Grateful Web Interview with John Shields of Little Stranger

Article Contributed by Nick Gumas | Published on Wednesday, June 12, 2024

A project that built its name on romanticizing the idiosyncratic, East Coast Alternative outfit Little Stranger has made waves as of late with their slice-of-life lyrics and charismatic presence. With an eclectic pool of influences and a mastery of all things quirky, their work is a much-needed reminder to take a beat and embrace the peculiar nature of the world. Grateful Web got to speak with half the duo, John Shields, in between their festival performances at Monterey’s Cali Roots and New York's Governors Ball, to hear his take on their creative process, East and West Coast cities, and their appreciation for creating music across all genres.

John Shields | GovBall | New York, NY

Grateful Web: As a project that features the spoken word playing at Cali Roots, why do you feel hip hop plays so well to reggae fans?

John Shields: We’ve been extremely lucky to have been adopted into the reggae scene the way that we have. It’s really a special fanbase. I think our sound works especially well in that it is largely based in a hip-hop world - the production is often breakbeats, and we have a Kevin who obviously does a lot of rap verses in our songs. But we do always lean toward a melodic, often guitar-driven sound as well that seems to play well in the reggae scene.

GW: You mentioned onstage that you're not the biggest fans of LA. What about SoCal makes it not your speed?

JS: Ha. That has become a bit of an ongoing joke in the last couple of years. We have a song called “Hollywood Not” that’s all about repping the East Coast, and takes a tongue-in-cheek jab at LA. We have lots of great friends and collaborators there who we love working with. It mostly stemmed from a bad record label experience years ago that left a bit of a bad taste in our mouths about the industry side of LA. But we’re also from Philly, so we have an inclination to talk some shit, it’s almost always a sign of love.

Little Stranger Does In Fact Have "A Kevin" | Cali Roots | Monterey, Ca

GW: The media that accompanies your music creates such a unique aesthetic. What comes first in your creative process, the music itself or the video story building?

JS: The music always comes first. We’ve always been really into the visual media side of things though. Growing up watching music videos from artists like Beastie Boys, Fatboy Slim, Pharcyde, I mean the list goes on and on. We wanted to make that medium an important part of our brand. And it’s just really fun to try to conceptualize an idea and then take the steps necessary to execute it. We’re blessed to have an amazing team of creative friends who help us bring these to life. The media world has obviously changed so much in the last decade, so much focus on short-form content, which I have actually come to love. So as music videos themselves seem to be a bit more of a relic these days, we aren’t giving up on them just yet.

GW: With your new single "God at a Festival" setting the tone for your summer, what are you most looking forward to bringing to your audiences on your upcoming tour and what makes live music such a spiritual experience?

JW: Touring in the summer is always its own vibe. Everyone seems maybe a little happier, a little more free, and a little less clothed. We’re excited to hit this summer running with Stick Figure and Soja. It’s an awesome opportunity for us to play some legendary venues and to be out in front of a great fanbase. So if we can provide a little break for people in the constantly fast-paced life we’re all living, we’ll have done our job well. Just hoping to make people smile and shake a booty or two.

John Shields | GovBall | New York, NY

GW: Where do you draw the line between sampling another artist's music to create new art and plagiarism?

JS: I think sampling is such a cool art form. Obviously, it stemmed from the early days of hip-hop, with DJs putting a breakbeat on repeat, and seeing how that affected the listeners. There’s a fine line for sure, and as the industry has evolved it’s become more complicated to just sample freely. But I guess my take is, as long as it’s done tastefully, with the goal of a unique product in mind, I’m all about sampling. I don’t view it very differently than learning an instrument.

GW: What's your favorite Philly local spot and why do you feel so lucky to call it home?

JS: I’ve always felt lucky to have grown up in the Philly area. I think there’s an attitude and a comradery that people who are from Philly share in. It might be a stereotype, but it’s probably not far off that people from Philly are generally considered to be assholes. But there’s something in that asshole attitude that actually is so full of love and passion. I’d probably say my best memories of a local spot are from D’allesandros in Roxborough. Tiny little cheesesteak joint that is always packed. I’ve got lots of fond memories of going there with my dad and waiting for a seat at the little wrap-around bar and enjoying a cheesesteak.

John Shields | Cali Roots | New York, NY

GW: Do you have anything you want to plug?

JS: We’ve got a new album dropping on June 28th! It’s called “Sat Around Trippin” and is the follow-up to our last release, “Trip Around Saturn.” We’re excited to have these songs out in the world and to tour our butts off this summer/fall playing the new material.

GW: What's one question you've never gotten in an interview before?

JS: How many jellybeans would you guess are in this jar? And my guess would probably be 824 pls let me know when it’s been counted.

Little Stranger | GovBall | New York, NY