Between Two Places – An Exclusive Interview with half•alive

It all began with an utterly ambitious songwriter and the goal of 50 songs. In November of 2015, Josh Taylor, then lead singer of The Moderates, a band based in Long Beach, California, set himself the goal of writing 50 unique songs during the course of a seven-month songwriting program. It wasn’t long until Brett Kramer (drums) and J Tyler Johnson (bass) joined him on his mission, having previously met and already floating in an extended network of friends and acquaintances. It was evident from the start that they had come across something great, something that would change their lives forever. And so began the enthralling story of half•alive.

With their effortless mix of indie-pop and impeccable lyricism, it came to no surprise that their first single and EP, both released on the same day in April 2017, took the music industry by storm. And since the release of their debut album ‘Now, Not Yet’ two years ago, the brilliant group has set up camp in every indie kid‘s playlist across the globe, not forgetting the current statistic of more than 1.8 million monthly listeners on Spotify.

Thanks to their one-of-a-kind sound that defies even the strictest rules of genres and the inclusion of stellar dance performances and striking visuals, the California-based group had been living their lives to the fullest, going from one live show to the next, jetting to one city and country after the other. What for some would have seemed as too stressful to cope with, half•alive gracefully met the challenge, packing in tour dates and cutting-edge music videos to support the success of their debut. Until Covid put a hold on their plans. But what may have broken many, provided the talented trio with the freedom and space their creativity had been longing to claim for a long time. “The break was pretty good for us. 2019 was really brutal to us. It was incredible, but we were playing catch up in a lot of ways because we were just not ready for all that the year had planned for us. And so 2020 was a really nice break for us to slow down the process, write a lot of songs, and then move into this year feeling confident,”, explains singer Taylor, turning the page to their endeavours of this year – three singles released so far and an album to come in 2022.

Born out of the rumbling chaos of numerous lockdowns and catastrophes in all shapes and forms all over the planet, the group managed to turn the darkness of the times into light, once again bringing it all back to their initial mission of creating music that will transcend and speak into the tension between the physical and spiritual, therefore providing hope and a way into a life that is the fullest. And what connects it all is time, both the concept and its existence, as Taylor goes on to say: “It has been a natural occurrence of going through unprecedented times of the lockdown. It seems like there is this new urgency and pursuing intentionality in life. So I think that naturally flowed into our writing. It’s like, it’s time to stop messing around, it’s time to get down to business.”

The first strike came in the form of the effervescent ‘What’s Wrong’, a hopeful, introspective take on the current state of the world, one that tells its listeners to take their lives into their own hands and change things for the better if they can, with lyrics like “it’s not ok then it ain’t quite done” and “the time’s always right to fix what’s wrong”. The second came in the shape of the musical rollercoaster ride ‘TIME 2’, a track initially born out of a poem that later got worked into the immersive experience that it ended up to be – one that speaks to everyone feeling stuck in the midst between going back to normality and the global time-out one may have become accustomed to. And while the songs might feel like stories meant for the world to read from their point of view, half•alive wouldn’t be half•alive if their lyrics didn’t come from the depths of their very own souls. “I find that with so many of our songs I am preaching to myself, essentially. Especially when we’re on tour, singing the words,”, states frontman Taylor, while also highlighting the importance the songs serve for him. “I always connect deeply to what I’m talking about. I get rocked every night, speaking these words over myself. It is like, “I’m waking up, it’s time” or “I don’t need to run away”. All of these songs that we write mean so much more once I start singing them. And we’re definitely talking to our own selves here.”

“2020 was a really nice break for us to slow down the process and then move into this year feeling confident.“

Josh Taylor

But it isn’t just the musical sphere that the wonder-group likes to tend to, as one of their most prominent stand-out talents has always been the almost cinematic incorporation of stunning visuals and extensive dance choreographies into both their music videos and live shows. And however unique those compositions might be, as with most of half•alive’s history, one could call it fate or yet again a result of the net of relationships and friendships, the way the band got together with their creative directors and choreographers Jordan and Aiden, better known as JA Collective (Jordan being the brother of bassist J Tyler). “I was becoming really good friends with Jordan, so for our second music video for our single ‘still feel’, I asked him to choreograph some dances on me. And that music video was actually the first time that Jordan and J worked on a project together. So that was a special moment for the two of them,”, singer Josh Taylor remembers, while highlighting the significance of visuals both for the group’s image and presentation but also his own personal understanding as a creative. “Art is such a powerful tool, especially through video, because you can capture someone’s attention for more than just a second. I think a photo can be drowned in a lot of other photos. But if it’s moving, you have to stay and watch. There’s a story that can be told in just someone being there and watching whatever movement happens. I’ve been obsessed with storytelling through the visual media for a while.”

