Having given up on record labels, at least for the time being, Halou is back with a new self-released CD, “Wholeness and Separation.” (street date of May 23, 2006) Their third full-length album, “Wholeness and Separation” once again features highly organic sounding electronic tracks and breathtaking vocals. Based in San Francisco, Halou is comprised husband and wife Ryan and Rebecca Coseboom and Count. The following the first part of a phone interview with Count. Be sure to check back soon to read the rest!
You joined the band after the first album. How did you come to be a member of Halou?
COUNT: “We were actually in a band together, and Halou was more or less a side project. It seemed to be really one of those situations where our other group was a true band and everyone contributed their part to it. And it didn’t necessarily all come out the way we wanted it to. But I don’t think anyone really had the guts to sort of say ‘Hey, this isn’t really quite what I think it could be.’ And so instead of any of us saying that, Ryan and Rebecca, who are married, were just kind of quietly doing this stuff. Finally, when I heard it, I said to them ‘That’s what we should have been doing all along!’ Because the early stuff was very electronic, it didn’t necessarily call out for live drums. Since I play drums I wasn’t playing on it. But I was actively involved helping them put that first record together. There just wasn’t anything that I played on or co-wrote or anything like that.”
What was the name of that original group?
COUNT: “[Laughs.] I won’t tell you that name of that other band! If someone has a copy of that record on the Internet I don’t want people to know about it. We all live and learn, and that was the learning experience.”
Can you describe what it was like?
COUNT: “It was a lot more rock, and I think that had a lot to do with the fact that the original guitarist was a big rock guy, and our original bassist was as well. Although they had good taste in music, you could tell that there was a sort of sense of�I don’t know how to describe it…not virtuosity, but they were much better players than we were and that was a big focus for them�making sure it sounded like they played their instruments well. That’s just something that Ryan and Rebecca and I have always sort of I guess rebelled against. It’s just something that we weren’t very much interested in. Guitar solos � you’ll never hear one of those in a Halou song even if there’s a guitar in it. We don’t care much for that; we’re more interested in making interesting juxtapositions and combinations of sounds. The parts aren’t necessarily difficult to play, they just sound really good to us. None of us care about our part being too boring, or ‘Are people going to think I’m not a good drummer because I’m not playing something difficult?'”
Did improvements with electronic drums and other musical technology play a part in your joining Halou?
COUNT: “Yeah, a big part of forming the band, or my assimilating into the band, has been the technology. When I started hearing this stuff, I didn’t really consider playing with them. But around that time, Roland came out with V-Drums and we decided, ‘Hey, these are actually good enough so that I can chop up every little drum hit from the album, assign them to drum pads, and actually play these electronic beats instead of having them pre-recorded.’ So I learned how to do that, and that was one of the first steps in the band developing from being purely electronic to something which was more organic. That was a huge technological leap in terms of our live show. In terms of making the record, it’s kind of interesting because the record that’s just come out is very old. Some of those songs are over 5 years old. But we’re constantly recording new stuff, and recently a lot of software synthesizers emerged that do what used to take us hours with the press of a key.”
With this new technology, our first gut reaction was ‘Wow, that’s so cool.’ There’s this one company in particular, Native Instruments, that makes really incredible stuff. And it’s very unusual, it’s not for pop musicians, it’s for people like us who enjoy the weird sounds. Because of the fact that the sounds are so instantly unusual, there’s an initial temptation to use it the way it is. But our tendency is to kind of go a lot further beyond that. It’s almost like we’re not using the crazy weird sounds any more, we’re focusing more on things like how to get something really interesting out of an acoustic instrument. If anything, it’s caused us to rethink ‘What are the sounds that we truly enjoy the most?’ Weird sounds are so easy to get and anyone can get them, so it almost makes us less interested in them.”
Do you see any limitations with the software synths? For example, is there anything that old equipment can do, but the software cannot reproduce?
COUNT: “Well, I have to admit that for financial reasons and lack of space, we’ve never been collectors of gear. We’re not against it�we just haven’t got down that road. Being a producer and working with bands of all different genres, I definitely recognize the importance of having the old gear. Each piece of gear, even if it only does one thing � sometimes that sound is damn near impossible to recreate with the new stuff. And I can appreciate that. However, being a producer and having to work with other bands on low budgets, over the years I’ve figured out how to get sounds to work that aren’t made with the classic hard-to-find, difficult-to-use, often-breaking-down gear. So I appreciate it, but it’s not something that we have even been able to afford to deal with.”
Is “Wholeness & Separation” self-released?
COUNT: “We’re releasing this directly through Bayside distribution, which is a great situation for us that is basically bypassing the label all together and going directly to our fans. Bayside is either the second or third largest distributer, and they can get our record literally to wherever we want it to be. We can book a tour, and they can be right on it. I can forward them tour dates and they can do a marketing plan and turn it around very quickly. So I think it’s a lot better of a situation for us. To be honest, Halou has never fit in, and we haven’t been a part of any trend. So it seems like whenever a certain kind of music is very trendy among people, we’re doing almost the exact opposite. And it’s not on purpose, it’s just that’s what we happen to be into. Records labels tend to work under the model of the trendy stuff. So they’ve never really known what to do with us, and I’m not going to pretend like that’s ever going to change. So we’re going straight to our fans and are just going to continue to do things on our own, and not worry about industry so much.”
What are your thoughts about online music distribution?
COUNT: “For me, I have to say [laughs] that maybe I’m a bit of a snob. There are two main things. One is that as a producer and an engineer, my ears are very sensitive and there is a sonic difference in what you download online versus a CD. And I find it pathetic that CD’s have been around for 20 years, and the format that we use online is actually lower sound quality that what we came up with over 20 years ago. We’re not moving forward, we’re moving back. I don’t think people want that, but somehow or another a few people have decided that being able to download something quickly is more important so that’s the way it’s going to be. As for the physical thing versus the download, that’s immediately the one thing that most people never talk about, but I find it to be one of the worst things. I love artwork, it probably makes me sound like an old man and I remember people having this conversation when CD’s came in � talking about ‘Oh, I used to love looking at the big album covers and now the CD’s that the kids are listening to are so small!’ But you know, the artwork is definitely a part of establishing the mood for a lot of bands. It’s not the end of the world, but is something that I wish was more appreciated.”
You mentioned that some of the music on “Wholeness & Separation” is five years old. Why has it taken so long to get released?
COUNT: “The music industry kind of dictates that. Finding the right situation for us to release our records is something that I anticipated being less difficult. First of all, with our original record deal, it was a year after the album came out before we realized that it wasn’t going to work. So that’s a year gone. About half of the album was done at that point. We spent another year finishing it, and then the next two years looking for a good situation that basically doesn’t exist anymore. Because the record industry changed so much during that time that even independent labels � their purpose in the world should be to release the more left of center, boundary-pushing music � even those labels have started to consolidate and operate essentially as junior major labels. I could give you countless examples of that, and in fact many are now owned by major labels. So you’re talking about a shift in that direction, so these independent labels are becoming way more trendy and completely afraid to release records anymore because people aren’t buying them. They are financially a lot more inhibited. So that’s when we made the decision to bypass the label completely. It just didn’t make financial sense. In a typical artist deal, the artist gets 10%, and the label gets 90%. Well if they’re dong a hell of a lot for you, and they’re taking you from ground zero to an established act, yeah that’s still pretty extreme but it’s not exploitative. But unfortunately, labels aren’t doing that now. To give someone 90% of something and have them do very little, well that isn’t fair. And it doesn’t make financial sense.”