It’s hard to believe it’s been eight months since Shampoo abruptly announced their final show and parted ways. In a city where successful bands separate as a matter of course, I don’t think their breakup came as much of shock to jaded scenesters, but their dissolution did have the effect of robbing us of a group that held both a unique promise and position within Atlanta music. Consisting of Chandler Kelley (bass), Catherine Quesenberry (keyboards and vocals), and Rush Myers (guitar and vocals), Shampoo was unapologetically a pop band, a rare thing in a scene that too often values noise and obfuscation over elegant simplicity. Although the band only managed to release one album in their roughly three-year tenure (2016’s Terrible Heat), the 10-track collection left its mark in the form of shimmery, no bullshit pop songs that made you want to slink your way out onto the dance floor.
“I think the album we made is special, and it captures whatever it was about our band that made it special,” Kelley replies when I ask him to reflect on the band’s tenure in Atlanta. “I’m also proud that we made music that some folks found moving without using a bunch of musical shorthand for emotion, or by cultivating strangeness in our songs. Nothing we played was very abstract, and it didn’t, like, quake and tremble with feeling like a Microphones song or anything like that. We were never as weird as we were just pretty. We made pop music, dance music, and we made it mean at least something. That’s good.”
In his review of Terrible Heat, our own Russell Rockwell wrote, “Overall, Terrible Heat is proof that Shampoo is more than the sum of their parts, fully capable of continuing their evolution into a full-fledged pop band without over-referencing past eras or becoming reliant on simpering smoothness.” It’s a tidy summation of where the band was headed, one that also stresses the interconnectedness of the three players. While most group’s rely on single distinctive voice or coalesce around a specific feature, Shampoo was very much the product of three unique visions pushing and pulling against one another. Removing or replacing any one member would have resulted in a dramatic reformulation of the group’s aesthetic, to the extent that when Quesenberry made the decision to move to Minneapolis, the trio had no qualms about shutting the band down for good. (“No Shampoo without Catherine,” Kelley says adamantly.)
Fortunately, however, disbanded doesn’t always have to mean gone for good. Last week, Kelley approached me to inquire about Immersive’s interest in premiering Shampoo’s final single, a pair of tracks recorded during the sessions for Terrible Heat. Naturally I agreed, especially when he informed me that one of the cuts was a cover of the Cranberries’ 1993 smash “Dreams.” It seems that the group had been holding on to the songs, never quite coming to an agreement of what to do with them, but the recent passing of Cranberries vocalist Dolores O’Riordan had motivated Kelley to finally release the single.
Although he was never a big fan of the group and never owned any of their records (the cover was Myers and Quesenberry’s idea), as a kid riding around in his parent’s car, Kelley found himself drawn to their singles when they came on the radio. “‘Dreams’ is I guess a little like what I was saying about Shampoo before,” he explains. “Until the yodeling bits at the end, there’s nothing really remarkable about [it], but how beautiful it is. It has the same chord changes as ‘La Bamba,’ and the whole arrangement clears out for the verse. I think folks might feel exposed by making music so pretty and obvious, and I find it very generous in a way to make a song like that.”
Listening to Shampoo’s rendition, it’s remarkable how seamlessly it fits in with the rest of the band’s work. The glimmering guitars, celestial synths, and luminous vocals are all there, coating the song in a velvety sheen that remains true to both the group’s lustrous style and the original’s windswept atmospherics. Ultimately, it’s a more subdued and less polished take, but the band’s playful energy makes for a spellbinding listen.
Similar things could be said about “They Don’t Know,” which will more than likely be the final Shampoo original to be revealed to the world. The song’s mix of bouncy dance grooves and ethereal hooks places it squarely within the shimmering universe the group created with Terrible Heat, which only begs the question as to why the song was left off the final mix. It’s not often, after all, that a local band with limited means would take the time and resources to record something so catchy and transportive, only to leave it on the cutting room floor. For Kelley, however, it was a simple matter of balance and pacing.
“I like short records, I like it when bands play short sets,” he says. “Not really on some ideology shit, I just feel like seven or eight songs is how long I personally want to listen to one thing before I get what you’re about and want to listen to what someone else is about… We were originally going to leave ‘Katie’ off of Terrible Heat too, and then release a three-song EP with ‘Katie’ on it, but then our friend Robert wanted to make a video, so we needed to put that out, and it fit well as a last track. Which all is to say “They Don’t Know” could have been on Terrible Heat, but the album was enough without it, and now there’s a single.”