“Wiser,” the second album from San Francisco’s Halou, is an outstanding work of organic sounding electronic-based music. Building upon the sound of their 1999 debut, “We Only Love You,” the group has become much more focused musically. There’s increased use of live instruments this time around, and the music is expertly crafted to leave breathing room for the powerful vocals. Joining the husband and wife team of Ryan and Rebecca Coseboom on “Wiser” is new member Count. The following is an email interview with Ryan.
Had the members of Halou been in any bands previously?
RYAN: We have actually all been in bands before Halou, both together and separately. Rebecca and I have been working together for almost 10 years! We met Count in late 1995 in San Francisco. He joined the band that Rebecca and I had just formed, Anymore, and it’s more or less been the three of us ever since.
How did your sound evolve from when you started to what was heard on “We Only Love You”?
RYAN: Speaking for myself, It’s come almost full circle. When I first started, I was just fooling around with a couple synthesizers and effects. My first band was totally electronic. It was when I became the drummer of an acquaintance’s band that I eventually met Rebecca. That band was guitar-based, but very influenced by British things happening at the time like My Bloody Valentine and Cocteau Twins. I remember liking it at the time, but looking back, I really wish I had spent those years becoming a better songwriter. Rebecca and I left that band and directly formed Anymore with Count. Anymore was also guitar-based, but gradually became more electronic as we went on. It was after we recorded our first CD that I realized how unhappy I was with that setup. “We Only Love You” was recorded very quickly after we did the Anymore CD as an instantly gratifying experience for Rebecca and I. While Count did not play on it, he was constantly around while we were working on it and he did also engineer the album and do a lot of the vocal production.
In terms of the process that went into making it, how would you compare “Wiser” to that album?
RYAN: “We Only Love You” was made not knowing if anyone was ever going to hear it, really. While I certainly don’t hate that album, I deliberately cut corners making it. The album is based around breakbeats and big, warm chords. It doesn’t have the detail that “Wiser” has. I don’t think that is really a bad thing, I just prefer the direction that we’ve gone with the new album. Our writing/recording process always begins with me creating a song. From there, Rebecca comes in and adds her vocal melodies and lyrics. At that point, the song may change a bit to accommodate her parts. We’re all pretty honest with ourselves about the vocals being the most important element in our songs so we really try to frame them inside everything else that might be going on. After that, Count and I get together in his studio and strip the song back down around her vocal idea, and then build it back up into whatever we want it to sound like. The original versions can be either very close, or quite different, to the final, released versions of the songs.
Do you have any favorite pieces of electronic musical equipment? Are there any particular pieces of gear that you consider key to Halou’s sound and/or approach to music?
RYAN: I haven’t really been that reverent or loyal to any pieces of gear, really. I haven’t ever had enough money to be that discriminating, truthfully! I am currently really enjoying Reaktor by Native-Instruments. Something inspiring about building up your own synthesizers. We’re also pretty keen on ProTools as a means to record and arrange the songs. ProTools mainly affects the vocal production and some of the finer details in the songs.
What’s your approach to integrating live instruments with the electronics? For example, do you have the parts composed/sequenced electronically first and then replace tracks with live parts? Or are parts written on (and specifically) for the various instruments?
RYAN: I write pretty much all of the parts and they are sequenced as part of the original demos of the songs. From there, we decide what the instrumentation should be. A lot of times, it comes down to whether or not we have a convincing sample of a particular instrument. We don’t yet have the resources to hire too many outside musicians to play on our recordings. “Him To Me To You” from “Wiser” was actually written around the bassline. However, what sounds a bit like a double bass part, was written on a Nord Lead 2. On that particular track, we like the way the Nord bass sounded a lot and decided to keep it in instead of having someone play it live. However, when we perform live, we are joined by a string section, including double bass.
How did Count come to join the band?
RYAN: Since he was in our band prior to Halou, and he engineered/co-produced the first Halou record, he was a natural addition. We were all really into the idea of incorporating a live drummer into our live shows and he agreed to that. Mainly, though, it is his talent in the studio that he contributes the most.
How did you come to sign to Nettwerk?
Ryan: We sent them some of the demos that we were working on for “Wiser”. It was several months before we heard anything from them, though. From the time they began to show interest, it took about a year for us to sign. I think we would have been quite happy to release the album ourselves, so we weren’t real eager to hurry up and sign the “big record contract”. We’re all really happy with the label and their background. They’ve got a demonstrated talent for working with bands like us and they’ve made their name by doing just that.
What type of set-up/instrumentation do you use when you play live?
RYAN: We are going on tour in about a week, actually, and for this round of dates our line-up will be:
Elizabeth Roberts: Cello
Greg Kehret: Double Bass
Who would you say your influences are?
RYAN: Musically, I think we try to not be influenced by other artists. I know that we aren’t 100% unique and we obviously can be categorized, but we don’t make an effort to be like anyone else or fit into some style. When in the studio, I think we get a feeling for the direction that the individual songs seem to want to go and we just follow that. “Political” on “Wiser” for example just sounded best as a minimal sort of cocktail lounge song so that’s what it became…
Track #9 (“Feeling Like This Is To Fall Awake”) sounds like it has an old Casio keyboard on it – does it?
RYAN: No, but close. It does have a Yamaha SY77, which I hated! That song was the only time I’ve ever used that synth to any great effect. The most distinctive sounds on that song are all samples. A lot of the sounds were routed into stompboxes which were then routed back into themselves and then twiddled.
Are there any plans to re-issue ‘We Only Love You’?
RYAN: Not yet… What are your plans for near future?
RYAN: We go on tour next week, and then when we get back we’ll go back into the studio to record the new songs we’ve got for our next album.