Interview: half•alive on Now, Not Yet and Experimenting with Mood

Thursday, August 29, 2019

There’s a lot to love about half•alive — not only do they create music that transcends the barriers of genre, but their music takes listeners on a listening experience that they won’t forget. Earlier this month, they shared their highly praised debut album Now, Not Yet. The album is a strong and cohesive body of work that truly captures exactly what they’re about. While they were in Melbourne, we caught up with Josh Taylor (vocals), J Tyler Johnson (bassist), and Brett Kramer (drums) before their soundcheck at Howler to discuss the album, the death of genre and experimenting with mood.

There's a lot happening at the moment for you guys. You're travelling, you've released an album, and you've got a really big tour coming up. How have you been handling it all?

J Tyler: Gracefully.

Josh: Gracefully? (laughs).

J Tyler: Yeah (laughs).

Josh: I think we're taking it one step at a time. Taking in each city, and each day. I don't think we anticipated this much happening at the same time. We were like, "Oh let's do an album." It was like, okay, we should have maybe planned a little more space in between doing that and the tour and all the festivals and all the TV performances. So a lot of it is happening at the same time.

J Tyler: I think we're learning just as we travel to find some consistency in travel life. Like finding a cool coffee shop, or find some good food, that helps with consistency so it feels like, okay, we're trying to create a home on the road type thing. So I think we're getting better at that, which helps with being away from a more consistent schedule.

And you were in Europe in February, how did you find that?

Josh: That was awesome. Very surreal to see people on another continent resonate with our music and it was very short. It was like one week, three shows in three different countries. But yeah, it was really fun and we are excited to go back at the end of the year, as well.

Was there much exploring or was it just grab and go, and playing shows with little time to venture out?

Josh: Definitely grab and go.

J Tyler: Pretty similar how it is now. We play a show and then travelled to a new city almost that night. We try to explore as much as we can, but it's tough.

Congrats on releasing your album! Something I really loved about it was how it’s difficult to pinpoint a single genre, it’s kind of like you’ve created a sound on the release that’s entirely your own. When you went into the process of making it, did you go into not thinking about genre and wanting to experiment instinctively with whatever you felt worked?

Brett: Yeah, I don't think we considered genre as much as we did consider vibe and mood.

J Tyler: Yeah, I think we tried to approach things more as a mood. I don't think we've ever gone into making a song we’ve written thinking about genre. We travelled to different Airbnb’s during our writing process, so sometimes we'd be in like a colder place, like the mountains or a warmer place. I feel like that maybe affected more of the mood of the song as well. But genre feels like it's a dying thing. I think ‘mood’ is a really good way to describe it.

Josh: I feel like our generation of artists and songwriters, without record stores being the main thing where everything's in categories, genres don’t matter as much. On Spotify, people pick artists they love. I feel like all three of us kind of do that individually and bring a different mood or I guess genre, to the table.

That’s interesting that you moved around to different Airbnbs. How did that help the process of making the record?

Brett: I think like J was saying, different environments create different inspiration. So we did one in the mountains, one in the desert, one on the beach. So all three of those just felt very different. In one of them, we were literally snowed in. But then there was one where we were walking distance from the beach where we could surf.

J Tyler: We noticed that with the desert one, the songs were a little bit more uptempo, and a little funkier. Then we were writing ‘BREAKFAST’, and that one kind of started in the mountains. So there's like certain specific things that made certain songs a little bit more slower or with a bit more of a moody intro. It was very interesting.

Do you each have a favourite environment that you worked in?

J Tyler: I definitely want on record that I am not going back to the mountains. You can’t make me.

Josh: I liked the mountains (laughs).

Brett: I loved the mountains too (laughs). We’re going to make him go back to the mountains.

J Tyler: I broke my phone. It was horrible. I’ve been to the mountains twice and I don’t like being cold or being snowed in. So I guess I’ll be seeing you guys someplace else (laughs).

Brett: Joshua Tree is also really beautiful, I think.

Josh: The sunsets are beautiful.

Another thing that I thought was excellent on the album was that despite the songs being written and made at different times, the flow was effortless. How much consideration went into ensuring that you maintained balance, even though some songs were from different times?

