Self-described as “two brothers from other mothers with the same last name,” John Shields and Kevin Shields are the brains behind the quirky rhythms, beats, and rhymes that make the musical duo Little Stranger…well, a little stranger.
Already holding many local accolades such as “Hip-Hop Act of the Year” in the 2016 & 2017 Charleston City Paper Music Awards, and with a couple years of touring up and down both coasts, Little Stranger is a name that you can expect to be hearing about more and more. With the release of their brand new EP, Styles & Dynamics, and some other big things on the horizon as the new year approaches, John and Kevin spent a little time with Reggae 360 to share a little bit about where they’ve been and where they are heading, while also offering some sage advice.
Jess 360: Hi guys! Thanks again for chatting with us. Can you kick it off by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about Little Stranger’s origin story?
John: Absolutely. So, I’m John Shields and my partner here is Kevin Shields.
John: We have the same last name but we are, in fact, not related to one another. As far as we know.
We went to high school together outside of Philadelphia. We both played music, but not together. We each played and toured with different bands through college, but, afterwards, those bands came to an end and we both ended up back in Philly. Any time I would be playing, Kev would hop up and freestyle with my band and immediately we were kind of like “Yeah. We should do a side project or something.” We thought we’d put out 5 tracks or something for fun.
Once we got in the studio and writing together, we were pretty stoked about what we were coming up with and the vibe. We had the same kind of musical taste and the same vision in terms of the music, so we turned this side project into a full-time project pretty quickly. I moved back to Charleston, and then Kevin moved down as well. He’s been down here for three years now, and we are finishing up our second year of touring full time.
Jess 360: You link up with a lot of bands on the reggae rock scene, but I’m not sure I would necessarily call you reggae. Your style is quite unique. How would you define yourself? What are some of the influences?
Kevin: Oh man this is always the toughest question for us because…we don’t know either! We play what we like. We definitely pull from a lot of reggae and hip hop, that’s most of what we listen to, I would say.
But, I think what we do well – and what reggae crowds are really there for, of course – is we have a good time. We’re not a super confrontational group, we’re not heavy in a lot of ways, so I think it kind of works. We’re alternative hip-hop with a dash of reggae and other neat stuff. Sugar and spice.
John: We say indie hip-hop a lot, but even that…I don’t know. There’s hip-hop elements, there’s reggae elements, there’s songwriter elements.
Jess 360: You cannot be defined.
Kevin: We cannot be defined. We need a fucking elevator speech, that’s for sure.
Jess 360: Over the past three years, how do you feel that your sound has evolved?
John: It’s funny, actually. With the first batch of music we put out, we had no idea what our deal was yet. We had a lot of time to pull from ideas we both had been sitting on for a while that we had worked on on our own.
By the time we put out our second album, we had already toured for a year and we were doing these three–hour gigs, but we literally only had about an hour worth of material. We would make up songs, and probably three or four of our tracks have evolved from things we made up playing at those bars. Having played so many shows for the long “pay day” gigs really helped us evolve and figure out our style.
Kevin: We had to pull from what we were listening to. We would figure out ways to mash up different songs that we liked just to extend it. By doing that, we would figure out what we liked. Repetitive hip-hop choruses as an outro, big drops, dub breaks. Things like that. There was a lot of experimentation and gut reactions.
Jess 360: I think that leads really well into talking about the new album. Can you tell us about what we should expect from this one?
John: It’s called “Styles and Dynamics.” It’s a six track EP. It works as a counterpart to the Techniques EP we put out a little over a year ago. They kind of work together: “Techniques,” “Styles and Dynamics”… it has a nice ring to it.
We actually worked on a half of these songs while we worked on Techniques, so they have a similar feel; they work well together. And the other half are pretty much spontaneous ones.
Kevin: Three of the songs we started recording at the same time as Techniques because we were initially going to put out a full-length album. The other three are brand new and we only just started trying to figure out how to play them live. It’s cool, it’s a combination of our older style as well as a new direction.
Jess 360: For those who aren’t too familiar with your music yet: if you had to choose one or two tracks that really capture who Little Stranger is for them to start with, which ones would they be?
John: I would say “Me & You.” That’s a really good one. It’s a really good blend of what we bring. My strengths have always been in acoustic guitar and songwriting, and then there’s Kevin strength as a super in-your-face lyrical hip-hop artist. That song blends the two really well, as far as a melodic songwriter combined with the hip-hop element. A second one would be…
Kevin: It’s a toss up.
John: I would say maybe “Gimme the Beat.”
Kevin: I just think a song live, like “A Bag Full of Money,” or something. That’s one that works really, really well live and it’s super fun, super energetic. We got wordplay and just weird stuff. Like, I play melodica on it.
But yeah, on “Gimme the Beat” we showcase a lot. We have fun with words, we’re dissecting things, keeping it light, but keeping the technicality of it high.
Jess 360: Would you say a lot of the characteristics you just described are evident on the new EP as well?
John: Yeah, for sure. The new songs are a nice balance of the super light hearted and – like Kevin said – there’s a lot of word play. This EP may not include a lot of super in-depth thematic music, but it is focused on the content of the words; the quality of the wordplay.
Jess 360: So, what’s next for Little Stranger from here? Hitting the road? More music videos? What’s in store?
