Half Alive open up about their debut album Now, Not Yet...
All songwriters are ambitious, but most delight in the mystical, letting songs find them, not worrying about how many they write or how they arrive. Not so Josh Taylor, frontman of alt-pop types Half Alive.
In late 2015, he set himself the target of writing 50 songs over the next seven months. Eventually, he was joined on that project by friend Brett Kramer and the duo became Half Alive.
Their unconventional approach to writing and recording has continued even as the band has become more established. Their debut single was laid down in a converted helicopter hangar in the Mojave Desert, while their debut album was put together in a series of different Air BnBs across California.
The result is their debut album Now, Not Yet, a slinky, tight and colourful collection of alt-pop.
With the album now on shelves, we spoke to Taylor about it all came together...
When did you start writing songs for the album? Were they written over years and years or put together more recently?
"Two of the tracks, ‘arrow’ and’ still feel.’ came from the 50 song challenge Josh and Brett completed in 2015. For the rest of the songs on this record, the three of us rented Air BnB’s in different environments and locations that might inspire us. We chose three primary environments: Big Bear Mountain in the winter, Joshua Tree National Park in the spring, and San Diego La Jolla Beach in the Summer. Some songs came from a quick voice memo-ed moment of inspiration in past months. Others started from scratch right there in those air BnB’s."
You worked with a few different producers on the album, can you talk us through them?
"James Krause produced our first EP, and mixed the single ‘still feel.’ for us. He was the first producer we ever worked with, so he taught us a lot about the entire culture of studio recording. The producers are Mike Crossey, Mike Elizondo, Ariel Reichstahd, Paul Meany, and Eric Palmquist. A legendary lineup. All of those guys are so incredibly talented and have so much experience that we were like human sponges while we were in the studio. If we were to name all the things we learned from them, they would fill a 50-page book."
You’ve got collaborations with Kimbra and Samm Henshaw on the album, how did they come about?
"Our collaborations with both artists started with us being fans of their work. Kimbra we had known about for a few years and had taken inspiration from her work for our album. When working on the song 'ice cold', our producer Mike Elizondo had mentioned she would love the vibe of this song, so later on, we insisted on having him reach out for us to see if she would like to be on the song. To our wonderful surprise, a few months later we were on the phone with her talking about the song and ultimately, we love how it turned out."
"We had found out about Samm Henshaw right around the time we started writing 'Rest'. We were looking to add something to the song to really bring it to the finish line and the same producer, Elizondo, knew of Samm and put us in touch with him. A few weeks later we were on another phone call, this time with Samm, talking through the story of the song."
What kind of album is this lyrically? Is there a theme to it?
"The lyrical theme of the album is multi-dimensional but has a connecting anchor of topics we believe are important and impactful to this cultural moment."
Which song on the album took the longest to get right?
"'Creature' was the first song the three of us started writing together. We actually to take a break and come back to it in order to really portray the message we wanted to express."
And which came together most quickly?
"I think 'Pure Gold' came together the quickest. 'Pure Gold' came about as we were finishing up the album. We had shared a couple more demos to our team to decide between and Pure Gold got the most excitement. Which was extremely surprising, seeing as at the time of sharing the demo, it was a one-minute instrumental composed of 90% synthetic midi instruments and a few ooooahhh group vocals."
"But, none the less, everyone we sent it to absolutely loved it, so within a week we put together the rest of the music and wrote all the lyrics. It was a cool moment to step back and realize the improvement we had made as songwriters, now able to put together a meaningful song that we were proud of in the short window we had."
When did you decide on Now, Not Yet for the album title? Were any other titles in contention?
"The title Now, Not Yet was locked in around the same time as the music video for Runaway was being explored, which was in an airport in Paris, waiting on our delayed flight at an espresso shop. The name and the symbol for the album, stylized- ]\[ both came out pretty quickly during the few hours sitting at our gate. It just seemed natural, the title fit the songs and the message we wanted to share like a glove."
What are your plans to take the album out live? It looks like you’re out pretty constantly from now until 2020...
"We have very large and ambitious plans for the live adaptation of Now, Not Yet. This fall tour will be the biggest, baddest thing we’ve attempted. It will include a lot of carefully choreographed movement, colour, lighting, and wardrobe design, video integration, crowd participation, cloud precipitation, acrobats, and fire."
"Well, maybe not the last few things, but needless to say, we are planning very big things for this tour, as we do for every tour. We are very excited to show people this wonderful universe we are creating- the beautiful Now, Not Yet."
Half Alive's new album Now, Not Yet is out now.