In just a few short years, and without the help of an external record label, Philly’s Sheer Mag went from being a local band with a knack for reinventing classic ’70s hard rock for modern times to winning over fans across the country with three EPs—appropriately titled I, II, and III—and a critically-lauded LP, 2017’s Need To Feel Your Love.
So, when it came time to release their sophomore LP, A Distant Call, the band decided to keep on keepin’ on, opting to eschew outside assistance once again.
“We saw no need,” vocalist Tina Halladay says. “We own all of our songs, which is a super rare thing nowadays; every single part of them belongs to the four of us. All the things that a label could have done for us would have happened at the beginning of our career, and we’ve gone this far on our own. We’ve never had a conversation with a label that has brought something to the table that we couldn’t do ourselves. The music industry is obviously very different than it used to be. It seems like it’s a lot harder to make money and have a career in music, and we’re just trying to figure out [if] that’s something we can do without a label owning us.”
A Distant Call came out on Aug. 23 on the band’s own Wilsuns RC.
According to Halladay, the main thing that was different going into making of the new album was the amount attention now being paid to Sheer Mag, but the pressure they felt was all self-imposed.
“Always, before anything comes together, it’s scary and you’re panicking about what it’s going to sound like. You don’t wanna rush it,” Halladay says. “We put our own records out, so there’s not a huge amount of pressure time-wise; it’s more of the deadline that we give ourselves. I think I felt more pressure with the last one, because it was our first time using that [LP] format. Before that, all of our records have been 7”s. You’re always asking yourself, ‘Is this going to come together and sound the way we want it to?’”
The other big difference between the band’s debut and A Distant Call is that the songs on the new album all fit together in a shared narrative.
“From the beginning, me and [rhythm guitarist] Matt [Palmer] decided we wanted to make a sort of concept record and have a story arc as best we could. It’s harder when you have four people working on the songs, so it’s a little harder to speak to the negative, but I think we did pretty well,” Halladay says. “The first half of the record talks about how things are going to get worse, and then you hit bottom, and as the record goes on, you choose to keep going and try to turn everything around.”
These 10 songs are also among the most personal Halladay has written. She admits that many of her life experiences show up throughout the album and partially credits that to the comfort and ease of having worked with her bandmates—Palmer, lead guitarist and drummer Kyle Seeley, and bassist Hart Seeley—over the past few years.
“There are just some things that are pretty significant about me, that have shaped my life and outlook and who I am, but it was hard to write that with another person [without] having all these other things under our belt,” she says. “I wrote about my father dying and what he was like when I was growing up, and the song ‘The Right Stuff’ is about being a fat woman and the attitude I get from people around me and not being stereotypical, not being ‘in my place’ as a fat woman—I’m supposed to be quiet or whatever.”
Halladay says Sheer Mag needed to get through creating dozens of songs together before they were able to settle into the intimacy of writing about more personal experiences, but with A Distant Call, they officially invite the listener into their world.