Jeremy Shada
Photo: Bernardo Noguiera / Press

Jeremy Shada

It was a song written for his wife’s birthday that led Jeremy Shada to dive into creating solo music, a sound and image separate from his life on the popular YA Netflix show, Julie and the Phantoms. What was intended to be a sweet gift on paper — quite literally, as Shada had no intention of recording it — became the match that lit the fire that is Shada’s growing discography (after some encouragement from wife Carolynn).

“You need a little bit of a push. You need someone just to tell you to go for it and do it so that you get out of your head and you actually throw something out there,” Shada tells EUPHORIA. “Because it’s always nerve-wracking, you know? You have something and you’re like, ‘Is this good? Is it not?’ and then you put it out there and it’s either going to get destroyed, or it’s going to get loved by people, so you’re just hoping it’s the latter of the two.”

And Shada’s love for, well, love and sonic nostalgia couldn’t have come at a better time in the pop music landscape, as the world (or, at least, Gen Z) has shifted from peering into the future for an escape from the present and has instead chosen to look, often fondly, at the bittersweet life of the past.

The culmination of that 2021 vision is Vintage, Shada’s upcoming album that isn’t just inspired by the sounds of decades past, but practically time travels Back to the Future-style — with less chaos — to establish itself as a fixture in the genre that Shada describes as “modern vintage pop.” It’s a blend of updated production with a “resurgence” of popular music in the ’70s and ’80s created with old synthesizers; songs like “Dancing With Strangers” and “This Feels Right,” two of the album’s singles, best showcase some of the elements that went into shaping this breakout sound for Shada.

Really, the project is a rather experimental one for Shada in a move he calls “trial by fire.” While the genre certainly falls into the trends of the moment, it isn’t necessarily intended to service that. Rather, Vintage gave Shada an outlet to explore the music, particularly sonically, that he loved making. It’s a project that in part defines who Shada is as a musician now, while opening the door for a long-term, exploratory journey to discover who he is as a pop artist.

“I think Vintage is very much like, ‘This is what I love doing,’” Shada explains. “If I’m just doing it by myself and I have free rein, that’s definitely the music that I want to do. And it’s kind of my sound, which is fun, because I think sometimes it’s nice to separate people’s expectations and what they expect you’re going to do.”

Shada knows that fans who have followed him since his days in the pop punk space with former band Make Out Monday, his JATP character Reggie or his starring role as Finn The Human in Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time might feel a bit of whiplash. Those who have stuck around with his work since day one likely wouldn’t expect Shada’s venture into music to be a dive into high-energy, sometimes sugary pop sounds with equally bright visuals — cue: the Disney-filled music video for “This Feels Right.”

But that reaction is precisely what Shada is hoping for (outside of acceptance for the tunes from his fanbase). To him, the element of surprise is ultimately fulfilling, and it provides an opportunity to develop an identity outside of his onscreen characters.

“It’s fun to show people a side of you that they might not have known previously,” Shada says. “Because you have what you do publicly and what you’re most known for, but there’s other times when you have other things you really enjoy, you’re good at doing, and you want to be able to showcase [those] things that people might not expect.”

One of the latest iterations of Shada’s explosive journey down memory lane is “This Feels Right,” a ’70s-inspired romance track about the collection of moments that lead to the realization that a relationship is right where one should be.

The song filled a void of sorts when it came to polishing the Vintage track list, and sonically, it’s just what Shada was looking for. At the time, there were 10 songs on the album; “Dancing With Strangers” and “This Feels Right” were, essentially, finishing touches for a well-rounded album.

“So ironically, even though they’re the two singles that I’ve released recently, ‘This Feels Right’ and ‘Dancing With Strangers’ were the last two songs to be written and recorded for the album,” Shada explains. “I’d actually basically, in my mind, finished the entire thing. We did 10 songs at the time, and we hadn’t started mixing yet, but I just started kind of listening through in the order that I had written it in. I just felt like something was missing sonically; I wanted to do a little bit more in the ‘This Feels Right’ realm.”

The concept for “This Feels Right” stood out to Shada almost immediately, offering the solace of a love song with the emotional outlet of a journal entry, resulting in an upbeat take on finding the right person and not being able to find the words to describe how special they are — it just feels right. But for “This Feels Right,” it was actually the title that came first with lyrics to follow before being shaped into a ’70s throwback track.

From there, writing the song was easy; all that Shada needed to round out the otherwise fleshed-out concept was a muse, and his relationship with Carolynn was the obvious centerpiece of the chronicled romance in the lyrics.

“The whole second verse, second pre-chorus, is just very specifically about our relationship,” Shada says. “Literally, one of the lines is, ‘I knew that you were mine/ From the second that you walked in/ Lose track of time anytime we’re talking.’ Of the first time meeting her, I’m pretty sure I immediately asked her out and then on our first date, I was like, ‘That’s the person I’m going to spend my life with.’”

Just as immediate as Shada’s certainty about Carolynn came about the atmosphere in their relationship that inspired “This Feels Right.” While the track definitely documents moments unique to Shada and Carolynn, it was intended to be a universal, feel-good song.

“I think like, with that song, it’s true to us as a couple,” Shada explains. “But I also wanted to write it in a way that was just relatable to other people, as well. There’s so many days we’re just kind of shooting the breeze and just talking, and then we realize that we’ve been sipping on a glass of wine for three hours and it’s 1 a.m. and we need to get to bed. I love it. So, I wanted to make something that just felt like it could be theoretically about anyone’s significant other.”

Not only are “This Feels Right” and Vintage, more broadly, some of Shada’s most heartfelt and emotionally encompassing work to date, but it is also a body of work that places a spotlight on who Shada wants to be in the ever-changing pop landscape. Right now, those labels illustrating his musical image undoubtedly include romantic, bubbly, and energetic.

In that way, Vintage becomes a beacon of maturity for a budding artist ready to make a name for himself in a world that values the past as a means of trekking a path into the future — and music, in general, feels powerful enough to move mountains.

“I felt like I was a lot more confident in what I was doing [on Vintage compared to previous work],” Shada explains. “I really didn’t know what was possible early on… it kind of gave me the confidence to write stuff and actually be able to do things in those genres that I never would have thought we’d be able to pull off the first time.”