Photo courtesy of the band.
It’s a cool Saturday night in downtown Austin, and Beauty Bar is packed. Fans know by now—only a year after The Shears’ inception—that a Shears set is always a party, and as soon as the music starts everyone begins to dance. The Shears plays the kind of pop music its members love and never tire from, reminiscent of Depeche Mode and The Ting Tings. The band looks like a bunch of stylish kids having a helluva good time. You’ve got Adam Bencen on drums, Albert Vuong at the keyboard, Tommy Montgomery on bass, Aaron Blackmar playing the guitar and, finally, vocalist Inné Aguilar, well-known around town by now for her outlandish outfits. After they’re done, people line up to say hello, and The Shears sells about 15 copies of their newly released second EP, Up We Go. All in all, a pretty good night.
It’s been a week since that February night, and The Shears meet up for practice. We’re at Albert’s, a house big enough to fill with equipment and rehearse loud enough for the neighbors to compliment on. It hasn’t been long since The Shears came together through Craigslist, but already one can feel there’s comfort in the way they talk—with each other, about each other, over each other. Their personalities are set and so blatantly present. Montgomery and Vuong hang back, answering questions softly and only when asked directly. Blackmar seems to take the lead, nailing topics like music production and the Austin scene. Aguilar speaks out often and abruptly, sometimes just thinking out loud and giggling. Bencen cracks joke after joke, admitting he will somehow “find a way to say ‘dick’ or ‘vagina’” as often as possible.”
These guys are friends, but they’re also musicians. And they’re doing pretty damn well for themselves. The band’s first EP, The Shears, was released nine months ago. Even though the band wasn’t completely happy with it—which is why they gave them all away, didn’t even try to push it—they quickly became music blogger favorites. Through personal connections, The Shears didn’t even have to deal with playing empty shows. Their first show, they opened for L.A.X.
Fast-forward to today and their second EP, Up We Go, is already out and selling, and they’ve become local favorites, constantly playing with Sphynx and Zeale. They’ve played festivals as well, and have started to get a grasp on the wonders and pressures that come with being an Austin band. It seems every band in the Live Music Capital of the World has something to say about the lifestyle of it—and The Shears is no exception, because a discussion soon arises. “I think the Austin music scene is the most creative and fun in terms of the variety of music that’s out there,” says Blackmar. “Places like Brooklyn don’t have anything on Austin in terms of what we offer. The downside is that it’s oversaturated and there is a lot of rivalry, or bands don’t cooperate with one another as much as they could. It’s not as much of a community as it could be.” But, Bencen says carefully, “I wouldn’t say it’s… animosity. It’s just very competitive.”
Blackmar elaborates. “People don’t want to get too excited about your band because they’re in a band, and they don’t want to take momentum away from themselves,” he says. “But the hype that Austin receives in terms of talent is well-deserved. There’s a lot of talented, talented people here.”
The subject will come up again later, but first, there’s another issue at hand. Google “The Shears” and you won’t find an article that doesn’t mention their style. Especially Aguilar’s. With fashion and music so closely intertwined, the members of The Shears say they do pay attention to what they look like on stage, and their show at Beauty Bar is a good example. They joke that Blackmar outshined Aguilar that night, playing in a striking silver blazer and black hat.
But they’ve all got their own style and their own style icons. They embody the fun and freedom of pop perfectly. Montgomery—who’s covered in leather, tattoos and has a haircut that makes me want to be a man—loves Cyndi Lauper and everything she did for fashion in the music business. Aguilar’s always been inspired by David Bowie and Michael Jackson. She adores leopard and glitter, and everything over-the-top. “We all appreciate fashion,” says Bencen. “And it’s nice to participate on another level of our onstage togetherness.” Bencen is attracted to bands and musicians who are very visual—in their outfits and their performances—because, he says, it’s all part of the package. He likes Empire of the Sun and Of Montreal, whose outfits are “particularly insane and colorful.”
The Shears truly come together through their love for pop and the overall pop aesthetic. They’re saving up to be able to incorporate more effects—lighting, dancers, the works—for their live performance, because they want to make it a visual experience. “Not just a band rehearsing on stage,” says Blackmar. “But 45 minutes that is an entire experience, something that you feel good about giving your money to see.”
They’re already doing a good job at it. They’ve got great energy and the music is catchy and fun, perfect for a night out with friends. “Pop is just fun to play with,” says Aguilar. “Plus, live performance is so, so important. I think if you’re feeling good about your songs, the audience feels that and the exchange of energy just works out.”
Blackmar agrees, saying they’ve been lucky to have enthusiastic crowds even in the smallest venues. “The crowd participation at our own shows is great,” says Blackmar. “But the awkward shows have been the festival shows.” The band nods along in agreement. “Usually because 90 percent of the crowd is made up of other bands that are also playing the festival, and nobody is worse to be in a crowd than other band members because they’re just standing there, like, ‘My band’s better.’”
So far the band is enjoying its time in Austin. They love the city and talk about how amazing it is to go out any night of the week and stumble upon new music. They mention their favorite venues to play at—Frank, Antone’s, even Club 1808, the shadiest and most fun. They’re looking forward to recording more music and perfecting sound and style. More than anything, they hope to be able to tour nationally and internationally, because even though they love Austin—where people have been more receptive than they could’ve imagined—it’s hard to impress and leave a mark here.
“When you’re playing in front of predominantly musicians, and I do think Austin is just full of musicians, I think it’s much more difficult to have participation,” says Blackmar. “I think that Rapture song says it best, ‘People don’t dance anymore/they just stand here like this.’ It’s kind of how people are here, so we want to take it further.”