Shaed had a huge year in 2018, scoring a significant hit with “Trampoline,” a dreamy electro-pop track that broke through after it soundtracked an Apple commercial. A remix featuring British pop star Zayn hit number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100. Between endless live performances, the DC-area trio worked intently on what was supposed to be its big debut album. The recording was complete by early 2020, a promotional tour was scheduled, and a marketing push was planned. But none of that ended up happening. The shows were a casualty of the pandemic, of course. The album was scrapped for more complicated reasons.
Shaed’s members—Chelsea Lee, who grew up in McLean, and Max and Spencer Ernst, who are from Silver Spring—have been friends since they met at the 9:30 Club in high school, and they started performing together in 2012. The trio’s bond goes way beyond the musical: The Ernsts are twins, and Spencer married Lee in 2018. Until relatively recently, all three lived in a house in Silver Spring, where they shared—uncomfortably—a single bathroom.
The group wrote “Trampoline” in the living room of that house—just a routine session that ended up changing their lives. But when it was time to pen songs for their full album, things came about far less organically. They found themselves working with industry pros in Los Angeles studios. “We had this illusion that we needed big pop songs,” says Lee. “We were trying to write the next big hit.”
Listening to the finished album in early 2020, Lee came to believe that it wasn’t good enough. The tracks felt generic, as if they were telling somebody else’s story. “She was the first to be like, ‘Guys, I’m not feeling these songs,’ ” Max recalls. After much discussion and some tears, they decided not to release it.
By that point, the group’s mood—like the whole country’s—was grim. As the pandemic set in, “we were so anxious and confused,” says Lee, who now lives with Spencer in a woodsy house in Northern Virginia. (Max has moved to a group rowhouse in Northeast DC.) “There was a lot of anxiety about us not being able to travel anymore. What are we going to do? We have no songs. In the beginning, we didn’t even want to create. We were just trying to figure out mentally and emotionally what our new normal was. Once we got over that, we started cranking out new songs.”
The result of those efforts is, essentially, their second first album. Out this month and titled High Dive, it’s a decidedly more personal collection than the original, glossier pop effort. Its vertiginous title describes how they felt about plunging into the unknown. “It’s us taking that leap of faith: scrapping an entire album,” Spencer explains.
So what comes next? Following up a fluke hit like “Trampoline” is difficult, as anyone familiar with the term “one-hit wonder” is aware. Shaed is proud of what they’ve come up with, especially after what it took to get there. Still, they want people to hear the new album. “We’re putting so much of ourselves in this record,” says Spencer. “But there’s that fear and anxiety that it won’t have the success you want after that incredible high of having a hit song.”
This article appears in the May 2021 issue of Washingtonian.