SHY GIRLS begin in the bedroom. That's where Dan Vidmar still does most of his writing and recording—often at the same time, as he quickly turns a chord or beat into a track, adding melody and lyrics as he goes along. In many cases, Shy Girls end in the bedroom, too. It's the ideal setting to hear Vidmar's finished recordings: sultry, silky songs that yearn with romanticism and a heated, palpably physical pulse.
Still, Vidmar finds the thumbnail view of his music as purely sex jams a little puzzling. "That everyone talks about how it's sexy is still something I don't entirely understand," he says. "Maybe I don't have the right perspective because I can't listen to it through other people's ears. I guess there's a soprano sax solo in 'Under Attack' and there's the fact that the songs are slower. But there's sexier music being made."
Listening to Shy Girls' new EP, Timeshare, in its entirety, it's clear how outré and unconventional Vidmar's sonic outlook is. It's quite a distance away from the reassuring, often unadventurous sounds that characterize a lot of slow jams. Timeshare may be the first extended Shy Girls recording most listeners will experience, as it follows up Vidmar's tentative first effort under the moniker, a 2011 online EP called Sex in the City. But Timeshare is a mature and daring work, filled with original sounds and samples that turn R&B conventions on their ear.
By way of example, Vidmar says, "The clap-snare, or whatever you want to call it, on 'Voyeur's Gaze' is just a Bic lighter. If you listen to it, you'll hear it. I didn't even add any effect to it. I had a Bic lighter sitting around, and I had a microphone, and I was like, 'I need something that sounds really crisp.' Honestly, I'm just kind of lazy, too. I could probably find a better sample, or I could move my microphone to the bathroom and get some crazy reverb. But when I'm in the moment and I just want to get a track down, I'll just grab whatever I have."
It's part of Vidmar's method of spontaneity and freshness above all else. "I hate spending more than two weeks on a song," he says. "I can't do it. Most of the time, if I don't finish a song within a couple weeks, it goes on the backburner. I can't focus on one thing and then switch to something else, and then come back to it. I like the idea of demo-ing a song and re-recording it later, but in practice, I find myself trying to mimic the exact way I articulated a certain word, or played a certain key part off rhythm when I re-record it. That's why I just like doing it in my bedroom—the demo is the final thing."
Against odds, Shy Girls turned the heads of Portland audiences almost overnight.Their high-gloss, art-damaged version of '80s- and '90s-gazing R&B—already a genre of dubious cred to begin with—became one of Portland's most talked-about live shows. It has to do with the ensemble Vidmar put together to replicate the recordings, a taut, consummately elegant outfit that delivers Shy Girls' songs with restraint and precision. Following the departure of backup singers, the live group is currently a four-piece streamlined for touring—although Vidmar adds that he'd love to play with backup singers again at some point.
"I did not expect the music to take off in Portland the way it did," says Vidmar. "When I moved here, Portland felt a lot more indie rock. So I was kind of surprised. But now it feels more natural. Maybe I've carved a niche or something, but I feel like there's a group of people, other musicians who are similarly minded, so now it doesn't feel so awkward. But at the beginning, I was like, 'Why would anyone in Portland listen to this?'"
In the meantime, there's the strange, magnetic funk of Timeshare to take Shy Girls beyond the city limits. Vidmar says a full-length is coming next, but he wanted these songs to stand entirely on their own.
"The reason this is an EP and not a full-length is that these are a very cohesive group of six songs," he says. "They came out in a similar way at a similar time. The old songs were more about being alone, but these are about the struggle of being around people very intensely and sharing your time; hence, Timeshare. Whether it's a romantic relationship or friendships or your relationship with a city, this one's more about being in the thick of that and dealing with all the emotions that come with it."