On March 26, Ross Shapiro, lead singer and guitarist for Athens indie band, The Glands, passed away from an an illness said to potentially be lung cancer, according to close friend Kenneth Aguar.
Shapiro, described as a “walking encyclopedia of knowledge” by Aguar, spent his life in Athens, leading an indie musician lifestyle: private and peaceful.
In the early 90’s, Shapiro managed a Gyro Wrap in the downtown Athens location during the day and dedicated his nights to music. This location is still there today.
Aguar lived with Shapiro during this period recalls the beginning of their friendship before his rise to stardom with The Glands.
“Rent was cheap in Athens,” Aguar said. “Ross and the other two guys were musicians too, so it was like a mutual admiration society. I remember Ross really digging artists from the Windham Hill label.”
The pair developed numerous memories when they lived together until the early 80’s.
“One night when I was living in his house I cooked dinner for my girlfriend but neglected to wash the dishes and split right after to go to the club or something,” Aguar said. “Well, when we got back home in the the early hour of the morning, all of the dirty dishes were strewn across the bed. Ross could be vindictive like that.”
The Glands arose the way Shapiro lived — privately. According to Aguar, he found out through a mutual friend that Shapiro was working on a top-secret project called “The Glands,” that was a long time in the making. Part of the reason for this was due to Shapiro’s perfectionist nature.
The Glands released their first album, “Double Thriller” in 1998, which became a smash hit and “cult favorite” around Athens, according to Aguar. The band was picked up by Bar/None Records at first, but then by Capricorn Records in 2000. This prompted their name recognition and second, self-titled album “The Glands”.
The band toured with The Shins for a while and then decided to drop off the grid for their infamous, ten year gap.
“Like most artists, Ross became disillusioned with the music industry,” Aguar said. “Meanwhile, the records kept selling.”
“‘Personally, I'm kind of a hermit, so I don't interact with people that much,” Shapiro said in a 2014 interview with Flagpole magazine. “When someone asks me what my band is up to, I assume they're just being courteous, like when your uncle asks if ‘The Grands’ are still playing music.’”
In 2011, Shapiro dipped his toe back in the music business and began managing the Schoolkids Records’ Athens location. Aguar assisted as well, despite the short life of the independent store.
According to the Athens Banner-Herald, Shapiro blamed it on the poor economy and consumers shifting to the internet.
The band never broke up nor reunited. They played a handful of recent shows: one for the Georgia Theatre’s grand re-opening in 2011, and at AthFest 2012.
By 2014, the spotty band officially re-emerged and played at The Green Room in October 2014, which sold out in a day, and at College Square in November 2014.
“When The Glands finally started playing gigs again, it was a slightly different lineup from the records,” Aguar said, “but they would always sell out whenever they played in Athens.”
Shapiro said in the Flagpole interview that The Glands planned on releasing a new album in the following year, but new music never arrived.
It was undisclosed when Shapiro specifically got ill, but Aguar discovered his sickness only a few weeks before his passing.
“Ross didn’t drink much. He liked his coffee and cigarettes. [He] never slept or ate much. He never went to the doctor,” Aguar said. “He was in a lot of pain, but I think he just preferred to suffer by himself.”
Despite his sudden passing, Shapiro left an immense impact on those he decided to reach out to beyond his preferable alienation.
“He always knew the word on the street, the gossip and the scuttlebut,” Aguar said. “I have so many great memories of Ross, he was a character.
Shapiro’s funeral was held on March 29 in Augusta.