It’s a crisp, clear day and lead singer and guitarist Ryan Lentell is holding a 24 oz. of Budweiser and chain-smoking cheap Pall Malls as he talks about how he thinks the psych-rock scene in Austin has become a trend — not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. After all, Shells has gotten the psych-rock comparison before, though much of Shells’ sound can’t be attributed to one genre.
That’s because Lentell’s previous solo work in alt-country and folk-inspired music has thrown a wrench into the works when it comes to the psych genre. On one hand, facile comparisons to psych and blues bands are easy to make when you’re listening to Shells as a recorded band. On the other hand, the Shells live experience proves that its sound is more like a double entendre. Lentell, bassist Michael Caviness and drummer Jack Smith are effortlessly cool and energetic in their live shows, tossing around with wild abandon and oftentimes breaking either themselves or their instruments — not because destruction is cool, Caviness says, but because Shells’ energy is just that enormous.
The Daily Texan sat down with Lentell and Caviness to talk about how Shells got its start, jumping into drum kits and the pysch-rock scene in Austin.
The Daily Texan: So I’ve had a good listen to your recorded demo album a few times and really enjoyed it. When can people look forward to a release?
Michael Caviness: We have our album mixed, but it isn’t mastered yet. Money’s involved with pressing it ourselves, so we’re not exactly sure what we’re going to do yet.
DT: Have you considered doing a Kickstarter project to fund the album? I know a lot of artists are using it now to help out with production costs.
Ryan Lentell: I think, as far as the record, I think we’d rather do things on our own terms if we can.
MC: It’s cool if you can actually get the funds raised, but I don’t know if we’re that type of band.
DT: The times I’ve seen Shells play, that’s sort of the vibe I get: very D.I.Y.
MC: Which shows have you seen us play?
DT: I’ve seen you play at Hole in the Wall, and I think the most recent show I saw was during Free Week in January.
MC: Oh, at Cheer Up Charlie’s?
RL: There was so much feedback that night.
DT: So let’s talk about how Shells got started.
MC: Ryan and I were living together at the time, and we were in this one band. He asked my drummer and me if we wanted to work on some other songs. Ryan had been doing country and folk stuff solo for a while.
RL: Someone asked me to play a show as a kind of one-off sort of thing, and then we kind of started picking up gigs after that. But our initial drummer didn’t work out very well; I don’t think he was very serious about it. We got Jack, our current drummer, right before South By [Southwest] last year. And it’s been good ever since.
DT: So when Shells was just getting started, was it sort of predetermined what the sound was going to be like? Ryan, did your country and folk leanings have any influence on Shells’ sound at the beginning?
RL: I actually had a lot of songs that I was sitting on at the time that Shells started. And a lot of the songs we play now were songs that I had before this band. But I think we approach song by each song — ‘What suits this song stylistically or sonically?’ I think there’s a common factor to everything, but we take it song by song.
DT: Back to what I was saying a little earlier about Shells’ sound, I know this is kind of a stock question, but who are Shells’ influences?
MC: I think we listen to a lot of older records. The whole psychedelic thing, I think that’s becoming a trend, you know? And we don’t want to be trendy.
RL: [laughs] I don’t know if it’s that we don’t want to be trendy, but I don’t think any of us are that very current with new music right now. I like a lot of Austin bands, though I don’t think they necessarily influence our stuff.
MC: Well, I like to set up a lot of our shows, and I usually want to put bands on with us that aren’t going to be boring. Like if you’re in a country band and play with a bunch of other country bands, that’s kinda boring. I like to set up with different kinds of bands — passionate bands.
RL: We do listen to a lot of the old psych and ’70s rock.
MC: And we collect records, so we like listening to records as a whole.
DT: For people who don’t know, what’s the mood and vibe at a Shells’ show?
MC: I would say it’s dangerous and intense. [laughs]
DT: I remember reading something around the time of Free Week about you jumping into a drum kit?
MC: That’ll happen every so often — There’s definitely a destructive element in our music sometimes.
RL: But we’re not about showmanship; we like to have fun.
MC: I don’t think any sort of destruction we do is a gimmick. We’re usually bouncing off with all our energy. Just in that moment, it lends itself to its own destruction.
DT: Have there been any obstacles in getting Shells off the ground?
RL: We’ve definitely played shows to like six people before, where making a record feels like it could feel defeating.
MC: We’ve had pretty much everything that could possibly go wrong at a show happen — sound problems, getting hurt, playing to really small crowds.
RL: But I’ve never walked away from a show feeling like shit. It’s a drag when things [don’t go your way], but I think since we kind of just play nonstop, I think that with a new band like this, in terms of getting tight and having it down as a band, we’re at the point we can kind of sit back now and pick our shows a little more carefully.