IndieRec interview with Hal, Spring, 2005
Rough Trade Records has just issued the debut from Hal, an Irish group that has floored me with their devotion to classic pop songwriting and beautiful arrangements.
They create timeless pop rock with stunning harmonies and melodies.
IR: First off, the name, Hal. Let's get that out of the way. 2001 reference? Pal of the band? Pet? Secret acronym?
DA: The name has many meanings for many people, for some it means Happy As Larry, for others its the Dad from Malcolm in the middle. For us we are not sure yet but it started as a homage to 2001.
IR: What amazed me about your debut album is that although you make use of strings, a bit of brass, banjo and steel, disco rhythms, vintage synth sounds, Beach Boys harmonies, and backwards guitars, it still comes across as a cohesive unique sound. Often the case where such diverse instrumentation and arrangements are used the end result sounds a bit pretentious and over reaching while Hal still sounds deceptively simple and "singer-songwriter" styled. How do you think you managed to accomplish that?
DA: We enjoy a myriad of music from which we draw on for inspiration and love combinations of different sounds but it was probably just luck!
IR: Who produced and mixed the record (I don't have the full artwork yet)?
DA: The album was produced by Ian Stanley in Bow Lane Studios in Dublin city centre. We all got on famously with Ian and enjoyed many lunchtime and after work pints with him. It's thirsty work. The album was mixed by Bill Price who has mixed the Clash, Roxy Music, and the Libertines; he's an old pro.
IR: I believe the parents of brothers Dave and Paul were involved in Irish folk music. Have they played part in your musical development then?
DA: Yes; taught the guys how to play guitar and to have a great love and understanding for music.
IR: Since signing to Rough Trade you've issued a few singles and now this album is forthcoming. How has it been being on a label with such a tremendous history and with such credibility? Do you feel that the label is equipped to market your brand of "orchestral folk-pop"?
DA: None of us had really heard of Rough Trade bar for The Smiths. We are not really up on our labels, we just buy music we like. Rough Trade have great respect among labels, mainly because of Geoff Travis I suspect. In regard to the label being equipped to "market" our unique "brand", I sincerely hope so.
IR: How did Rough Trade come to hear about you? Was there a buzz at home in Ireland?
DA: We sent them our demos and then James and Geoff came to see us.
IR: In a marketplace that is already awaiting the next Franz Ferdinand how do you anticipate Hal to be received?
DA: Hopefully with open ears.
IR: In the States the rock market is very fragmented with sub genres forming marketing facets and target groups. Do you think this environment will help or hinder Hal?
DA: Who Knows? I'm not qualified to answer on the marketing facets of the rock genre in the U.S. We love American music of all types and would love to have a few fans there. Marketing isn't our thing.
IR: Has the British press been kind to you thus far? In the US the album is freshly out but you've already had reviews for the three singles back home I would imagine. Do they "get" Hal over there?
DA: Absolutely. The album has been getting great reviews in all the major music publications. Two of our singles went top 40 and punters are enjoying the shows.
IR: Will you be performing again in the USA to promote this release?
DA: I really hope so. We really enjoyed N.Y. and want to see more of the land of the free.
IR: How was touring with country-mates The Thrills? I would think you picked up some fans touring with them.
DA: Yeah! Had a ball with the Boys on tour. I would think and hope we picked up a few - not literally.
IR: Will the US release of the album include any b-sides? Even the b-sides are catchy as hell and fine slices of pop themselves.
DA: No - the US release is the same as the European release.
IR: What inspires you to write a song?
DA: Generally a feeling or emotion.
IR: What can we expect from Hal in the future?
DA: Pencil Mustache, Tunics, and maybe some lutes. Not sure! it will probably be quite different to our first. We like to keep things interesting.
IR: Finally, what are Hal's favorite artists?
DA: Far too many too mention but here's a few - Sam Cooke, Van Morrison, The Band, The Beatles, The Byrds, Nilsson, Louis Armstrong, Neil Young, Kate Bush, Burt Bacharach, Ennio Morricone, Fionn Regan, Gershwin, Donovan, Dylan.
IR: Thanks so much for your time - I urge anyone reading this to get a copy of the new release - it really is a gorgeous record.
DA: Cheers man!