Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Interview: HAL

In 2005 HAL's self titled début album established them as one of the finest bands ever to emerge from Ireland. It played like a greatest hits from start to finish, bursting with 60's and 70's Californian sunshine melodies, Wilson-esque harmony vocals and epic orchestral arrangements. HAL oozed authenticity, with Dave Allen's songwriting and voice in particular, placing them above the hackneyed, mimicry, of contemporary Irish bands at the time. who lacked the chops to back up their Beach Boys aspirations. Legendary Rough Trade label boss Geoff Travis saw their potential and hit singles such as Play The Hits quickly followed. In 2006 it was announced that HAL, were recording their second album.

Several years of radio silence followed before a release date was announced and passed, with no sign of new material being released.  HAL, seemed destined to join the long list of bands with one legendary album to their name, cherished by a devoted few.  "After the first record we all took a break away from the touring and the industry and got back to where we started musically and got back to the situation where we could make music again and be happy to be making it." Dave Allen declares "I think we needed to take the time out. We were a band for a while before we got a deal-playing gigs-but it was all on our own terms. But when we got signed, we were away for about two and a half years in total, and you kind of go 'that was a bit hectic'. We enjoyed it but, it was all focused towards that record-that we still really enjoy-but I needed to get away from it, to start again, instead of riding the train to the end."

Allen hasn't aged during the bands long hiatus. He's still skinny as a rake and his eyes still glimmer with childlike wonderment. He's joined by multi instrumentalist/ in-house producer Stephen O'Brien.  O'Brien counter balances Allen's innocence and retro leanings, with a more pragmatic and modern outlook on things   "There were obviously highlights. We got to go to Japan and the States. but lots of it was kind of gritty, being in a van on the M6 looking at the back of heads for six months, playing in Barfly's and those type venues. It's tough work, it's not as glamorous as people think at all. We were kind of glad to sit back and reclaim our lives....We all took a gap of about two years in 2006. Then 2008 Dave, came back with a couple of good tunes. Myself and Paul's (Allen, brother of Dave) ears pricked up and we all became interested again and we started working from there. it probably took two years to make the record".

During the bands hiatus O'Brien played bass for Fionn Regan and set up a studio in Shankill, Dublin. Where Hal's second album The Time The Hour, was recorded "Per feet this album is value for money" quips O'Brien referring to the minimal size of their studio (600 square feet) and the length of time between albums. Drawing howls of laughter from AllenHAL, are only too aware of the gap between albums and the expectations of their fans. In a mixture of guilt and reverence Allen tells us "We get emails from people really pissed off saying where is the album!! You're up there with Guns n' Roses. We got one email saying I've counted the days since I got your album and I've listened to it everyday and it's been 694 days since I bought your album. We get emails like that all the time." With such emails ringing in their ears HAL knew that they owed it to those fans who persevered with them to release The Time The Hour. However, O'Brien blames the record industry and not the band for the delay "it was more to do with the backing to put it out. We were talking to record companies last year and it looked like it was going to go ahead and then it fell apart, and once it got to July we had to shelve it till this year. We were really close to having it out last year. We were bitterly disappointed, it was meant to come out last year. The album was finished July 2010".

"We wanted to get a few tracks that didn't make it onto the album out there."  explains Allen referencing the Down In The Valley EP which proceeded The Time The Hour earlier this year "We wanted to put a taster out there and say we are finally giving you something." However, it's clear from the passion with which HAL speak about their music, that they never would have released anything, which they felt to be substandard, to quell the tide of Where is it? themed emails.  Dave Allen resembles a father when speaking about The Time The Hour "We are delighted to get it out, we are really proud of it and hopefully it will last a long time. It's different (from the first one) I know a lot of bands say that but, lyrically it's different sentiments from the first one, and its got more of an edge because its got huge production on it." Allen explains how the biblical title came about "The Time The Hour, was one of the first songs that was presented for the album, then people kept looking to know when it would be ready." To which the band often replied "There will be a time and an hour when it's ready" There was an alternative title for the album continues Allen "It was going to be called 'Painting for Strings' because we were pretty broke when we needed to get the strings done"

The Time The Hour, is an eclectic album of vibrant genre splitting melodies.  Little wonder, judging by Dave Allen's listening habits "I listen to 1920's music lots of practising my Foxtrot" Says Allen, much to O'Brien's amusement and his own. "I'm obsessed with vocal harmony groups I love all the old Smithsonian folk institution The Alan Lomax recordings. I just love the big vocals Bee Gees, Neil young, Harry Nilsson, Buffalo Springfield.  early 30's, and 40's influences. Singing wise I like Vera Lynn. I know that's a bit weird saying that now it's 2012 and that's 70 years ago but, I just love it.  For us melodies so important but, more recently I'm listening to loads of Deutsche Elektronische like The Amon Duul. You should get a record called Deutsche Elektronische Musik. A  Soul Jazz Records compilation."

Despite Hal's retro leaning musical style they are only too aware that the way people consume music has been revolutionised over the last seven years. They have embraced the technological revolution of social media outlets but, are glad they missed it the first time round. "Yeah, that wasn't out yet." Says O'Brien referring to Myspace  "I think it's a whole different game now. We were lucky that we got signed 2005 and we had a record advance and that money isn't there for bands anymore. My advice (for new bands) would be, get lots of skills, learn how to do your website, your videos. Become friends with people who can do things. Because you're gonna have to do it all yourself. I suppose if you're good at using the web, you've a good chance of getting in there. There's almost too much choice but we love it. That's probably the reason the album took so long. Getting the Internet in the studio"

Having spent several years in a bunker recording an album and several years trying to get it released HAL, have words of inspiration and warning for aspiring musicians and bands thinking about entering the studio, for the first time. "Have a real solid direction of where you want the song to end up when it's recorded." Says Allen "Rehearse it, practise it, fall in love with it, Give it the opportunity it deserves, and your band deserves." While O'Brien warns "I've had bands in the studio and I've told them just go home because you haven't got your song together, you're wasting my time and your money, go back and figure out your song....."

The Time The Hour is released on Friday 13th of April but don't let that put you off. Its the finest Irish album of the year to date.  HAL, play The Button Factory on Friday 20th April click here to win tickets.

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