Wildfire 2016 Interview: Chris Alexander of Halo Tora

Photo courtesy of Halo Tora
Photo courtesy of Halo Tora

Another in the huge number of interviews we have piled up to bring you from this year’s Wildfire Festival is this rambling pile of words courtesy of Halo Tora’s resident beanpole, Chris Alexander. Chris went to a lot of trouble finding us at the venue due to poor mobile signals and I have to give a shout out to the lovely Karen of PlanetMosh who helped us meet up!

Wildfire’s right on your doorstep, but you just played Great Escape Festival which is a little further afield. How did that go?

Brilliant. It’s a really well organised festival and they looked after us. A ten hour drive to get there, mind. We played a show in Bolton the night after on the way back up which broke things up a little bit. It’s a lovely venue, right on the sea. Your feet are almost getting wet when you’re playing!

Is that the furthest from home you’ve played?

Well, with my last band we went to Europe and Ireland but for Halo Tora yes… but we are planning some dates in Europe right now. We’ve not announced it yet, so… I guess I have now! We going to start with a few dates in the UK, end with a few here but with about two weeks in Europe in between. Germany, Denmark, Holland, Sweden… the lot. It’s planned for October.

We’re getting a great response in the UK, but we just feel that the European audience is more receptive to the “prog” type of music we play. We’re really looking forward to the trip.

How long have Halo Tora been together?

About three and a half years now. We weren’t too active in the beginning, just getting together to write songs and see what happened. We got the line-up together and recorded a demo and then three years later our first album (2015’s Omni/One).

We’re working on material for the second one now. In fact, we’ve been live streaming on facebook recently while we’ve been making demos in the house. We didn’t realise how good the live broadcast would be. Within minutes we had hundreds of people tuning in – it was great!

Is much of this material likely to make it onto the next album? Do you write lots and throw bits away?

On the first album we didn’t throw anything away. Well, there were two tracks that didn’t make the album but we’ve not thrown them out. They’ll be B-sides. We might even wait till we have enough material and release a B-sides record. Other than those, that was all we had for the first album. It’s the way we write. I know some bands will write something like forty songs for an album and then pick nine or ten, but that’s not us. We all have full time jobs so finding time for the band is a struggle as it is. We certainly don’t have time to write forty songs!

We write our songs to a production level, fine-tuning as we go. The songs are just right before we go anywhere near the studio. We’re really proud of the first album. We were lucky with the way everything fell together songwise.

Is there any obvious change in style from the first album with the new material?

I don’t want to take anything away from the first album – it’s excellent, not that I’m biased! – but there’s certainly a change with the songs for the second one. I don’t think we did it on purpose. We’ve always written to whatever we play. We’re not a metal band or a prog band or a pop band… we like to think we can take bits of all of that and make something of it.

The first thing I’ve noticed is that there are perhaps three or four tracks that are around the 3 1/2 minute mark. Not to say they’re pop songs, but that’s the length of them! The old, standard length of a single, more or less. The first album has about five tracks that are over six minutes on it. We keep hearing that we’re a prog band so we maybe wanted to get away from that label by writing things shorter, I don’t know!

I mean, you can’t get away from your roots. I’m a massive Yes fan and Ian [McCall, guitars/vocals – Mosh] loves Tool, for instance, with all the crazy timings and so on. We’re not going to stop doing that. It’s really apparent on the next record, the songs are just more condensed, more to the point… a bit more aggressive-sounding as well.

Do you handle production yourself?

To an extent. As I mentioned, we write with production in mind and I studied production in college so it’s good to have an idea of where we’re going. Having said that, Stuart who recorded our first album is an absolute genius! He says things like “bring this delay up here, it’ll turn up about five times in the album and bring the whole thing together”. We’d never think of things like that. He’s Stuart Macleoud and he works out of Beetroot Studios in Airdrie, and we’re hoping to spend more time with him on the second album.

We’ve mentioned touring before, but one thing that’s changed over the last few years is the number of festivals in the UK – there are loads, many like Wildfire geared at the smaller acts. Is this good for bands in terms of getting themselves out there?

Yeah, well touring’s really expensive. It’s something worth bearing in mind for anyone who’d thinking about touring with a band and who’ve not done it before. You’re lucky on a night to get a hundred quid. If you rent a van, that’s £80 right there. Spend a couple of hundred on fuel and you’re already in your own pocket. And that’s if you’re doing it night after night. You’ll come back from a two week tour a couple of hundred quid down. Each. Each band member. It’s unfortunate, but that’s the way it’s going.

Hopefully soon there’ll be something along that’ll help us sustain what we want to do. But at the moment it’s just “pay for it or don’t do it”. We’d rather play music, so we pay for it!

You shouldn’t let it put you off if this is what you want to do. I know plenty of bands who are struggling, we’re one of them! But that’s not to say that suddenly a band might not get a good recording deal, or publishing deal and be alright. But the majority will just have to slog it until those things come. Speaking for ourselves, we’ve not got an agent with the aim being to get to get some publishing and maybe a record deal as well. We’re looking to get to that next stage, but any new band coming in has to be prepared to put a lot of slog in and invest some money. It’s just one of those things you can’t get around.

Rather than asking you your influences, can you name a band that you’ve heard of that we might not have? Maybe a mate’s band, or someone you’ve toured with that really deserve a shout out?

I’ve got a few mates’ bands I’d love to mention. A Sudden Burst of Colour, they’re an instrumental band from Motherwell. They’ve no lyrics, and I like to say that they sound like they’re playing the soundtrack to your summer! It’s really nice, melodic, upbeat post-rock stuff.

Our manager Dan is in a band that’s on hiatus at the moment called Mountains Under Oceans. Another instrumental band, a little techie at times, very atmospheric.

And another band I’m not friends with – but wish I was! – is Agent Fresco from Iceland. I absolutely love everything they do. Bits of piano, excellent guitar work, crazy rhythms going on, very proggy. Then they have this singer who, and this term is used a lot but it’s deserved here, has the voice of an angel. A high voice and the melodies he puts around the music are something else.

Halo Tora: official | facebook | twitter | instagrambandcamp | soundcloud | youtube

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