Brett: There was a lot of planning involved with our track order and making sure the album flowed nicely, and that it sounds like a complete album. I don’t know how, but somehow the songs seemed connected throughout choices and our growth as songwriters and producers.

J Tyler: For all the songs that we write, we write them through the lens of the band’s name. So everything is going to be connected, as if it doesn’t stay true to that kind of idealism, then it doesn’t make sense of what message we’re trying to share as a band.

Josh: Everything I'd say we do, we try to be as intentional as possible. We definitely have conversations about order and how it flows.

J Tyler: There was a moment we were writing a lot of really moody slow songs, and maybe we needed to throw another more uptempo one in there. So we'll try to take that into account. If you spend too much time in one field, people can get stuck in there. So we wanted to keep moving so it feels like it's an active experience for listeners.

Was it an enjoyable record to work on for you all overall?

J Tyler: For sure.

Josh: Totally. Well at least it was for me, I won’t speak for these two other guys (laughs). I can’t imagine it being different. But I’ll let them say if this is right, but for me, it was a life-changing experience. We got to work with a lot of people who have made my favorite records and to see them work on our music and to see how they work and how they bring out the best of our songs and our ideas was special. It was incredibly life-changing.

The title of the record is so interesting, especially since ‘Now’ and ‘Not Yet’ are both conflicting things, would you say it shares a connection to the band’s name?

Josh: We wanted to capture tension with the title. 'Now, Not Yet' is living in the tension of a realization that's here, but at the same time, not. And it's kind of been the premise for all of our songs and our songwriting, so the album is a continuation of that thought.

Brett: Within the art direction, we're making Now, Not Yet into a place. So the whole thing was just an allegory to what we as humans experience here in the world, that we see both healing and hurting and we see both life and death. Those two places exist where good and evil can reside in the same space. So I think it's a continuation of writing into that tension and finding hope.

Why did you decide it was time to do an album instead of doing another EP?

J Tyler: I think we wanted to be a band that releases a body of work that we are really proud of. We see a lot of artists releasing singles or EPs and people saying that we're in a singles market or that albums don't have any meaning anymore. But I think we want to be a group that releases a body of work and be proud of it and keep that tradition and believe in albums and believe in something that people can really dive deep into if they're willing to. Not just be stuck on the singles but really jump into the world we're trying to create.

Josh: It's a deeper journey, I think, for a fan to go from a single, sort of knowing one or two songs, and then jumping into the entire experience of the record.

Brett: We're all fans of albums and records. I think that we're also very fortunate that our first EP set up the room to be able to release an album that has the potential to actually have impact and resonation with our fans.

Whether it’s through your videos, performances, or choreography, your visuals take the music to another place. For you guys, how important is the visual aspect of what you do?

Josh: I think visuals bring someone into a deeper experience. We can tell a lot more of a story through visuals. The connection of the audio and visuals is a big part of the band and our aesthetic. I think we pushed into that through our music videos a lot and tried to create something that's really compelling and pushing our boundaries, and trying to do something that hasn't been done before. I think that's what we try to do when we release visuals.

Your music connects strongly with fans, especially online, whether it’s through comment sections on Youtube or social media, what's that like for you guys?

J Tyler: I think it's so fun. There are fun accounts that have been created through meme culture or various things. There's like a frog account that we've really been watching lately where they take our photos and they recreate us as frog characters and it’s a lot of fun.  So I love that the fans are spending moments seeing what we're doing and then just having fun and creating stuff. I think we want to create a community of people that are willing to be inspired and continually create. So to see those things I think is really cool. And then various people are tagging each other and then creating other things. So that's one thing that I've liked about our social media presence, seeing where people take what we've done almost in a serious way to kind of make it this other thing.

You're in Australia now, you were in Europe earlier in the year, you're going back to Europe again soon, but is there anywhere that you really want to visit?

J Tyler: Asia and South America and Africa. Those are kind of some big ones I'd love to go to.

Brett: Definitely Asia.

J Tyler: Asia would be fun. I feel like that would be cool.

Josh: Korea. I would love to tour there.

Brett: Indonesia would be sweet too. India too.

J Tyler: Russia. We have to go there too.

Written by Amy Smolcic (@amysmolcic)
Photos by Kristy Smolcic (folio)

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