Never talk to strangers … unless they’re John (a.k.a. Leaf Eater) and Kevin Shields (a.k.a. No Bueno) of Little Stranger—“brothers from other mothers with the same last name.”
INDIE HIP-HOP: John and Kevin Shields make up the Charleston-based hip-hop duo Little Stranger, who are heading to Wilmington with new tunes and backbeats. Courtesy photo.
The indie hip-hop duo started out in Philly with a more robust band but whittled their numbers to two a couple of years ago when they moved to Charleston, South Carolina. Though they moved away from the full-band crew (and remain best buddies to this day), John and Kevin struck good fortune as a duo. They’ve since been recognized as Hip-Hop Act of the Year in the 2016 Charleston City Paper Music Awards and listed as one of Out of the Woodwork’s “17 People to Watch in 2017.”
“We’ve always promoted the project as a duo,” John clarifies. “So the move, along with the ease of touring as a duo (from sleeping arrangements to expenses), it all kind of made sense to continue as a duo—at least for the time being. Hopefully, things work out to where we’re able to bring the whole crew back together!”
Little Stranger also have toured up and down the East Coast with ¡Mayday! and released a series of music videos in their wake. John and Kevin share everything from a van to a good beer, on and off stage. They even share their Charleston house, where the majority of tracking and producing is done in John’s bedroom.
“The amount of time spent playing shows and living and traveling together really solidified our chemistry and vision of what we want Little Stranger to be,” John tells.
John and Kevin are poised to make 2018 a big year for their music as well. Their latest single, “Sing it High,” dropped on Feb. 23, while touring across California. Little Stranger also released a music video for “Sing it High”—shot in about three hours outdoors in Vermont’s frigid 3-degree temps. “John is basically wearing nothing but underwear, but it looked gorgeous,” Kevin says. “So keep an eye out for that!”
In March they tackle the northeast and southeast U.S., including a stopover at Wilmington’s The Reel with ¡Mayday! on March 13. “[We’re] stoked to be hitting up Wilmington,” Kevin says, “one of our favorite cities in the southeast. We’ve got lots of love for the Carolinas!”
“Sing It High” is off of Little Stranger’s next EP, “Styles & Dynamics,” set to release in spring 2018. The album features a mix of tracks they recorded more than a year ago, as well as brand new songs written and recorded within the last couple months. John says they’ve definitely taken advantage of road-testing the album.
“Getting to play the songs on the road prior to their release has always worked to our advantage,” he observes. “You see what people dig, what works in the song and what doesn’t. We’re able to go back into the original studio sessions and add or subtract, depending on what was working for us live.”
As of late the two have found classic breakbeats, and blending sample drums and programming their own works well for their sound. Compared to their debut album, “Buddha the Beast” (2015), and 2016 single “Queens of the Nile,” they’re trying to push tempo and beats per minute (BPMs) on some of the newer stuff.
“On our first two releases, we typically sit in the 78-84 BPM range,” John details, “very backbeat, laid-back stuff. It’s a fun process to mess with—seeing if we can maintain our style on a groove that has a little more pulse to it. . . . We took a few strides with the production of [‘Sing it High’] compared to our last releases, adding horns and backup vocalists to really give it a bigger sound. We also had it mixed by Mark Needham (The Killers, The Revivalists, Chris Isaak), which certainly gave it a boost in production quality.”
“Sing it High” was an accidental creation back when they played with their full band in Philly. Their guitar player’s rig cut out and John had to stall. “I changed up the riff and started singing what ultimately would be the hook in ‘Sing it High,’” he remembers. “Kevin hopped in with a freestyle, and by the time our guitar player was back, the whole band joined in. We were all big smiles [and] knew we had stumbled upon something good.”
While finalizing “Sing it High,” other tracks inspired Little Stranger to remain open to additional instrumentation in the studio, too. As well, the two are critical writers. They push each other, for more clever and catchy lyrics, to pair with their new-found pulse and beats. It’s a bit of friendly competition they tend to use to advance the art.
“Kevin brings an energy to the live show that is easy to feed off of, [too],” John adds. “I know it’s helped me liven up on stage, knowing you have a partner up there with you who is going all in.”