
"We have a small but loyal fan base, and our last six shows have been really enthusiastic, but we haven't been able to break into press or radio yet. Maybe we're not passive and depressed enough."
Shim rocks completely out of synch with the Death Cab/Belle and Sebastian imitators that run rampant in the Emerald City. Their muscular, manly guitar riffs have a lot in common with Queens of the Stone Age, but without the careless, lazy-eyed stonedness so endearing to the indier-than-thou. Their songs are about as fun as shooting an old car with a shotgun (while, adds bassist Mikah Simler, "standing on it and smashing the windows with a sledgehammer") and Seattle is not yet ready to come to get that honest -- it reminds them of an Eastern Washington childhood that years of therapy is rapidly erasing. More frustratingly, Shim's lyrics are poetic and pure, a million years from what normally passes for existential insight in the heavy rock scene. Worst, the members sound like they are having fun, maybe even capable of surviving without the hipster vote.
However, all that rocks is not dead in Sea-town. There are still enough ruffians to pack a Big Business show and keep the Hell's Belles up and yelling. There is another wave of heaviness that is a little more difficult to define, a small but loud vanguard Shim find themselves on the cusp of. Bands like Skullbot and Ice Age Cobra have also dropped out of the popularity contest and faced the music: for a band to be really good, they need to play music they themselves want to get down to. Crowe says, "The songs that I actually want to listen to are so simple, and so visceral ... we were trying to close the divide from what we were playing and what we listen to on a Saturday night, and 'Satisfied' was the start of that."
The song, "Satisfied," is the sound of complicated people enjoying simple things. Its vibe is 12:45 bar time, knee-deep in High Life, and the lyrics are nothing short of revelatory. Never has it sounded more radical to hear a man sing, nay declare, "I am drinking beer / I am cooking up a steak [...] I'm SATISFIED." The song is about going to the grocery store, grinding coffee beans, loving your friends, washing windows for a living, and shredding some goddamn licks. The moral? Joe jobs and simple pleasures are enough. The rub? "I am reading books / I am growing wings / I am thinking hard / about the nature of things / I am living life / I'll take it as it comes / I will make my stand / To the beating of the drums / I'M SATISFIED." These boys don't love the simple because they can't handle the complex. They're beyond mere grandeur or despair; they are the now. It's an anthem that was waiting to be written.
Both Crowe and Simler agree that Shim's genre -- heavy rock -- is a difficult space to occupy. Says Mikah, "You're either ripping off other bands or basically doing a parody." Succinct but true: All serious rocking these days either sounds like a tribute band or a parody. You won't find any trace of Wolfmother's sock-in-the-crotchiness or The Emergency's Detroit garage wholesaling in Shim's sound. They're on their own shit entirely and are trying to keep it that way. They know that to build a real rock scene, bands have to get over their predecessors and add their own legitimate voice. Mikah adds, surprisingly, "Seattle doesn't really have a rock scene. I mean there is pretty music by pretty people, and I guess there's a thriving hardcore scene, but straight-up rock is almost completely absent. This town used to have a lot of love for that kind of thing."
When you see Shim play the Spread with Ice Age Cobra (which you will do), you'll get it. The triangular light displays, 10 car headlights each, and nonstop BRMC-style fog will alert you that a beast is in the room, but their songs will immediately impress upon you that posture is for posers and this is the real thing. As your little brother's next favorite Jet band reincarnates previous platinum, Shim serves to remind us all that rock exists for other reasons than saying, "Ooh, look at us, we're rocking." Get with them now and let Seattle know that fey rock has sighed its last sigh.
Shim with Ice Age Cobra at the Spread on Saturday, Aug. 26, at 9 pm. Tickets: TBA. Call 456-4515.