Interview: Tina Halladay of Sheer Mag Talks ‘Playing Favorites’

Ever since the mid-2010’s, Philadelphia rockers Sheer Mag have been a force within the underground music scene. Vocalist Tina Halladay sings with an abundance of emphasis while Kyle Seely and Matt Palmer create kickass guitar riffs, along with Palmer adding another dimension to the band’s sound via keyboards. Kyle’s brother Hart is the rhythmic glue on bass while touring drummer Evan Campbell supplies the beats, and together this act exudes a unique combination of punk angst with classic rock charisma. Their third full-length album, Playing Favorites, out March 1 on Jack White’s Third Man Records, marks a new beginning for Sheer Mag with it being their first release via a record label.

The band got linked up with Third Man in a fairly straightforward fashion due to playing a few shows at the label’s record store in Nashville and becoming friendly with the folks involved. Due to primarily self-releasing their material in the past, they had a history of turning down other labels who reached out to them with offers, but they felt that this was the right time to join up with Third Man’s roster.

“We played at their record store in Nashville in a couple times, so they definitely knew about us back when we didn’t really have any interest in being on a label,” Halladay says about joining up with Third Man Records. “I feel like a lot of other labels took it personally when we didn’t want to sign to a label right away, and they didn’t take it personal, which was a huge difference. From playing there a bunch, we knew that we liked each other, and they have a picture of us on the wall from our first show there in 2017. I think it just worked out that it would be a good fit for us to go forward with being on a label for the first time.”

Usually when it comes to a band’s discography, the third album usually signifies a creative apex while leaving hints to where the direction of the music is moving towards in the future. For Halladay, she understands how someone could form that opinion but she and the rest of Sheer Mag view Playing Favorites as their current installment of a quest to create the best music they can.

“Sure, in a way it does,” she says about this particular notion. “That’s one way to look at it from an outside perspective, but mostly what we’re trying to do is to make the best songs possible and make every record better than the last. It’s as simple as that for us, we’re trying to make better songs while pulling from our collective influences, making music that we all enjoy and sort of driving ourselves crazy. I feel like a lot of people are very prolific where they’re putting out songs all the time and there’s a certain appeal to that, but for us we’re just hammering away at certain songs over and over again and forming them into something we can be proud of.”

Along with the title track, “All Lined Up,” “Don’t Come Lookin,” “I Gotta Go,” and “Mechanical Garden” are a few highlights off of the album. The latter actually features the Tuareg guitar phenom Mdou Moctar, who they met up with in a random way during the recording process.

“We’re fans and we heard that he was in New York staying in an Airbnb or something,” Halladay mentions about getting Moctar involved in the making of the album. “He was in town for a while waiting on something or he could have been working on something. Hart and Kyle made a makeshift recording, they brought it to him while trying to get something that would work on a song, and it came out really well.”

For what she hopes people take from Playing Favorites, Halladay would like the music to relate to whoever is listening. If it can be the soundtrack for a party or an outlet for someone to let loose of whatever is holding them down, it would make her feel accomplished while fulfilling a hope and a dream.

“What I want someone to take from the record personally is that I want them to be able to relate and to not feel alone in the way they’re feeling,” she says. “If it’s something that they’re going through or anything like that, my main goal is for people to feel like there’s someone else who feels the way they do and that they aren’t alone. Also, I want them to have a fun band to listen to. There’s nothing like driving on the road with all your friends with the windows down or being at a party with everyone looking at each other when a certain song comes on. Being a part of those kinds of moments is always a dream and a hope that I have for our music.”

Playing Favorites is out on Friday and you can pre-order it from Third Man Records. Follow Sheer Mag on Facebook and Instagram for future updates.

Photo courtesy of Michael Thorn.

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