Every working musician has had their life turned upside down by Covid-19. For The Shivas, who had recently released a new LP and normally keep a rigorous touring schedule, it was a particularly screeching halt. “We were about to go to SXSW, the following weekend was Treefort in Boise, and then we were going to open for our friends’ band on tour in the US before going to Europe,” Jared Molyneux remembers. Then everything just stopped. They were faced with a dilemma. “It forced us to adapt or just quit,” Molyneux says. “The reality is that shows are our job.”
In truth, live shows aren’t just The Shivas‘ job: they are the band’s greatest love. Shivas shows are bombastic, explosive and thoroughly communal live rock and roll experiences where barriers between the performers and their audience seem to dissolve into the sweat and sound. The stage—or the basement, or the living room—that’s The Shivas’ true element. It’s their raison d’etre. It’s their religion.
“We just want to make people feel good,” Molyneux says. “We want them to forget they have to work tomorrow.” Kristin Leonard elaborates, “The live show is all about that feeling of catharsis—in ourselves and in everyone who comes out. We’re creating this safe space where we can all let go. Where we can exhale. And it feels really good when we are able to facilitate that.”
So when Covid hit, the band knew it was time for transformation: three of the band’s four members found work with a local nonprofit serving unhoused Portland residents. They became engaged in protests and fundraisers for social justice. They spent a whole summer actually living in Portland, settling into the city they had always called home, but that sometimes felt like a temporary stop between tours.
The album that emerged from this new moment finds The Shivas reborn as a band that seems seasoned and perfectly at home with itself. There is a calm, even a hopefulness, to Feels So Good / Feels So Bad that sounds new. The Shivas didn’t write or record the album with a particular theme in mind, but one seems to have emerged: where Dark Thoughts was about confronting your demons with fearless self-examination, much of Feels So Good / Feels So Bad is about what happens once you find that peace: how being honest with yourself changes your relationships and your priorities. “I do think it’s about acceptance,” Leonard says. “There’s a weird relaxation that comes with being at peace with things you can’t control or have regrets about.”
Maybe that’s why the squealing, riff-laden break-up song opener, “Feels So Bad,” is such a shock to the system. But it’s more of an exorcism than a melodrama: more a song about not being able to do the thing you love (in this case, playing live shows) than splitting with a partner. “It’s like part of you goes to sleep,” Leonard says.
Whatever growth led the band to Feels So Good / Feels So Bad, plenty of their fascinations remain. They’re still turning love songs into psychedelic, transcendent epics. “Tell Me That You Love Me” subverts doo-wop extravegence and dabbles in Flamenco rhythms. “Rock Me Baby” is a bubblegum anthem soaked in so much reverb that we might just be hearing it from the stadium nosebleeds. “Sometimes” is almost impossibly huge, like a witchy outtake from the Brill Building era.
Yes, Feels So Good / Feels So Bad is an album about acceptance. Sometimes that acceptance feels enlightened and sometimes it feels like the end result of a lot of kicking and screaming. The Shivas have adapted in both of those ways. They’re still hoping–like all of us–for a new era of vibrant, cathartic live music. The lessons they learned from having their normal upended, though, have only helped them grow.