Shaina Shepherd Wonders If We'll Find a Cure for "The Virus" (KEXP Premiere)

Local Music, KEXP Premiere
Martin Douglas
photo by Jake Hanson

The unofficial kickoff of summer in America almost felt like a post-apocalyptic horror movie.

Approaching three months into the deadliest global pandemic of most of our lifetimes, Memorial Day weekend marked the moment many Americans were finally fed the fuck up with the ongoing spate of police officers murdering Black people upon hearing about the grisly and completely unwarranted death of George Floyd. The events shed a blinding light on a perpetual systemic bolstering of white supremacy in our country, so we grabbed our masks and took to the streets. Between COVID-19 and whateverPD, humans were being killed off at an alarming rate -- and let's face it, we still are, due to the corrupt negligence of people who are supposed to be our leaders.

Seattle itself became flush with protests and activism; the SPD East Precinct famously being shut down temporarily and the community movement known as the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest gained national headlines before being infiltrated by white supremacist groups and reoccupied by police, parallel groups sneakily goosestepping along the Pike-Pine corridor. Movements being overthrown for the world to continue to submit to the status quo. Local government opening businesses back up in the face of economy flatlining, protecting the ogre of capitalism regardless of the fact workers' lives are at risk. The more things change, the more things stay the same, right?

Shaina Shepherd is one of our city's brightest voices, to the point where she barely needs an introduction. She's a classically trained singer who injured her vocal cords in her early-twenties only to become one of the most distinctive singers in Seattle music today; the frontwoman of genre-hopping rock band BEARAXE and an equally stunning solo singer/songwriter in her own right. Just hearing her voice and piano can bring a venue full of people to its knees; a sight of people convening to witness a live performance becoming a memory so faint it is starting to feel like a mirage.

"The Virus," Shepherd's newest single (courtesy of our friends at Freakout Records), is a display of her formidable musical talents; the song opens with just her voice and her fingers moving across piano keys like the shadows of leaves across the pavement. She sings of this current moment of anxiety with aplomb and a lilt evoking Nina Simone on one too many cups of Cafe Vita double-shots. She sings of exhaustion while anxiety builds in her body, of stranger danger and broken bottles. After a calming wash of waves crashing into the sea (or pandemic traffic flowing down the street), the song turns into a baroque pop chorus of voices, sounds, and handclaps, building to the point of heightened anxiety we can all feel just underneath the surface while walking the streets nowadays.

I reached out to Shepherd to get her thoughts on "The Virus," which you can read below.

When 2020 really went to the bottom of the toilet for me, there seemed to be an endless week where this Cancer rising extrovert didn’t see another human for 12 days. My closest friends were AWOL, I had no income, my havens and heroes were asking for help on social media to survive AND THEN the world (and my neighbors) started noticing Black people being murdered and mistreated: the city erupted into endless protests 6 blocks East of me and 8 block West.

COVID-19 wasn’t the only Virus I could feel - but a virus in the human spirit; the kind that effects every body differently. I believe that if we can survive this virus our spiritual immune systems (bear with me, y’all) will come out stronger than ever. But the song feels unfinished: I let it linger at the end intentionally because the story isn’t over yet. We don’t know how any of this is going to turn out.

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