Shoegaze." As a descriptive term for a musical subgenre, it's about as vague as "punk" or, for that matter, "rock." Blame the late '80s British press if you like, always looking for a new dismissive turn of phrase. (We won't even bother to explain one of shoegaze's alternate names of the time, "The Scene That Celebrates Itself.")
Yet there are certain expectations that come with the term: loud, effects-laden guitars, thick and reverb-heavy production, with ethereal melodies and fragile vocals floating above the maelstrom. The contrast is often striking, like a bright helium balloon levitating over thunderstorm clouds. It's a musical form that's proven both versatile and durable, influencing such current American indie artists as Beach House and Diiv, as well as Austin, Texas' Saint Marie Records' roster.
Here in St. Louis, local quartet Seashine has put its own spin on the form. Describing itself alternately as shoegaze and dream-pop, Seashine's songs strike a nice balance between ambient beauty and thick, controlled chaos. On its four-song demo, lead singer/guitarist Demi Haynes and guitarist Kate Hayes sculpt a wall of sound that, at its climactic moments, is nearly symphonic. Bassist Paul Rieger cuts through the din with well-defined melody lines that fall somewhere between the Banshees' Steven Severin and New Order's Peter Hook, while Bill Hudgins' drumming is strong and frequently inventive. Haynes' vocals and melodies are wistful but clear.
The result: a unique take on the shoegaze sound.
"We love so many bands from here, but we've never really found a band like ourselves in St. Louis," Haynes says. "But I think that's the great part about it: We're on shows that are kind of diverse, which brings out audience members who appreciate different genres and sounds. We all influence each other. It's kind of nice."
For Haynes, Seashine is the fulfillment of an ambition she's had since high school. Growing up about an hour west of St. Louis in an artistic family (her father is an oil painter), a friend introduced her to the likes of My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive and Chapterhouse, as well as classic records on the 4AD label by Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil.
"He was the only person I knew who knew anything about it," she says. "Slowdive was the first thing I fell in love with. I found (shoegaze) to be kind of a lost genre that seemed to fit my taste. I thought it would be fun to play with other people."
Haynes debuted her initial solo project, Two Souls, in 2013. Over the next two years, Two Souls released two singles, "Forever" and "A Ghost, A Shadow," and one album, Illusion, all recorded at home. In particular, Illusion's eleven songs are ambient and introverted, with brief, almost haiku-like lyrical portraits of loneliness, comfort and distance. "My lyrics are here and there, inspired by true events or ones made up in my head," Haynes says. "Mostly they are written during the writing of the songs." Two Souls' Soundcloud page also gives some clues as to early influences, with covers of Beach House, the Dodos, Slowdive, and even a Nick Drake song ("Harvest Moon").
Seashine came together in 2016. "I actually put out an ad on Craigslist, advertising literally for a shoegaze/dream-pop band needing a drummer, Haynes says. "That's how we got our previous drummer, as well as Kate."
While Haynes writes most of Seashine's material, she very much characterizes it as a group effort. "Usually when I bring a song to them, it's something that I've recorded," she explains. "But when you bring it to other people, it gets louder; there's so much more power behind it, and each person kind of put their little touch on it. It becomes more of an...experience, I guess. We have a song called 'Earth Eater,' where at the end we kind of just do our own thing and make it transition into another song. It was definitely a collaborative effort where we melded different influences together. And it was something I hadn't actually written, so it was interesting."
Currently, Seashine is working on its debut album. Recording began in August 2017, when the group did the drum tracks in a cabin in southern Missouri. At the moment, they're in the process of fine-tuning the vocals. "It's been a slow process, but it should be a ten-track self-titled album," Haynes says. The band hopes to begin touring once the album is out. Other than a one-off appearance next month in Michigan at the Kalamashoegazer festival, the band is staying local for now.
In the meantime, Haynes is working on some collaborative projects with other producers. She has contributed vocals to projects by British writer/musician Nicolas Pierre Waddell. He was so entranced by Seashine's "Shangri-La" — calling it "the best shoegaze song I have heard since 1993" — that he recruited Haynes to sing on his Xeresa project. Additionally, she said, she is working with Jacob Ware of Rapt and Andy Jossi of the Churchill Garden.
Beyond that, though, Haynes is keeping Seashine's future open.
"Honestly, I try not to think too much about that," she says. "It seems a little more natural to me with writing to just let it flow the way it does. I just want to continue to be able to do this with my friends and continue to get better. We're pretty go-with-the-flow."
Oh, and Haynes' favorite guitar effect, in a genre known for their use? "Hmm. I'd say the Mooer Shimverb, probably. It isn't a super-popular reverb pedal, which makes it unique, and it has lots of neat tricks."