“R.I.P that leather jacket,” Jeremy Shada says in an EXCLUSIVE interview with HollywoodLife, and after watching the video for “Dancing With Strangers,” you’ll understand why. In a great sacrifice for art, Jeremy’s jacket gets covered in colored dust, water, and sparks as he sings his new song. “Dancing With Strangers” is as explosive as the effects that bathe Jeremy in the elements, both with its ‘80s-inspired beat and its hard-hitting introspective lyrics.
“Dancing With Strangers” gets in your head with its infectious beat and surging, neon-soaked production, and once it’s in there, you realize there’s more to it than meets the eye. For Jeremy, the juxtaposition is the hook. “It almost feels like you’re going through the singer’s thought process in real-time,” he says, “as if they’re currently dancing with strangers, and by the end of the song, they realize it’s not something they want anymore.”
This new single marks the second release from Jeremy’s forthcoming debut album, currently set for a release in Fall 2021. Though many may know him from his acting career – he voiced Finn in Adventure Time and portrayed Reggie Peters in the award-winning Netflix series Julie and the Phantoms – this upcoming release will reintroduce his music side, one that he first developed with his pop-punk band Make Out Monday and was able to showcase on JATP.
During the chat with HollywoodLife, Jeremy shared how he could pair a “mature message, lyrically” with the energetic beat in “Dancing With Strangers,” how JATP led to him creating his upcoming album and if he’s going to partake in the pop-punk revival.
HollywoodLife: There’s a sense of begrudging acknowledgment in the chorus of “Dancing With Strangers” – that the singer realizes they’ve outgrown the old habit of ‘dancing with strangers at 3 am’ and ‘wasting their love on somebody who doesn’t know who I am.’ It’s quite a mature statement, so what inspired you to put this reality check to a dance beat?
Jeremy: I like having the juxtaposition of the lyrics and the beat. It almost feels like you’re going through the singer’s thought process in real-time as if they’re currently dancing with strangers, and by the end of the song, they realize it’s not something they want anymore. The dance beat and melody bring that electric energy that my younger listeners love, and once they’re drawn in and dancing along, you’re able to give them a mature message lyrically.
Whose idea was it to shoot a video where you’re surrounded by sparks, doused with rain, and covered in colored powder? Admittedly, the powder part could be fun – also, did that jacket ever get cleaned, or was it sacrificed for the name of art?
R.I.P that leather jacket, it was definitely sacrificed for the video! [laughs] I had the idea of doing a video where it feels like the singer is in a trance and there’s a lot of crazy things happening to them and around them, and they’re just apathetic to all of it. Additionally, I wanted it to feel very ’80s since that’s the big influence of the song, so we went with the moody dark lighting where the bright colors really pop. We shot it at night outside on a big black tarp, got a bunch of neon lights, and our cinematographer, Bernardo Nogueira, just had fun with it. We wanted it to get messy! [laughs] He set up a custom rain rig, got all of the colorful powder (which I’m still finding bits of in random places, it got EVERYWHERE), and used a grinder tool to shoot the sparks at me. It was a blast! I like videos that are visually interesting and without being too on the nose. I think it elicits the emotion of the song.
What drew you to make a modern-day version of a 1980s song? What is it about the sound of that decade that was so appealing?
I grew up listening to ’80s music. My parents were always playing classics like Journey, Def Leppard, Queen, Michael Jackson, Phil Collins, etc. So I’ve always wanted to make a song that had those tones and sounds. I feel like that decade had the best anthems. It was the type of music that was so fun at a concert. The choruses are catchy, and everyone can sing along, the guitar solos are infectious, and you want to air guitar the part every time you hear it. There are big synthetic drums, walls of gang vocals, and harmonies. It’s my favorite kind of pop/rock music, and my goal was to bring it to younger listeners in a way that they can still enjoy with modern sensibilities.
Your work on Netflix’s Julie and the Phantoms somewhat inspired you and led you to find the confidence to launch this solo project officially. Can you tell us more about that experience and your songwriting?
Working on JATP was a dream project. I’d done music long before the show in Make Out Monday, etc. but I really hadn’t done a lot of songwriting myself since my brother Zack was the main songwriter in that group. Through JATP, we had a band songwriting camp with all of these professional songwriters/producers, which was a blast. The camp really de-mystified the songwriting process. I realized that how they approached songwriting was the same way as me, and the best thing to do is just write…and then write some more! [laughs]
Songwriting is like a muscle; the more you work it out, the stronger it gets. It’s something I came to really enjoy and got pretty good at, so I started writing for myself, and not just for a particular scene in the show (which is where my single “Ballerina” and my Mad Love EP came from). Those were my first forays publicly as a solo artist, and had the audience not been positively taken to those releases, I probably would never have made more music. The fans really drove that burst of confidence.
You have a bit of a pop-punk past. Any desire to jump back into that pool, since the sound is having a bit of a revival?
I love pop-punk! It’ll always have a special place for me, so I’m glad to see it’s coming back a little bit! I enjoy so many different types of music that I find I have to really reign myself in, or else I’ll use elements from every genre. [laughs] I’ve been listening to a lot of The Band CAMINO recently, though, sooooooo, it’s not impossible. I’d do something in that realm (with my spin on it) in the near future. You’ll have to wait and see, I guess!
Your solo work has been described as “modern vintage pop.” What do you think modern pop is missing that the “vintage” pop had?
I’m gonna have to steal the “Modern Vintage Pop” description. It makes me sound way cooler than I am! [laughs] I think at times modern pop is too reliant on splice and samples, and people don’t want to take the time to use real instruments (or at least playing their own melodies on a cool midi instrument). They’re impatient, they want to hear the song and beat be completed in five minutes instead of letting the music take you where it wants to go. They’re also too busy worrying about what everyone else is doing instead of just making something that inspires them. I prefer to take inspiration from older eras and find ways to modernize it while still keeping the nostalgic feelings intact. Don’t get me wrong, I love jamming to modern pop. A lot of it’s really catchy and fun. I just think that it can feel hollow and a little shallow at times (which might be a reflection of our culture at large).
What was the last song that gave you goosebumps?
“Free Spirit” by Khalid! Or “Haunted” by The Band Camino. Probably a lot of other songs also [laughs], but those 2 come to my mind first!
It’s been over a year since you tied the knot. Has married life affected your perspective as a musician? Like, are there songs or lines that you can point out as “this is definitely something I wrote as a single man?” etc.
Married life has affected my music as a whole, but I feel like it hasn’t quite changed the way I write. Honestly, I think more so it changed how people view my songs. There’s almost an expectation that any song I write now is about Carolynn (which in many cases is true when it’s the happy love songs). Honestly, I really enjoy writing fictional stories in my songs. People tend to think that everything you write is based on an actual personal experience, but it’s more so half-and-half for me. And there are times when I take a personal experience and fictionalize it, so the person it’s about isn’t put on blast. I try to be respectful of past relationships. There’s one song I wrote for the upcoming album that was aimed at an ex, but it felt too bite-y and immature for the overall theme of the album, so I didn’t record it. I might re-tool it and put it out as a single later, but I lean on the side of fictionalizing things instead of it being 100% obvious who the songs are about.