“We want to build our careers so the songs and the videos can be our support system if live shows ever truly stop.”

Brett Kramer

Quickly turning into the band’s trademark from the get-go, it is no wonder that the music videos for both of their latest releases have stood out as just as adventurous for the viewers as for the makers and starring actors. From interpretative dances in tuxedoes to a piano solo in the middle of a street during a starry night, both visual counterparts to their musical other halves never fail to make one’s jaw drop. And as with most of half•alive’s path, it was the almost perfectionist teamwork that quite literally made the dream work. “So for ‘What’s Wrong’ we were just sending ideas back and forth with the director Brantley Gutierrez. We wanted it to be a very dance-heavy video. And then we decided that the whole thing should be in tuxedos, of course,”, bassist J Tyler Johnson recalls from the making of the video for their first single, while vocalist Josh Taylor goes on to discuss the more grandiose shoot of the two-piece set. “For ‘TIME 2’ we wanted to really focus on songwriting between the three of us. And so we gave Jordan and Aiden free reign and told them to just go for it. And they really did. They planned this six-day video shoot, which is the longest we’ve ever had. And we went all over the Long Beach and Los Angeles area, shot a bazillion different scenes. They truly worked us to the bone there.”

Looking at the second music video, there is one scene that while taking everything in, has stuck with watchers, fans and also the band the most – the scene featuring a moving car, an enormous amount of colourful feathers and the vibe of a group of friends having the time of their lives. At least that is what it seems like when viewing the finished product, not so much though during the production, as singer Taylor and focal point of that very scene rather painfully remembers: “Oh my gosh. That scene was filmed at the end of day one, our worst, most brutal day. And that’s when I was kind of losing it, I was on the verge of a breakdown. Because at that point we had been kicked out of so many different places where we were trying to film. We still needed the feather scene and at that point, I was already having this massive headache. But we had to pretend as if we were having the times of our lives, while we were all just upset. Just not having that much fun. We were going down the street and it was like, “okay, time of our lives in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1”. And of course that made the headache way worse. But it came out really good.” A rather tumultuous story to a scene that has evolved into a definite highlight of the band’s visual path. And for Taylor a memory he will most definitely fondly look back to with a smile on his face in a few years’ time. Maybe just not now: “The Death is behind my eyes there.” 

Keeping themselves busy working on their upcoming album, releasing immaculate hits, having feathers thrown at them and dancing around in tuxedos, there is one trend of today’s music industry, one in which live shows have become somewhat difficult projects, that the band actively stepped away from – livestream concerts. And that for one very specific reason. “Even with the most high-tech environment, there’s something about just human to human connection that is going to stand the test of time. We’ve been so used to only doing live, how can we do everything on the internet now? Of course, there’s a whole new world there to be explored, but I don’t think it replaces a live concert, ever,”, singer Taylor states, while drummer Brett Kramer adds that “despite that, we are not trying to have long-form touring as our main method of financial stability. We want to build our careers in a way that the songs and the videos can still be our support system if live shows ever truly stop.”

“I‘m eager to go back out and create. Because it feels like for the first time we‘re on top of things instead of behind them.”

Josh Taylor

Nonetheless, the trio has been gearing up for normality to set back in and venues to open their doors again for the group’s upcoming US tour later this year. In a world filled to the brim with destruction, confusion, chaos, and peace, half•alive have managed to find a form of transformation and a sense of still freedom buried deep within. It’s from those depths that their newest musical explorations and also their upcoming second full-length album stem from, supported by their newly found creativity and confidence from within. It’s that certain change and eager mission of creating music that breathes, evolves, grows, and changes alongside their listeners and themselves that has not only awarded the group with the title of one of the most exciting and unique bands out there right now, but has moreover prepared them for what’s to come, as bandmember Taylor concludes: “I’m excited to create songs, videos, live show experiences, everything that we have done, and more. And with this new strength that we’ve found, I’m eager to go back out and create from that place. Because it feels like for the first time we’re on top of things instead of behind them.”

half•alive’s new single ‘Summerland’ is out now. Follow the band on Instagram, Twitter and Spotify.

Written by Laura Weingrill // photography by Brantley Gutierrez

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