Hear First: Shutups’ Every Day I’m Less Zen

The premiere of the band's debut album, plus an essay by its producer Cody Votolato (The Blood Brothers).

Hear First is Talkhouse’s series of album premieres. Along with streams of upcoming albums — today’s is Shutups’ Every Day I’m Less Zen — we publish statements from artists and their peers about the mindsets and impressions that go into, or come out of reflection on, a record. Here, the album’s producer Cody Votolato (The Blood Brothers) shares his thoughts on recording the Oakland punk band’s full-length debut, which you can also listen to right here.
— Annie Fell, Talkhouse Associate Editor

I first saw Shutups April 14, 2017 at the Resident in LA. I hadn’t been floored by a live band that I had never heard of before in a long time. They were touring with PAWS from Glasgow and they let my band with Denver Dalley and Jonah Ray play our first show with them. From the first note of their set, I felt connected to it. I immediately noticed the discordant and avant guitar, so noisy, yet so soulful and catchy. Everything I always tried to do on guitar; it smashed right through me. Coupled with the destruction of the drums, I stood in awe and watched the whole set, something I rarely catch myself doing these days as well.

I said what’s up to Hadley after the set and we had a drink. I can’t remember who paid or what we drank. Dude York had just played a few shows with them, so we had a common ground to chat about. Not sure how it came up, but we exchanged numbers on a bar napkin with the thought we may be able collaborate.

We spent a good few months texting and emailing, talking about dates that never seemed like they were gonna happen. Hadley had a studio option down in Long Beach — Astro Lizard (which later appropriately became the record label). He booked time there in September and we made the plan to get a start on what would become Everyday I’m Less Zen.

The record pretty much saved my life. Not in a monetary way. That had nothing to do with it. I was broke, in the midst of a breakup and couch surfing in LA. My energy was ready to be put into something that could give back to me in a way that not many things in this life can. Hadley and Mia did just that. It brought me back to life. The band came to LA and Jonah let us use his rehearsal space to do pre-production. It was so hot. The AC was barely working and we spent three or four long days ripping through the songs before heading to Long Beach to start tracking.

Brent and Jarret at Astro Lizard co-engineered the record. They were amazing. They both have full time jobs, so one would start the day and the other would end it so they could each catch some z’s. I was able to hang in the tracking room with the band while we cut the tracks. It was hotter there than the rehearsal space. Perfect. There is no better place in the world (other than on stage maybe), than in the recording studio. We became a family. We slept on the floor, a hard floor, in the studio and ended just about every night with shitty gas station wine. I selfishly would take the couch after my first night on the floor. I was crashing on my friend Matt McGreevy’s couch just before we started tracking. He loaned me a sleeping bag. I still have it somewhere.

Tracking drums was my favorite. Mia destroyed them. I would be at odds with Brent and Jarret because they wanted her to play softer. They weren’t wrong, it’s better for tracking, but I didn’t care. I wanted her to play it harder and louder. She would spill everything into that drum kit. Everything. That was what I cared about. And she delivered every time. Definitely made it fun for Jarret to mix.

We treated this record like it was a god damn major label record, recording and re-recording songs on weekend trips to Long Beach for over a year. Every time we would finish something, Hadley would show back up and say, “I changed it, we need to record it again.” After a while I wanted to push back, but every time we made a change it was always better, more thought out and impactful. Hadley was not getting in his own way at all, but knew exactly what he wanted this record to be and wasn’t going to allow it to be any different. A true fucking artist in my eyes.

— Cody Votolato

(Photo Credit: left, Nate Gilchrest)

Wound deep within the anthemically angular indie-punk of Oakland-based two-piece band Shutups is a story of resilience and deep friendship. Singer/songwriter/guitarist Hadley and drummer Mia were college buddies pulled apart due to simple geography, but reunited after Hadley suffered a medical emergency that left him walking with a cane and hiding from the sun for two years. Three years later, Shutups announce its debut, Every Day I’m Less Zen.

Shutups pools from shared influences such as Fugazi, Paul McCartney and Wings, Elliott Smith, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Diarrhea Planet. The band’s mix of lush instrumentation and imaginative arrangements stays visceral courtesy of Mia’s drumming which is both caveman and keenly attuned to each track’s jagged twists and turns.

To date, Shutups has released four EPs. The pair’s debut long player is a watershed release that benefits from careful reflection and an unrushed studio schedule. Every Day I’m Less Zen was produced by Cody Votolato, the guitarist from the post-hardcore group The Blood Brothers who recently produced Dude York’s 2017 release, Sincerely.

Up next, Shutups will hit the road and likely return soon to the studio as a follow up album has been fully written.

(Photo Credit: Nate Gilchrest)