Interview by Jillian Scheinfeld
Images by Jan-Willem Dikkers
“The more precious I feel about things
the more magnetically I’m either
drawn or repelled by that person.”
— Dan Vidmar
Shy Girls a.k.a. Dan Vidmar is a singer, songwriter and producer. His 4WZ mixtape released in 2013 followed by 2015’s Timeshare. Vidmar has collaborated with artists such as Jagwar Ma, Cyril Hahn and ODESZA and toured with Haim, Maxwell and Little Dragon. He was born in State College, Pennsylvania and began his music career in Portland, Oregon before moving to Los Angeles, where he’s currently based.
Dan Vidmar a.k.a. Shy Girls made a name for himself in the Portland music scene during a period in his life when he was choosing between two completely divergent paths: music or medicine. Simultaneously working in the ER and recording under multiple pseudonyms, Vidmar dropped his soulful, electro-pop EP Timeshare in 2013, and the rest is history. Having collaborated with electro heavyweights such as Cyril Hahn, ODESZA and Jagwar Ma over the past three years, Shy Girls’ debut album, Salt, marks a new phase in the avant-soul singer’s musical orbit. As the musician’s first non-collaborative, completely self-produced LP, Salt stuns with its moody, stirring energy and existential lyrical motifs about living in a technologically-saturated age, all the while wrangling with the notion of turning 30.
Jillian Scheinfeld: When did you move to Los Angeles?
Dan Vidmar: I moved in February. I had been coming down here on and off for a month at a time for the last two years, so the move has been a long time coming. I still go back to Portland all the time, but my lease is here now.
JS: Seems you have the best of both worlds. What are the biggest differences for you between the creative communities in Portland and LA?
DV: To me, Portland is where Shy Girls took off and where I really began. There’s a real scene there—like any smaller city, there’s an identity and a scene of people where everyone really supports each other’s art. It feels tight-knit. But there’s minimal access to the international machine. So, there are pros and cons to that. I think it’s been a great place for me to do my thing because I like feeling a bit separated from the pop machine. But also it’s good for me to tap into that and be in Los Angeles more. There’s so much more opportunity here and I’ve met so many insanely talented producers, writers and artists in LA. And it’s the same in New York I’m sure. But there’s a give and take to both.
JS: You’ve collaborated with many artists in the past, but on your new album Salt you chose to do it completely on your own, from the production to the songwriting and vocals. What’s that sense of accomplishment feel like?
DV: It’s been a long time coming. My EP Timeshare came out in 2013 and the 4WZ mixtape dropped in 2015, so Salt is my debut album. I’m over three years into my career, so it’s a little weird but really exciting for me. The mixtape I did with a bunch of collaborators, which was awesome. I feel like after that, I really honed in on what I wanted to do. I tried collaborating with a bunch of different people when I start writing Salt, but the tracks didn’t make it on the album. But it did really help me develop my voice and figure out what I wanted to say. I stopped listening to all the outside voices and just did my thing in my home studio.
JS: Is working in solitude what comes most naturally to you?
DV: Yes, it’s kind of my personality type, which isn’t to say that I don’t like collaborating. I just have such a specific vision in mind when I want to accomplish something that sometimes it’s hard for me to compromise with other people. Instead of having a whole roomful of people’s opinions and diluting other people’s opinions down, I find I do better on my own. And I think you can hear that, for better or worse, in these songs.
“I find I do better on my own.
And I think you can hear that, for
better or worse,
in these songs.”
— Dan Vidmar
JS: I’m a huge lyrics hound. That’s where my mind frequently goes when I hear a song. Listening to this album, it sounds like there’s a lot of heartbreak, longing and disillusionment, but also this strong focus on the passing of time. Were those things on your mind?
DV: Yes, absolutely. I’m in my late 20s now, so I feel like I’ve lived a couple different lives at this point. I had no idea I would be making music as my career in my early 20s. I almost went to medical school. There was a time I was working in psych hospitals in the ER and was on that path. I went to college for psychology and then I got a job in Portland at a psych ward and worked there for a few years, which was crazy! No pun intended. And then I started working in the psych ER and fell in love with medicine. I became close with a lot of doctors and started applying to medical schools. At the same time, I was writing the very first Shy Girls stuff. Eventually I got into a bunch of schools and started releasing Shy Girls stuff simultaneously. I had a really big decision to make. There was a month there when I was going back and forth with two completely different roads I could take.
JS: I’m sure that experience informs your perspective when writing now. You recently released the first single, “Trivial Motion.” Is that song about going full-speed with someone and then getting weird about it and emotionally shutting down?
DV: It’s a lot about that. There’s this weird thing that’s happening for me as I get older where I feel more precious about the relationships I get involved in. I think that’s a societal pressure, but the more precious I feel about things the more magnetically I’m either drawn or repelled by that person.
JS: Are you always writing about your own personal experiences or do you also feed from other people’s stories and your imagination?
DV: A lot of it is personal, especially on this album. I think I’m an empath. I like to experience my emotions from the perspective of someone else. So some of my music is written from the perspective of someone else or looking at myself and talking to myself like a therapist. But the majority of it is from my own experience. A lot of what I’ve been thinking about has to do with time and growing up and feeling like my generation is approaching this next phase—the 30s—and that’s scary.
JS: It is. Let’s talk about the album art. There are these beautiful, vibrant flowers ensconced in this massive chipped ice cube. Where did that visual come from?
DV: When I finished the album, I sat down and listened to it front to back and asked myself cohesively, “What does this mean to me?” What came to my head immediately were thoughts of time and decay. The first thing I envisioned was a huge ice cube melting in the desert. I spoke to my creative director about it, and I was sort of joking; I thought he would immediately shut me down and say that idea would be way over budget. But he was open and said we should just do some version of that. As the idea progressed, I wanted it to be a little bit more complex than that, so we thought of freezing something inside of the ice cubes that was more representative of what happens over time. As we were working on it, the ice cube broke and became this perfect circumstance. It needed to be broken. Then it started to make more sense.
JS: Are you comfortable in the limelight?
DV: I’m not someone who is super comfortable in the limelight. I was talking to my team the other day about social media stuff, and they told me I have to post more. It’s totally not my thing at all. I keep myself out of the limelight in that sense. I don’t like to be doing a ton of press photos or posting a lot on social, but I do feel comfortable on stage. That’s my home. I love performing and going on tour.
JS: What is behind the name Shy Girls?
DV: When it first started, it was a hobby. I had done a couple different solo projects under different pseudonyms and would send them to friends, but everyone knew they were coming from me because it was from my email. Shy Girls was the one that people reacted to most.