Sheer Mag is generally content to let its dirty and invigorating mixture of classic power pop and Kiss-esque riffage speak for itself. But with the recent release of their first LP, Need to Feel Your Love, Sheer Mag is ready to talk.
"We weren't done figuring out what kind of band we wanted to be in," singer Tina Halladay says of Sheer Mag's first couple years, during which the Philadelphia quintet released three acclaimed EPs while fending off press requests. "We were figuring it out as we went along. Finalizing any thoughts wasn't really beneficial to us. It seemed kind of silly to do those things when we only had a couple songs."
They were a ridiculously great couple of songs, though. It's no surprise that people wanted to know more about Sheer Mag right away, but there wasn't much to learn beyond a pretty standard origin story. Brothers Kyle and Hart Seely began the project as a punk-house bedroom experiment, and after realizing they were onto something, the Seelys brought their roommates Halladay and Matt Palmer into the fold, the latter recruits putting words to the brothers' majestic throwbacks.
You can hear the band's magic emerge fully formed on the first track of their first EP, released in 2014. "What You Want" slides Sheer Mag into the world on a riff that could have been lifted from any point on the spectrum between Thin Lizzy and Royal Headache. Then Tina Halladay takes the mic at the 30-second mark to carry the band into the stratosphere. She just has one of those voices, a natural wonder that hits the heart straight on. There's pack-a-day rawness and lovesick vulnerability and old-fashioned punk disgust all bound up in it, and Sheer Mag wouldn't be Sheer Mag without it.
Of course, now that Halladay is ready put that voice to work on something as mundane as an interview, technology gets in the way. It sounds like a rat is gnawing at the connection, and half of Halladay's words get lost in a garbled demonstration of cell phone failure.
Which is okay—Need to Feel Your Love is the only statement of purpose Sheer Mag needs. The album delivers on the promise of the title and offers the year's best soundtrack for city kids locking lips. But the freedom found in loving and fucking is always temporary, a fleeting escape from a world poisoned by authoritarian creeps. Sheer Mag is justifiably angry about the state of the world and utterly unshy about it. On album opener "Meet Me in the Street," Halladay finds herself "seven blocks north of the avenue/Throwing rocks at the boys in blue. On "Expect the Bayonet," she sneers the titular threat at "rich men in their white skin" who have ruled with violence and can only be brought down by same.
Sheer Mag is essentially marrying the lingua franca of hardcore punk with the arena-friendly bombast of classic glam rock, and as the band's reach widens, they are finding fans who want the wild party without the righteous rage. Haram, a New York hardcore band with lyrics in Arabic, opened a few recent shows for Sheer Mag, and during one of their sets, Halladay saw that her band is starting to speak to people who are missing the point.
"This old woman was just screaming 'speak English' [at Haram] over and over again," Halladay says. "Stuff like that brings me back down to the bottom rung. Why are these people at my show? Maybe they're not listening to what we're saying. Maybe we can be more clear. It was super upsetting. It's hard to always know what kind of people are listening to the music and what they're taking from it."
It would be great if awful people like that would stay home. It would be even better if a Sheer Mag show convinced them that the wrong side of history is no place to live. That's a lot to ask of a band—the world is way too messed up for pop music to fix—but Sheer Mag might just be pissed and passionate enough to try.
SEE IT: Sheer Mag plays Hawthorne Theatre, 1507 SE 39th Ave., with Tenement, on Wednesday, Sept. 27. 8 pm. $12 advance, $15 at the door. All ages.