Black Shelton and The American Dream Aim to Keep Listeners on Their Toes

The unexpected is delightfully de rigueur when it comes to Shelton’s unclassifiable ensemble.

Black Shelton and the American Dream (Samantha Klopp)

4/5. Black Shelton and The American Dream

Sounds like: A pop-punk fever dream broadcast from a distant galaxy

After George Floyd was choked to death by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in 2020, Black Shelton found himself encircled by police when he joined a protest in Boston.

“It was pretty gnarly,” Shelton, 25, recalls. “The cops surrounded [us] 30 minutes before curfew, so no one could get home—and then they just threw a bunch of tear gas in the middle and started chasing everyone around.”

Soon after, Shelton wrote his raucous single “I’m Buying a Gun.” “I was big into the arming Black people kind of thing,” he says. “A more militant approach, I guess you could say.”

It may shock lovers of the song’s unapologetic lyrics—”If you’re shooting Black/We’re shooting back”—that Shelton never actually bought a gun. But the unexpected is delightfully de rigueur when it comes to Shelton’s unclassifiable ensemble Black Shelton and The American Dream, which features Sophie Shely (keyboards, theremin), Kyle Elferdink (guitar) and Evan Mason-White (drums).

“As a band, we’re trying to keep people on their toes, not knowing what to expect,” Elferdink, 28, says. “The next album we put together may just be a really cheesy ‘80s synth record. But we can’t tell you because we gotta keep you on your toes!”

Shelton, who studied classical piano, has led a life as multifaceted as his music. Raised in Bellingham, Wash., he moved to Boston to study at Berklee College of Music in 2017—then dropped out after less than a year. A self-taught bassist and guitarist, he subsequently played in a series of bands he describes as “objectively bad.”

“My parents were not happy about the transition from piano to punk music,” Shelton says. “But American Dream is the most fun I have playing music.”

Punk is just one of many genres Shelton has immersed himself in. His solo album, Alibi, has a touch of romantic shoegaze—the title track could fit seamlessly on the Lost in Translation soundtrack—while Live!!, the newly released American Dream album, is a propulsive barrage of sound that ends with an 11-minute song called “Race War.”

“Everything that we play live is much heavier, classic rock ‘n’ roll, other than the theremin,” Mason-White, 25, notes, referencing the wailing electronic instrument (famed for its use in the original Star Trek theme) that is Shely’s musical weapon of choice.

“I think that everyone should buy a theremin,” Shely, 26, says. “Because you cannot play them wrong.”

In music and in life, Black Shelton and The American Dream blur the line between sincerity and schtick. When they spitball future ambitions—like making a Troma-style action movie about the band that Shelton casually suggests could star Danny Glover and Reese Witherspoon or ditching the Black Shelton moniker in favor of “Dan Blackroyd”—it’s hard to tell whether they’re seriously joking or jokingly serious.

“The more genuine music I make is the American Dream stuff, the more angry—things that I actually care about,” Shelton says. “The more fun, happy stuff, I’m just making shit up. I’m just saying the corniest stuff I can.”

Fair enough. But when Shelton, Shely, Elferdink and Mason-White assemble, fun inevitably ensues—like when Shely abruptly says she wants to talk about snakes with legs.

I ask whether Snake With Legs could be the title of their next album.

“Definitely a song,” Shelton says.

“If I told you,” Elferdink interjects cheerfully, “I’d have to kill you.”

See Black Shelton and The American Dream play live at our Best New Bands Showcase on 4/10 at Mississippi Studios. Buy your tickets here.

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