As Haelos completes their soundcheck at The Wardrobe, Leeds, Jim Phelps joins them to find out a little more about what’s behind their music.
The first thing I want to ask you about is your recent expansion from a 3 piece and how that’s changed things in terms of writing music.
We started as a 3 piece but as soon as we took the music out live, we always had Daniel and Bo playing with us so it was a natural progression for them to the next record. Every member has their influences that come from different places that add something really special to the mix. It makes the writing process easier and more enjoyable having those different parts involved, so it’s a natural progression for us.
I heard you guys had a week or so when you wrote songs in an hour, then came up with ideas. Tell me about that.
It wasn’t necessarily that strict – just trying to free up a lot of the limitations we put on ourselves on the first record. It was more about spontaneity and splitting up into groups to write; playing different games of writing. We wrote quite a few beginnings of tracks in that first week but then there’s a long process of editing and rewriting, until we’re happy with it, to get it to its final place.
What songs came out of that?
Veil in The Sand. Another Universe which was then totally changed. People have brought that up but it was a really a fun way to spark ideas and all of them went through multiple forms before they were finished songs. It takes longer than we hope. It was a really fun way for us to start sparking ideas and not overthinking – a starting point.
I heard you say there’s no ego in what you do when you’re writing and the song is the most important thing. Is it hard to come up with an idea and balance that ego? Are there tensions?
We split things equally and when we’re working together it’s what everyone feels is the best idea. There’s no real competition as we’re totally equal in the process. It’s democractic. We all write melodies and chord progressions. It’s a really fun and rewarding collaboration all the time and a pleasure working with these guys. It’s a collective.
You might have been sent the original PR which mentioned breaking up and we’ve been trying to get rid of that. It stated we were a minute away from breaking up…. Any conflict is reconciled before the end of any session. We strive for perfection so everyone starts to breathe again when they feel the joy that it’s right. There is tension until then.
Start writing your own press releases.
Since the first album, you’ve been around the world – there’s been America and Europe. How has this affected the music?
The first album was much more inward-looking and much more dominated by heartbreak and waking up. The second album we did so much travel and everything felt as though it was falling apart politically and socially, so that it was impossible for that not to inform the writing and perhaps reading the papers affected us and affected the music. Nothing was as certain as it felt growing up. It’s difficult to not be affected so that came out in the music.
We were just a Studio band – so the experience of performing live in front of people also informs the second record massively, gauging people’s reactions – bpm, frequency range. There were strict limitations on Full Circle but notso much with Random Kindness. You can feel what you want next in a set; what would be awesome to put next.
Do you write on tour? After a set, do you know what you want next?
It’s a game changer when a melody pops into your head, or a drum beat…..jamming when sound checking. After a set, you’re creatively drained but when you’re out, there’s no pressure to write. It’s an absorption period, meeting new people and seeing new places. New connections and new places bring new ideas.
What about the lyrics? Meeting people?
Life informs the lyrics – or a melody or even a word. A melody or a word can spark lyrics.
There are some forlorn and some angry lyrics, but not necessarily carried into the music which is quite euphoric . Is that a conscious decision?
I don’t think our music is ever without hope, even though it touches some dark places. There’s always hope. It’s not a realistic reflection of humans to be happy or sad all of the time. Some lyrics are angry and some hopeful and some are joyful. We write music which is absorbing and emotional. It doesn’t have to be really angry guitar music to be expressive.
About a couple of songs: End of The World Party is a really good song. There’s a dense trip hop beat going on but the song itself feels like it’s a club song trying to escape.
Yes, it is trying to escape. The lyric is literally drowning out the headlines. We’re being bombarded with news stories which can be very depressing, so you need to forget about it, so it’s enjoying the moment you’re in. On the record it was a completely different song. It was actually two different songs originally and when stripped out it became a totally different song. We laid down new chords and built up again in 35 minutes, based on the drum groove and some of the bass lines. You can isolate a couple of parts and hear it in an entirely different way.
It’s like when you are outside of a club with the frequencies coming through the walls and the bass….you hear something different. You know you’ve just walked out from the song but it’s completely different.
The music is super intricate yet there are only 5 of you to play it live. How do you get around that problem?
Bo is 4 drummers in 1 – he’s an octopus. The various parts – drums in general are a big part of Haelos, so Bo with live drums and modular synthesis. It’s frustrating for 3 months until locked in and you’re done with twiddling the knobs. A massive part of dance music and for us, dance music is a massive influence. Trying to merge the worlds – a sense of catharsis that comes from being in a room with people dancing and we’re trying to reflect the emotions we’re writing about. For live performance it has to be stripped back a bit. A song will have 90 tracks on it by the time you have all the effects and you’re not going to have that on stage. It comes across more potently.
The sound check sounded really good. Nothing missing. Does it leave much room for improvisation?
Definitely, especially from Daniel. Daniel – Yes, my guitar is different every night.
What about the rest of you? Locked in?
Yes, focused on performance and delivery. Some are set and some free. Not exactly programmed; it spits out random rhythms, so there’s some chaos and some more rigid. You feel it on the crowd, so shows change dramatically in different venues and it’s also about your own particular mood. You keep a bit of danger and a bit of fun. Robotic isn’t interesting.
Tell me about a Spinal Tap moment as a band.
There are too many! We left Bo at a service station in Eugene, Oregon, somewhere literally very isolated. It was a backwood garage with a shop that was a shipping container. Our tour manager said ‘Be quick’. Daniel saw a pile of coats, the tour manager said ‘Are we a bus?’ Yes, we’re a bus. 40 minutes away and it’s Where’s Bo? Bo It was funny for 5 minutes, then I realised it wasn’t a joke.
Then there was playing in Netherlands on Leeland. We were tour Managing ourselves and, for the most part, we nailed it. This time, we misplaced the time for the ferry and it was the last one for the day. It was ‘miss it and miss our set’. So they hold the ferry for us! We drive on and they were cool. Not only cool, but the Captain came down to congratulate us and invite us onto the bridge.
There are also in jokes – mixing musicians and food, so there’s Nat King Coleslaw, Tofu Fighters, Fleetwood Mac and Cheese. A lot of hours on the bus!
Also, we do a Morgan Freeman thing narrating on the bus. (In Morgan Freeman voice) ‘It was a mad moment when the crew realised they were completely insane.’
I love to hear the stories Thanks very much for taking the time. Good luck.
Cool . Thank you.
Photographs by Mark Wheelwright.
Jim writes for Leeds Living on contemporary music, bringing gigs alive for readers who couldn’t be there.