I have a bit of a storied history with the Shooks, as they’re affectionately called. Back in the halcyon days of 2004-05, they were regular fixtures at the Plague House, a home/venue that played host to more bands than I care to admit to. More times than not, however, you could bet that either Shook Ones or Sinking Ships were playing there.
When I walk into Hattie’s Hat, the bar where I’m meeting Freeman, I’m — dare I say — a little ‘shook’ myself. One, because I’m slightly late. Two, because he recognizes me. And not from the numerous shows of his band that I’ve attended or through the many mutual friends we share (the Seattle hardcore community is a small one). He recognizes me because we went to high school together.
Listen to “Who Told Omar”
Despite my sudden lapse in memory, Freeman and I share a lot of the same reference points for old Seattle show haunts such as the Velvet Elvis, RCKNDY and DV8.
As for the Shook Ones themselves — a band that has reference points in popular Jade Tree Records bands like Lifetime and Kid Dynamite, around 2003-04, Freeman began laying down the ground work for the band. He’s joined by Zach Muljat and Kelly Aiken on guitars, Bo Stewart on bass, and Jimmy Walsh on drums, and now lives in Bellingham, WA, a sleepy college town which has recently gained notoriety thanks in part to Death Cab for Cutie and the underrated duo, Idiot Pilot.
“We made a demo. It was pretty standard band formation stuff,” Freeman says of the Shooks’s earnest beginnings. “[We pretty much] wanted to do a band like the bands we really liked.”
Following their demo, in 2005, the band recorded their debut full-length, Sixteen, on Endwell Records. Fast and abrasive, the album showcased much of Shook Ones’ hardcore roots, while its successor, Facetious Folly Feat, embraced the quintet’s melodic elements. The sophomore album was released on Revelation Records, a highly-regarded hardcore punk label that has put out respected records by bands like Gorilla Biscuits, The Movielife, Judge, Sick Of It All, Quicksand, Inside Out, and Elliott.
Though Facetious gained a following, primarily due to the band’s constant touring and support showed by sites like Punknews.org, it stalled and Shook Ones left Revelation Records behind.
“I think I’ve managed to separate my experience with [the label] and my younger, idealized view of it,” says Freeman in between bites of french fries. “I still think it’s cool to see the Rev star on a record we made.
“And honestly, it wasn’t that bad. Bob Shedd (former A&R for Revelation), who was there when we were there, was really great. They never pulled any weird shit… they were very hands off, but, like, almost too hands off. It felt like their mail order was where the money was, so that’s where they put their effort. Which is fine.”
Between 2006’s Facetious and the new album, The Unquotable A.M.H., the Shooks kept busy, releasing split EPs with the likes of End of a Year and Japan’s Easel. The latter EP contains a call to arms for gay rights with “Order Form.”
“The content has gotten attention from people, and it’s good attention,” explains Freeman. “Sometimes there’s a stigma against a band trying to be a political band… but those are usually bands like Anti-Flag… who are stating the obvious. Maybe their hearts are in the right place, but they could say it a little more intelligently.
“I definitely don’t write any songs that are super political on the new record. I would like to think that we could influence peoples’ opinions on things with certain songs, but I doubt we can be a band where every song is about that one topic.”
For the band’s latest LP, The Unquotable A.M.H., they have a new label, Paper + Plastick, an imprint run by former Fueled by Ramen founder and Less than Jake drummer, Vinnie Fiorello.
“[Vinnie] seemed pretty cool,” says Freeman. “He didn’t ever come at us like, ‘Okay, here’s the deal, here’s what it is… blah blah.’ To sum it up, he was like, ‘I just want to put out records that I think are awesome,’ and that was it.
“Recording was amazing because we did whatever we wanted with whoever we wanted, and he’s like, ‘Okay, invoice me.'”
While it’s not as punishing as Sixteen, The Unquotable A.M.H. further solidifies the Shook Ones’ sound, which, at this point, has transcended their status from being a Dan Yemin cover band (Yemin was the guitarist for both Lifetime and Kid Dynamite and once appeared as a repetitious influence of the Shook Ones’) to a band coming into its own sound, personality, and style.
“Honestly, I think this record is how I imagined how things would sound. Our drummer now is super solid and really tempo conscious, so a lot of the melodies and stuff just came out how I planned them and developed better because there’s a lot of space,” says Freeman.
For their new album, Freeman and company are taking it at their own pace, with Fiorello’s support and recommendation.
“Vinnie is the coolest dude ever and he fully knows. He’s like, ‘I know you guys don’t want to tour a ton; it’s cool. There’s ways to make people excited about your band and sell records without you having to go on tour for nine months out of the year.’
“We were in Europe for almost four weeks and a few of the guys lost their jobs and someone’s cell phone got turned off because they don’t have money. That shit’s okay for awhile, but if you expect to have no money a few times out of the year because of tour, it gets old after five years.”
The band is currently firming up for a touring schedule for the fall, where they will be participating in this year’s popular extravaganza in Gainesville, Florida’s The Fest. Still, even with a possibly limited touring schedule, Freeman says that Shook Ones’ overall intentions with their music is to create a relateable audio palate.
“You could maybe catch the ear of someone who, on a strictly aesthetic basis, is not so into [our music], but if they read [the lyrics], it’s amazing what the words of a song can do,” says Freeman. “I’m glad that there are people out there who wouldn’t [generally] be into Shook Ones, but then they read something, and something about what they read helps them get over the aesthetic quality.”