Dublin band Halves release their second album Boa Howl next Friday, July 5, on their own label, Hate is the Enemy. Three years on from It Goes, It Goes (Forever & Ever), Halves have built on their sound, making it more expansive, intricate and emotional, as well. Recorded in Gothenburg, Boa Howl clocks in at 11 songs and 52 minutes. I’ll have a full review of the album up on the blog next week (spoiler: it’s great). For now, here’s an interview with frontman Brian Cash on pre-release nerves, why it was better to record away from Dublin and why he’s not a big Spotify fan. Details on how to order Boa Howl, plus Halves tour dates, at the bottom of the post.
First of all, congratulations on Boa Howl. Does it feel like a relief that it’s finally, almost, out there? Or are there a lot of nerves ahead of its release?
Very excited. We’ve been locked away working on this for a year and a half, so for us it’s the fun part now. Since we put out the first few tracks it’s been a treat to hear people’s reactions. Only nerves at the moment are waiting for the vinyl to arrive as there was a delay in the factory. They better show up.
You said in an interview with Harmless Noise in 2011 that you knew that It Goes, It Goes was good. Do you feel as confident about Boa Howl?
One hundred percent. When we wrote Boa we instantly scrapped anything that wasn’t up to scratch. Hopefully people will take to it but we are very proud of it.
When did you get rid of the songs you felt weren’t up to scratch? Before you were over to Gothenberg? Was there a lot dumped? Enough for a B-sides collection, perhaps?
We tend to abandon songs immediately if we get the hint that they aren’t up to scratch. We only ever really record the kept/best ones each time. That said we did record a 12th song for Boa Howl which is really quite unusual. It needs further thinking so hopefully it’ll see the light of day someday. Other than that I think we have 1 unreleased song we recorded for the Haunt Me EP so our boxset would be two tracks long.
How do you feel about the debut album now? When was the last time you listened to it?
I haven’t listened to it in about six months. I bought a fancy turntable last year and put on It Goes, It Goes to hear it properly. There is nothing I’d change about it and it’s a perfect representation of what we were about in 2010. Actually, I’d turn up Tim’s guitar in ‘Blood Branches’…. but that’s it.
Boa Howl feels like a big step up from the first album, more ambitious in many ways. Does it feel the same to you? What were you hoping to achieve from it?
It is more ambitious I guess. I think the three of us have improved at the roles we play and that comes across in the song writing. Also, as ‘producers’ we’re a lot more confident to mess around with our sound.
How did the opportunity to record in Gothenburg come about? Why Sweden? What did it offer that Ireland couldn’t?
We had such an inspiring time in Montreal for the first record we wanted to travel somewhere abroad for this one too. We chose Svenska Grammofon simply because it ticked all the boxes: They have tape machines, vintage equipment and an array of live rooms. The issue with Ireland is that there aren’t many studios filled with odd instruments and mics. The main reason I guess is that there is a chance of distraction recording in your hometown. We flew over with an agenda and work was the only thing on our minds. Also recording somewhere unfamiliar adds some adventure to the process. Microphones detect adventure.
The press release for the album discusses how it was recorded: “Live on 2″ reel-to-reel tape by Oskar Lindberg, Gyorgy Barocsai and Halves’ live engineer Ciaran Mangan. The album was recorded using the infamous Neve analog mixing console previously owned by Queen and used by the likes of Johnny Cash and Aretha Franklin.
” Why did you choose such an old school process? What were the guys like to record with?
Well the sound of reel to reel is an obvious one. Another reason is we don’t enjoy recording digitally. If you have the option to chop/change and quantise something you could sit there for hours sculpting it until it’s ‘perfect’. There is no appeal in that for us. We like our songs to be recorded live – warts and all.
The two main acts that I’d compare Halves to, judging from Boa Howl, are Sigur Ros (sorry, you’re probably sick of hearing that) and Sufjan Stevens. What other influences are mixing around in the new album? What were you listening to while you were writing/recording it?
Sigur Who? We were guilty of drawing from their sound on our first EPs (we were younger then and were still formulating what we actually wanted to do). I don’t hear them at all in BH to be honest as we haven’t been listening to their last few records. The Sufjan thing is interesting. I can see where you are coming from as we both use electronics paired with orchestral arrangements. I’ll take that. When we write we are more interested and inspired by production ideas more so than people’s songs. We listened to lots of old 50s and 60s stuff (Doo Wop, Joe Meek and Gordon Jenkins) and tried to write in some old-fashioned tricks into the songs to see how they would sit with the electronic and electric aspects. If that makes sense.
What can we expect from the live shows next month?
We’ve planned a more concise and confident set. We have a new drummer (Neil Crowley) and we’re focusing more on the energetic songs for this tour. I’m sure we’ll do a sad miserablist tour in the winter. Our Canadian friend Elaine (Carnival Moon) is over for the summer to play with us so we have her lovely voice and violin skills too. Should be great. Looking forward to Cyprus Avenue.
I saw you say on Twitter that you were going to be taking down the first album from Spotify. What don’t you like about it, that’s it’s not a good deal for musicians? Why do you think something like Soundcloud or Bandcamp is better?
Glad you asked. It’s not even about the payment issues… we don’t make money from Halves so we’re not bothered by it in the slightest. The gripe we have is their recent ad campaign: “With Spotify you’ll never have to pay for music again!” What a huge thing to say! People download our stuff off torrents and that’s fine by us, but, there are still people who enjoy buying music- we are three of those such people. That slogan suggests it has been a huge burden that they are ‘thoughtfully’ solving. Carcass picking I tell ya! Hopefully it won’t deter younger folks from trawling through record shops.
What are you hoping to achieve with the album?
Number one in the charts and for our songs to be used in Fair City. Anything that comes from it from this point onwards is welcome but as sappy as it sounds we are just happy it’s finished and coming out. I guess if we get offers to play in nice and interesting venues/lands that would a nice bonus.
It seems like you’re keeping your expectations for Boa Howl quite low/realistic. Is that because you feel it’s hard to break out of Ireland? That it’s difficult to get noticed here unless you sound very mainstream like The Strypes or Kodaline?
After the first record we know our place and are very happy with it. Halves is a great hobby for us now- it’s a lot of fun. Earlier on we tried to get signed and all that but once we realised we could put records out ourselves at our own pace we calmed down about it all. It’s great that those bands are achieving big things – anything Irish getting attention is fine by me. The Irish media have been very kind and receptive to us so we are happy on this rung.
Halves release Boa Howl next Friday, July 5, on Hate is the Enemy. You can order the album on CD and/or vinyl here, where there are loads of offers on bundles alongside Boa Howl. It’ll be in all good record stores next Friday, too. The band are heading out on a tour of Ireland over the next couple months to coincide with the new release. All dates, including Cork on July 26, are below.
Halves tour dates:
July 6 – Tower Records, Dublin;
July 13 – Button Factory, Dublin with Overhead, The Albatross & Bantum;
July 19 – Billy Byrnes, Kilkenny with Bantum;
July 20 – The Model, Sligo with Bantum;
July 25 – Bourkes, Limerick with Bantum;
July 26 – Cyprus Avenue, Cork with Bantum;
August 3 – Indiependence;
August 4 – Castlepalooza;
August 7 – Voodoo, Belfast with Rachel Boyd & Affleck;
August 8 – Roisin Dubh, Galway with Bantum;
August 9 – The Water Rats, London with The Dying Seconds.