The Shills change to stay the same

Natural progression
By PERRY EATON  |  April 24, 2012

STRAIGHT CURVES "I've always thought of the Shills as a band that makes complicated music with
complicated structures," says Bryan Murphy (left). "But it's uncool to have complicated music."

Youth is both the blessing and the curse of Boston's music landscape. It's the young spirits that keep our scene so buoyant, so greatly supported, and so driven by change. But with unpredictable student schedules, insufficient budgets, and a constant shuffling of personnel — not to mention those who vacate the city after graduation — it seems almost unthinkable for bands to last more than a few years here.

One exception to this curse has been the Shills. The modest Boston-based quartet have been a staple of the local scene for almost eight years, releasing two full-length albums, an EP, and on May 2, the first half of their new two-part EP, Keep Your Hands Busy. Guitarist and vocalist Bryan Murphy is quick to assure there are few changes, musically, on the Shills' latest effort, which features the band's trademark progressive indie-rock intricacies and the captivating voice of its frontman.

Murphy, who joined the Shills back in 2004 when the other three members— Eric Ryrie, Dave Sicilian, and James Zaner — were playing under the name Gallery, wanted Keep Your Hands Busy to stick close to the familiar. "We basically changed nothing in the creative process," says Murphy. "Writing music still involves our typical rock approach of jamming and drinking whiskey."

But change is inevitable, and after years of adhering to the same lineup, the Shills now see themselves a bit different from where they started. Guitarist Ryrie departed late last year to join This Car Up's Paul Sentz in the launch of their latest project, Slowdim. Replacing Ryrie was Ryan Jackson, formerly of Ryan Jackson Troika. And the changes weren't just limited to personnel. For the first time, the Shills decided not to self-record their new material, and instead sought out Letters to Cleo bassist Scott Riebling, who runs a studio in Raynham. Riebling helped the Shills sharpen their driving rock sound and focus purely on the creative aspects of recording.

Despite being based in a college town, Murphy sees the Shills' age and experience as an advantage, specifically in the trial-and-error process of defining their sound on the new EP. In the past they have tried the straightforward, they have tried the experimental, and now they look to find a happy medium. "I've always thought of the Shills as a band that makes complicated music with complicated structures," says Murphy, "but it's uncool to have complicated music."

With this realization, Murphy and the band have made it their prerogative to pursue the music they enjoy writing but translate it into a more palatable language. "Our goal basically is to sell sophisticated music to people who would rather not be confused," he says.

This complex sound is something that has evolved with the band since their roots. Each member is trained and seasoned, with Murphy getting his start in high school primarily as a horn player. At an early age, Murphy was drawn to music with a different perspective. He admired the angst of the Kinks and the abnormal structures of Frank Zappa, and he admits his favorite band in high school was Mr. Bungle. "I liked music that pissed people off," he says.

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