John: We have a really good music video that we are going to be shooting at the beginning of December for the opening track on the EP. We will also be releasing a full-length YouTube stream of the new album. We did this for the last album we put out. This time, we are going to have a pretty sweet full-length stream of Kevin and I playing basketball against each other. We will also do at least one more music video before the end of the year.
After that, we come into the new year with two tours ready to go. We will be doing the East Coast the Badfish and Ballyhoo! in January, and we will be doing the Each Coast again with ¡MayDay! and RDGLDGRN in February.
John 360: You mentioned you have a new music video coming. Your music videos are awesome. They’re entertaining, they’re hilarious, and they look very well done. That’s one of the things I enjoyed while discovering your catalog . What’s the process you use to put these together?
John: A huge thing that makes our team work really well is that Kevin does our video work. Having that in house, first of all, allows us to have that creative freedom to come up and execute an idea that we want to do. It also helps with time and money. Between Kevin and our really good buddy that goes by Dan Skippy, that’s our video crew.
Our music is pretty light-hearted, and we are pretty light-hearted dudes, so we want that to come across in our music videos. I think a big thing for us is that we’re not shooting high production value videos, so we want it to be a good theme that’s going to catch people’s attention without necessarily having an amazing production value.
Kevin: The idea should always be stronger than the quality. There are a lot dudes out there right now with $4k cameras and don’t even know what to do with it.
John: Yeah, we try to keep it fun and just goofy, man. That’s what we are all about. This is fun for us. We’re fucking lucky we get to do this and make a living out of it. We try to get that to come across in our videos.
John 360: You guys are insanely talented, and it seems like you put a lot of effort and energy into promoting yourselves on social media, you’re about to release a new EP… you guys are on the rise. Are you doing this all independently?
Kevin: It’s pretty much all us. We are very independent.
We have a lot of people that we can call to talk to and help us with obstacles every day, and we have a really great booking agent, Caleb Coker, who works for The Empire Agency and crushes it for us. We just got a distribution company that’s working with us on this release, but everything up to this point has been pretty independent. We have been lucky in that things have been picking up really quickly. You kind of realize that there’s no time like the present, so we just dive into it every day. There really are no days off.
John 360: Who are some groups that you look to for, maybe not advice, but people you see doing their thing that kind of rubs off on you.
Kevin: Every time we get to be on tour with a band that’s been at it longer than we have, it’s always so great to see how they operate and pick their brain. We come out inspired from the tour; there’s always something for us to pick up.
Mark360: I’m really into these Stranger Sessions. Can you talk about that and the story behind those?
Kevin: It’s my blanket title to let us do whatever the hell we want to do. There’s just so many killer moments we get on the road that not everyone gets to experience with us, so we’ve been trying to find a way to share them. The last one we put up was me getting up to freestyle with Tropidelic at Freakstomp.
John: It’s not anything that’s super specific. It’s just all things Stranger.
Jess 360: I think it’s interesting how “Little Stranger” is a wordplay itself. Your name serves as an adjective and a noun, and I’ve wondered if this was intentional. Can you share where the name came from?
Kevin: It came from my giant list of band names that I used to always carry around. Anytime I would be hanging out with buddies and we would come up with a silly thought, I would add it to the list of band names. When John and I were coming up with this project and we needed something, we looked at the list. We had a couple that we were going up against, but “Little Stranger” seemed to right at the front. The second we both heard it. We’re both about word play. We love word play, and you can use it in a couple different ways. Our music is a little stranger.
John: We try to keep it as the motto for what we do. Since the very beginning we’ve thought, alright, anything that we do, let’s keep it a little strange. It’s been a nice motto for us.
Every day Kevin looks in the mirror at his mustache and he thinks “Yep. Little Stranger.”
Jess 360: We’ve covered the new EP and your upcoming tours. Do you have any other parting you want Reggae 360 readers to be aware of?
Kevin: Those are the biggest stories we have going now, for sure.
John: I mean, tell people to brush your teeth for two minutes every time you brush your teeth.
Check out their new EP, Styles & Dynamics, available on Spotify and anywhere else music is found. Follow Little Stranger on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to keep up with their latest tunes, videos, and tour dates. Whatever this dynamic duo has in store in the future, you won’t want to miss it. And, seriously, brush for at least two minutes. You’ll thank us later.
UPCOMING LITTLE STRANGER TOUR DATES
Nov 2 – Savannah, GA // Congress Street Social Club ^
Nov 15 – Washington, DC // Songbyrd Record Cafe ^
Nov 16 – NYC // Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 ^
Nov 17 – Philadelphia, PA // Ortleib’s ^
Nov 23 – Baltimore, MD // The 8×10
Nov 24 – Asbury Park, NJ // Wonder Bar
Nov 28 – Boston, MA // Great Scott %
Nov 30 – Manchester, CT // The Main Pub %
Dec 7 – Macon, GA // Macon Beer Garden
Jan 3 – Clifton Park, NY // Upstate Concert Hall +
Jan 11 – Silver Spring, MD // The Fillmore +
Jan 12 – Norfolk, VA // The Norva +
Jan 13 – Greenville, NC // State Theatre +
Jan 15 – Nashville, TN // The Cowan +
Jan 16 – Asheville, NC // The Orange Peel +
Jan 17 – Greensboro, NC // Cone Denim Ent. Center +
Jan 18 – Charleston, SC // The Music Farm +
Jan 19 – Charlotte, NC // The Fillmore +
+ w/ Badfish & Ballyhoo
^ w/ Pip the Pansy
% w/ Joon