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Sounds x Interview: No Shields

New York’s No Shields offer something that’s getting harder and harder to find in a world of polished pop music: relentless, rhythmic rock ‘n roll. When I heard their latest record, The Serpent The Sage, I was hooked; it’s gritty, raw, and hits with a locomotive force.

Ray, Jon, and Sean took a few minutes to sit down with us and talk all things Brooklyn, writing, and rock ‘n roll.

What’s the No Shields story? What made you decide to make music together?

S: No Shields came together in the bowels of the Lower East Side. in a basement practice space under the bar Welcome To The Johnsons. We would practice, then get $2 PBRs afterward, or mid-practice if necessary. As far as making music together, it’s just something we both love doing and have been involved with forever.

R: Sean and I are both from the Athens/Atlanta scene and moved to NYC around the same time to form a band called Amverts. It didn’t last long, but in 2011, we formed No Shields with our buddy Reggie on bass. After horrible experiences trying to find singers, I ended up taking over lead singing and drumming. Jon then joined the band a couple years ago. I love playing with these guys. 

J: I met Ray at a bar he used to tend in Brooklyn. We became friends over music and he let me rent space in the dank Lower East Side basement Sean mentioned. One day, I came down there with my bass and they told me Reggie left the band, so I said, “I’ll play.” I was already a fan of the band and knew some songs.

Your bio says you’ve experimented with a lot of heating elements, and finally figured out how to melt a mind. What’s the method to the madness? How do you go about making your music, and what’s your ultimate goal when you’re writing a song?

S: Our music is made in a collaborative manner, sometimes as a result of an improvised jam together, or other times, it’s built around an idea someone brings to practice. We want to write songs that are fun to listen to, but we also want to push things to a place that allows the music to go to unexpected places. We usually end up with a pretty diverse batch of songs.

J: When we jam, I’m listening as much as I can to the guys. In practice, I stand in between the drums and guitar amp just trying to add something tasty to the mix. As a three-piece, each element is prominent. My motto is if the song is sounding terrible it’s probably me, so I try to carry my weight.  

R: Thank you for asking about our madness. It was really hot in our rehearsal space and it was actually the melting of our own minds that was happening.

Who inspires you the most when you’re writing and performing?

R: All three of us have very different tastes and like a wide range of things. A recent band group text message had us sharing songs by, Wire, Judas Priest, Porno For Pyros, Crooked Fingers, Shellac, Cannibal Corpse, and Grand Master Flash, to name a few. We’re all pretty open to checking out each other’s interests.

S: Stage presence is important to us as well. Bands like the Melvins, Savages, and Fugazi have influenced the way we think about performing. We try to keep in mind that if we’re playing a show, it is a performancem and we want to connect with the audience in a visceral way.

J: Shout out to Porno for Pyros. My favorite bands are way more mainstream than these guys, but I also prefer “speedy” music, so for this band, I’m channeling some bass influences like Eric Avery, Paul Simonon, Flea, Robert Deleo, Jeff Ament, Matt Freeman, and even Roger Waters. Recently, Sean took me to a Sleep show, which kind of influenced me a bit too.  

Which bands do you listen to when you’re having writer’s block?

R: It’s difficult to say one specific band. If we’re at practice and something isn’t working, we usually put it aside and come back later. If I’m at home, I usually sit down with a glass of Evan Williams and watch Ancient Aliens.

S: I enjoy working on visual art when not making music, which acts as a healthy escape, but I’m always listening to different things. Anything from Curtis Mayfield to Napalm Death can trigger new ideas.

J: I just drink a lot of strong coffee.

What’s it like in the Brooklyn indie scene?

R: Our current rehearsal space is at King Killer in Gowanus, which has a bit of a community vibe. Overall, there are a lot of venues and a ton of bands. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword in that there are plenty of bands to play with, but quite a bit of competition. It’s a constantly evolving learning experience.

J:  Lots of great bands in NYC. Our rehearsal space is music factory with a conveyor belt that brings people’s gear to the 2nd floor where there are like 100 bands.     

What’s been the coolest moment for you guys since you started the band?

S: Our album release show for The Serpent The Sage was a lot of fun. We worked really hard on getting that album recorded and released on vinyl. We had our friend, Dorion Barill, do an amazing drawing for the cover and screen printed the cover ourselves at Shoestring Press in Brooklyn. The show was great. It was a good turnout and just a lot of fun. It’s what being in a band is all about. 

R: Other than that, just playing in a band in New York with your best friends making music you want to make is always rewarding.

What’s next for No Shields?

R: Our first show of 2019 will be at Saint Vitus in Brooklyn in Greenpoint. Also, we’re writing new songs and are about to go back into the studio in February at a studio in Gowanus called Seizure’s Palace. We’re really looking forward to unleashing some “mind-melting” new tunes that have been brewing for a while.

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