SAN FRANCISCO — “Trampoline” propelled SHAED to the tops of multiple charts after Apple used the spacey and woozy slow-burner last fall to score a MacBook commercial, but if you ask the Washington, D.C.-area electro-pop trio if the song is its best, the band members will shrug.
“There’s not one song that we all think is the best,” says producer and multi-instrumentalist Max Ernst, who along with twin brother Spencer and sister-in-law Chelsea Lee comprise SHAED. “I think [we’re] always kind of most excited about the song we’re working on at the time, as well. … When we made ‘Trampoline’ it wasn’t like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is gonna be the song.’ It was just kind of another song. We thought it was really cool but we just kind of moved onto the next one. And then the commercial happened, and that gave the song a whole other life itself.
“They’re all special to us, and they mean different things to us,” Lee adds.
The twins and Lee sit above the Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco, where they’re about to conclude their first headlining tour. Lee’s voice is shot—though she’ll recover for a strong performance three hours later. Her bandmates and relatives, who flank her on stage, are exchanging coughs. But they’re having the time of their lives.
“Trampoline” has skyrocketed up the charts on Spotify, iTunes, Shazam and Billboard. Seemingly, no matter the format, the song was inescapable on radio. After the tour ends, they’ll return to the house they recently rented and share in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, but they’ll keep busy writing and recording demos until they hit the road again.
They may be a family, but they have no intention of slowing down
“All we wanna do is just keep focusing on the music we’re making and the shows that we’re playing for people,” Spencer Ernst says.
SHAED has aspirations of playing arenas some day, but the trio isn’t going to force the issue, either.
“It’s more about the fact that we want to be able to do this for the rest of our lives and sustain this,” Lee says. “We want to be able to play for audiences that have a great time and love our music and connect with the music in some sort of way.”
In person, the trio tends to contribute a portion of each thought. Max Ernst concludes this one: “Touring is a blast. Everything is fun right now.”
The twins and Lee have been friends since high school, when she was a solo artist, and they were in an Americana band (and attending another area school). Lee’s friends encouraged her to go see the brothers open a show at the District’s vaunted 9:30 Club. She went and the three got to talking
“[We] became best friends from that,” she says. “I didn’t drive, so these guys would drive me everywhere, and they had an old Crown Vic. There was a bucket seat in the front so we would just all sit in the front.”
“Just chillin’ high-school-style,” Max Ernst adds. “There’s nothing more comfortable than a Crown Victoria with a bench seat in the front. We called it ‘the boat.’”
Even though Lee eventually signed to a major label, she struggled as a solo artist as an 18-year-old. She was trying to find herself as a singer and songwriter while facing plenty of outside input and feedback, not all of which she wanted to hear.
Finally, the three realized they were happiest when they were making electro-pop and soul-influenced music together. Lee wrote the moody title track to SHAED’S 2018 EP, Melt, about that time. In another sense, “Melt” is about the melting pop of their family. Until they found their house, the three had been living in Airbnbs and crashing with friends between shows.
“‘Melt,’ specifically, was the first song that we wrote together when we moved into the house,” Max Ernst said.
In essence, the house became their own melting pop.
“I think that’s why we really wanted to call the EP Melt,” Spencer Ernst says. “Our whole lives were sort of melting into one thing.”
SHAED released its first EP, Just Wanna See, in 2016. By then the group had already developed a loyal following of fans in D.C.
“We always found that there was a ton of support for us, and we kind of built up a following of people coming out to see us even before we were in SHAED,” Max Ernst says.
The trio came up playing at smaller venues like DC9, Velvet Lounge and Rock & Roll Hotel, as well as the city’s bourgeoning house show scene. Lee and Spencer Ernst married in 2018, and the three spend much more time together than apart.
Most of that time has been spent writing and recording songs. But while they produced the first EP entirely on their own, they partnered with producer Manatee Commune (Grant Eadie) for Melt. Following the success of “Trampoline,” they’ve gotten offers for collaboration from everywhere.
“As things come in we’re kind of assessing where we’re at with releasing music and writing music; what kind of artist is willing to work with us,” Lee says.
The trio is also sitting on a vault of unreleased songs and demos and is ready to get back to work, Lee says.
Max Ernst and Lee interject with each other, again continuing each other’s thoughts:
“It is exciting to have artists that you respect—
“And love their music—”
“When they reach out, it’s really cool,” Max Ernst concludes. “We’re not shying away from that. But we’re also trying to be selective on what we collaborate on.”
Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.