Gimme Shelters

The Shelters talk their next album, songwriting -- and their late, great mentor Tom Petty

In the music world, the 'sophomore jinx' is a real thing. Just ask the Shelters, the LA-based foursome who released a staggering gem of a debut album last year chock full of blues- and British Invasion-inspired jangle pop.

"They always say you have your whole life to write your first record, and six months to write your next one," said the band's co-guitarist/vocalist Chase Simpson. 

While that may be true -- and it's something that's been kind of weighing on the minds of Simpson and his bandmates (guitarist/vocalist Josh Jove, bassist Jacob Pillot and drummer Sebastian Harris) -- if any group is liable to beat the jinx, it'd be the Shelters. For one, their writing/recording process differs from most others in that they're able to enjoy the luxury of working in a recording studio at their own pace. That's a huge advantage.

"Other bands, and this is a pretty general statement, jam out a few ideas, work 'em out, fine tune them, go into a studio they've rented for a couple weeks and basically record their songs in one entire batch," Simpson explained over the phone recently. "That's the way a lot of people do it. Us, having studio knowledge, and knowing how to actually engineer and record our own records -- and having unlimited time inside of a studio -- have a much different process because we've learned how to use the studio to develop a song idea and how to explore all the avenues available. I think we've learned so much from being around Tom that the process has become a little more streamlined and I do think that that helps."

Ah, yes: Tom. For the unfamiliar, the man Simpson is referring to is none other than the late, great Tom Petty. From the very start of their relatively young career in 2015, the rock/pop legend took them under his wing -- acting as mentor, producer, patron and friend -- so much so that the Shelters consider him a co-founder of the group in many ways.

Along with co-producing their impressive 2016 self-titled debut album, offering them invaluable counsel and songwriting advice, Petty literally gave them the keys to his personal Shoreline Recorders studio that he built on his property. For a lot of us, Petty's Oct. 2 passing was heartbreaking. For the Shelters, it was truly devastating.

"We're still kind of, to be honest, picking up the pieces from everything," Simpson told me. "It's been kind of a hard transition for us, so we're still kind of figuring a lot of things out."

Still, they're soldiering on. They're deep in the writing and recording process for album No. 2, and have taken Petty's sage advice on a number of fronts. For example, instead of spending incalcuable hours in the studio crafting each section of every song with a myriad of rich textures (which is best evidenced by playing back their first record via headphones), they've been first and foremost working on capturing their live sound.

"For this [next] record, Tom wanted us to record the songs live with the band and then come back into the studio and add all the extra layers," Simpson said. "So we've done that with some of the new songs. We really wanted to keep that live energy there and, of course, it's really well-recorded -- and then you add all the shimmering bits and the sparkle on top, the sugar, and it becomes the best of both worlds." 

Petty also advised them to reign it in a bit; don't over-complicate things, he'd say.

"To our detriment, sometimes because we're young and still learning of course, sometimes we overdo it," Simpson said, laughing. "And it's so easy when you're in the studio and you've got every toy available to you, every color you want, that sometimes it's all too much. Sometimes Tom would come in and go, 'Eh, that's really cool guys, but I think maybe you've got one too many things going on there.' And we'd be like 'Yea, you're right.'"

According to Simpson though, they're already off to a strong start: "Tom worked on probably four of them with us. So [they've] had his stamp of approval, if you will." While the Shelters are hoping to have their next record out by mid-2018, Simpson says it's still up in the air at this point.

"In a dream world, it would come out next summer. It really just depends on what comes out of us and how quickly we're able to make it."

In the meantime, head to the Casbah on Friday and see a great, old-fashioned rock & roll band live and up close. You won't be disappointed.

The Shelters play the Casbah on Friday, Dec. 1, with the Tracks opening. The show is 21-and-up. Doors are at 8:30 p.m., and tickets are available online here.

Dustin Lothspeich books The Merrow and runs the music equipment-worshipping blog Gear and Loathing in San Diego. Follow his updates on Twitter or contact him directly.

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