Q Magazine

Disco Meets Hard Rock: Sheer Mag Vocalist Tina Halladay Shares Story Behind Upcoming Album 'Playing Favorites'

The band's new LP is its first with Jack White's label Third Man Records.

Sheer Mag
Source: Natalie Piserchio

Sheer Mag vocalist Tina Halladay sat down with Q to discuss the band's new album 'Playing Favorites.'

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In the heart of the 1970s, it would have been blasphemous for a hard rock group to release a disco record. But Sheer Mag, a Philadelphia band hoping to become the genre's new vanguard, doesn't abide by those rules.

Their upcoming album Playing Favorites – due out on Friday, March 1 – started as a four-track disco EP.

Vocalist Tina Halladay told Q the band decided to transform the project into a full-fledged studio album after they signed to Jack White's label Third Man Records late last year. Before then, the band had put out all of its releases on their own label Wilsuns Recording Company.

"We'd reached a ceiling and thought maybe it was time for some outside perspective," Halladay said.

The singer is not a big KISS fan, but admitted that she has a soft spot for the band's club-friendly 1979 record Dynasty. Fans may notice some similarities between that LP and Playing Favorites.

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Sheer Mag
Source: Third Man Records

The LP will come out on Friday, March 1 via Jack White's label Third Man Records.

Those who can't wait for the full album can listen to the four singles Sheer Mag has already released.

"Moonstruck" starts out as a cozy alt-country song, but quickly transforms into a groovy dance rock track defined by its complex bass lines.

The band's disco influences also shine through on "All Lined Up," which features congas and urgent rhythm guitar work that should drive listeners toward the dance floor.

Those looking for straight up hard rock aren't out of luck. "Eat It and Beat It" and the album's title track are both a continuation of the throwback sound Sheer Mag has been mastering for the past decade.

Like the rest of the band's catalog, Playing Favorites was mostly self-produced.

"I think it's more of a control thing than anything else," Halladay said. "It does make us want to murder each other, but we like the end result."

The writing process for the new record began with brothers Kyle and Hart Seely (on lead guitar and bass respectively), who worked out the structure of the compositions before bringing them to Halladay and rhythm guitarist Matt Palmer.

Halladay and Palmer have written the lyrics together in the past, but this time around the vocalist let the guitarist take the reins.

The band's past albums have been informed by Halladay's political views and personal experiences, but she said this record is more about the collective trauma people are working through in the wake of the pandemic.

Sheer Mag brought producer Ryan Mulvanerty to their West Philadelphia rehearsal space to help Halladay track the vocals.

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The band formed in Philadelphia in 2014, but can trace its roots back to SUNY Purchase, a public college about an hour north of New York City. That's where Halladay met the other members of the band.

While studying, the vocalist was part of a "soul punk" group called the Shakes. Like Sheer Mag, the band defied genre expectations. They didn't have a guitarist, so their sound was defined by a reedy electric organ instead.

The Seely brothers come from more of an emo/math rock background. They were both previously in a punk band called Sirs.

Like many former Purchase students, Halladay and the rest of the band ended up in Philadelphia due to the astronomical cost of living in New York City.

Over the years, Sheer Mag has managed to find broad critical acclaim despite their strong independent streak.

"We're such a band's band," Halladay said. "We get mentioned in all these articles as influences."

The group has been on Third Man's radar since at least 2017, when they performed at the label's venue in Nashville. A picture from that show is still hanging in there to this day.

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Sheer Mag
Source: Natalie Piserchio

The retro album fuses elements of disco and hard rock while maintaining the band's punk rock ethos.

Sheer Mag's fan base is diverse. Halladay said many of the people who come to see them range from NPR dads to punk kids from the scene the band came up in. They also managed to court some metalheads through their tour with the crossover thrash band Power Trip.

But it's not clear if Sheer Mag is resonating with the sort of traditional hard rock fan who might shell out a small fortune to see AC/DC or the Scorpions.

Halladay noted that some listeners in that demographic wouldn't appreciate Sheer Mag's lyrics or seeing a band fronted by a woman.

The vocalist added that she still occasionally gets mistaken for the band's merch girl, but said this doesn't occur as often as it did back in the day.

"It's happening less frequently now that I'm confident in my abilities and know how to walk into a room," Halladay said.

She and the rest of the band are currently preparing to support the new album via their upcoming global tour.

The North American leg will start in Washington D.C. on March 29 and end in Philly on May 10. Following an appearance at the Field Day Music Festival in Northampton, Massachusetts, the band will travel to Europe. That portion of the tour will begin in Genk, Belgium, on Aug. 3 and end in Lisbon on Aug. 26.

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Tickets are available for purchase through Sheer Mag's website. Check out a full list of the upcoming dates below:

Mar 29: Washington, DC - Songbyrd

Mar 30: Carrboro, NC - Cat's Cradle - Back Room

Mar 31: Asheville, NC - Eulogy

Apr 01: Nashville, TN - The Blue Room at Third Man Records

Apr 02: Atlanta, GA - The Masquerade - Altar

Apr 04: New Orleans, LA - Siberia

Apr 05: Houston, TX - The End

Apr 06: Austin, TX - Far Out Lounge

Apr 07: Dallas, TX - Double Wide

Apr 09: Mesa, AZ - The Nile

Apr 10: Tucson, AZ - Club Congress

Apr 11: San Diego, CA - The Casbah

Apr 12: Santa Ana, CA - Constellation Room

Apr 13: Los Angeles, CA - Lodge Room

Apr 15: San Francisco, CA - Rickshaw Stop

Apr 17: Portland, OR - Star Theater

Apr 18: Seattle, WA - The Vera Project

Apr 19: Boise, ID - The Shredder

Apr 20: Salt Lake City, UT - Kilby Court

Apr 22: Denver, CO - Hi Dive

Apr 24: Omaha, NE - Reverb Lounge

Apr 25: Minneapolis, MN - 7th St. Entry

Apr 26: Madison, WI - High Noon Saloon

Apr 27: Chicago, IL - Sleeping Village

Apr 29: Kalamazoo, MI - Bell's Eccentric Cafe

Apr 30: Windsor, ON - Craft Heads Brewing Company

May 01: Toronto, ON - Velvet Underground

May 03: Buffalo, NY - Mohawk Place

May 04: Troy, NY - No Fun

May 05: Somerville, MA - Crystal Ballroom

May 06: East Haven, CT - Beeracks

May 08: New York, NY - Bowery Ballroom

May 10: Philadelphia, PA - First Unitarian Church

May 31 - Jun 02: Northampton, MA - Field Day Music Festival

Aug 03: BE Genk - Absolutely Free Festival

Aug 04: NL Amsterdam - Paradiso

Aug 05: DE Hamburg - Hafenklang

Aug 06: DK Copenhagen - Stengade

Aug 07: DE Berlin - Cassiopeia

Aug 08: DE Leipzig - Institut für Zukunft

Aug 09: NL Eindhoven - Stroomhuis

Aug 11: UK London - Lafayette

Aug 12: UK Birmingham - Hare & Hounds

Aug 13: UK Glasgow - Room 2

Aug 14: UK Leeds - Belgrave Music Hall

Aug 15: UK Brecon Beacons - Green Man Fest

Aug 17: CH Geneva - Piz Palu Festival

Aug 18: CH Düdingen - Bad Bonn

Aug 20: ES San Sebastian - Dabadaba

Aug 21: ES Madrid - El SolAug 22: ES Barcelona - Upload

Aug 23: ES Valencia - 16 Toneladas

Aug 24: ES Torremolinos - Canela Party

Aug 26: PT Lisbon - ZDB


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