Shirley House
Gig Seeker Pro

Shirley House

New York City, New York, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2012 | SELF

New York City, New York, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 2012
Band Pop World




"Kai-otic Music Review"

I am finding Shirley House so damn refreshing. It’s some of the best pop songwriting I’ve heard this year, with choruses in the vein of Fun. or Bastille. What’s fantastic is these crystal clear melodies and lyrics, approachable and fun, are presented within a hazy sounding pop production. Run Dadda almost feels like Rusted Root and Vanilla Ice’s production and melodies time traveled to a Brooklyn bedroom. - Kai-otic Music


Run Dadda/Guard Down EP- 2013
  1."Run Dadda"
  2."Guard Down"
The Sometimes Shirley EP-2014
  1."Carry On"



First is the rhythm: a tessellated electronica heartbeat. Then the voice: a honey-colored, R&B-inflected baritone. Last, the performance: all ratchet ballet and Afrik vogue, twerking and pirouettes. This is Shirley House.

Shirley House isn’t just band: it’s a community, a family. Shirley House—DJ Natural State (Gillian Sandman), vocalist (Sa)Moncé (Sam Smith), choreographers Omari Tipton and Prentice Whitlow, dancers Grace Eucker and Jaqui Rice, plus a host of engineers and musicians—work together to make something bigger, more complicated, than just a single track, a lone dance step. Shirley House is an experience. Shirley House is a world.

(Sa)Moncé and Natural State (who are the core of the Shirley House sound) pull their inspiration—hybrid, heterogeneous, diasporic—from whatever they can get their hands on. They’ve made a kind of synth pop grounded in the experimental work of EDM and the rhythmic sensibility of 90s and 00s R&B, with vocal and percussive elements from West Africa (think Oumou Sangaré) and the urgent insistence of Baltimore club. Talk to Shirley House about their influences and they’ll drop names from MIA to Alison Kraus, Kirk Franklin to Bjork, T-Pain to Fatoumata Diawara, Beyoncé to DJ MK.

But here is where the equation changes: Shirley House puts on a show. Electric, kinetic, nonstop, their live performances pulse with something singular. Watching Shirley House live, you get the sense that what happens right there, right then, is as important to them as what they lay down in the studio. With their first choreographer Prentice Whitlow (who recently moved to London) and now Omari Mizrahi (who pioneers a fusion of African, house, and vogue styles called Afrik), Shirley House puts on performances that are bigger than the sound itself.

DC native (Sa)Moncé studied at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts for musical theater and then vocal music, before going on to the University of Miami for a BFA in musical theater. Dissatisfied with the education he was getting there—and the limits of the genre he studied under—he transferred to the University of Maryland to study queer theory and take every West African dance class he could.

Raised in New Jersey, Natural State dabbled in music—guitar, flute, vocals—in high school, but came into her own when she bought her first set of DJ equipment off of Craigslist in 2006. By 2007, her monthly house party, Revolution, won a Go Magazine Nightlife Award.

(Sa)Moncé and Natural State know how to read the temperature of a room. For them, their experience of music has never been a solitary one—it’s been experiential, communal. So much of Shirley House comes out of this ethos.

They met in early 2012, while (Sa)Moncé was working as a barista in the West Village and Natural State at NYU. They both liked each other’s look. “I noticed her hair,” Moncé said of Natural State. “He was very pretty,” Natural State echoed. But the real connection happened, naturally, over music. Natural State liked the music (Sa)Moncé played while he worked, he was impressed by her knitty-gritty knowledge of each track. The rest was easy to figure out: “You’re gay, I’m gay, let’s just be gay together.”

The work that (Sa)Moncé and Natural State do is collaborative. Each brings ideas to the table that, without the other, would likely never get finished. (Sa)Moncé writes 80 percent of their lyrics—all of which are written from his narrative perspective—and Natural State pulls in the sounds to accompany them.  This, plus the elaborate intensity of their shows, speaks to the one-stop-shop nature of the Shirley House project. They do it all.

When asked, (Sa)Moncé and Natural State describe the stories they tell as both queer and universal. “Yes we are a queer band,” Natural State says, “and we’re singing songs that you will connect with.” (In conversation with them, you’ll hear a lot more “ands” than “buts.”) “They’re shady songs,” (Sa)Moncé reflects. His lyrics deal with heartbreak, abandonment, and traffic in the sad, the mournful, the angry. The goal is to produce music that “gets to the core,” prying open a listener’s heart, while also making them want to move. Shirley House wants music “that makes you happy, or happy-sad, which is the best combination,” says Natural State.

Shirley “represents how we are nerds,” (Sa)Moncé says. Shirley is their “inner (and outer) dweeb,” Natural State echoes. Their commitment—their sincere enthusiasm for this project, for their music—shines through their voices. It’s easy to see how their ambition—to pair interesting, forward-thinking music with big, showstopping performance—has become a reality through their work.

There’s little artifice here, though a lot of art.

“This is just who we are.”

Band Members