In case you missed it, Californian indie dance-pop trio half•alive are without a doubt the next twentyøne piløts and you need to stop sleeping on them. Why? because the music is incredible, fun to have a boogie to and their fan base in Australia is already insanely hyped.
We arrived at The Metro Theatre for the band’s headlining show in Sydney (their first ever performance in Australia) nearly two hours before doors for this interview and the line out the front of the venue was already around the block.
What was more astounding however was that the 2000 strong crowd knew every single lyric to every track on band’s new album Now, Not Yet (out now via Sony Music/RCA Records) which was released only five days prior to this show taking place.
Sitting down before the show with the band, consisting of lead singer Josh Taylor, bassist J Tyler Johnson, drummer Brett Kramer and the dance duo Jordan Johnson and Aidan Carberry (JA Collective) – who accompany them on every show they play and is an integral part of the bands act and stage presence – we asked them the hard, the easy (and the meme-y) questions so you can get to know this band and get on the hype train before they’re selling out Madison Square Garden.
This is your first ever Aussie tour and show of the tour, how are you finding your first stop so far?
J Tyler: It’s been wonderful! We’ve enjoyed lots of great food and coffee, the coffee culture here is awesome. I love coffee.
No offence and all, but you yanks do coffee so weirdly!
J Tyler: (laughs) I don’t know if I’d agree with that!
DBU: It’s bean water!
J Tyler: (laughs) Alright, alright.
Anyways, before I came after your culture you were telling me about what you’ve gotten up to while you’ve been in Aus.
J Tyler: Yeah! It’s been great! We’ve been able to explore a little bit, we went down to the Opera House today.
DBU: Ahhh, Sydney’s dish rack!
Whole Band: Uhhhhhh?
DBU: Don’t you think it looks like one though?
J Taylor: Actually, yeah I see it, I’ll give you that. We also went to some vintage stores, checked out some clothing and got some Thai food, and yeah, we’ve had a grand old time.
So tell us, who is the loudest/craziest member of the band on tour?
J Tyler: Do the loudest and craziest have to be synonymous?
DBU: Nah! You can dob in more than one person, I’ll allow it.
Brett: That’s a good question…. Can it be all of us?
DBU: That’s a lot of crazy tour energy!
Josh: Well actually, Aiden sleeps most of the time, but that’s pretty crazy. Cause the things he can sleep through, is wild! So that’s kind of crazy of him. I think we’re a pretty mellow tour group though.
DBU: I think for stamina purposes you sometimes have to just step back and take a nap though.
Brett: Oh, for sure. Yeah I don’t know anyone who’s out here trying to be wild on tour 100% of the time.
DBU: That just feels like the quickest way to recreate a bad B-grade movie about the underbelly of rock and roll.
Brett: (laughs) and we’re absolutely not out here trying to do that.
What was the idea behind incorporating dancers into your act at this stage of the band’s development?
Jordan: Well we have a great relationship with Josh, just on a friendship level too as well as a working relationship, and we were super excited to be looped into everything the band does, especially on tour.
Josh: And with the half•alive project we were trying to incorporate as many artistic elements as possible, and to incorporate dance in a way where it doesn’t feel like it’s in the background. But just a part of what’s happening, in the foreground and part of the experience was really important to me.
We were sort of trying to have dance be as integral of an element as say lights or amplification or anything else a band might need production wise to bring a show to life. And by no means are they back up dancers, they’re fully co-collaborators, and they’re almost part of the band in a way when we tour.
It’s funny doing the genre we’re doing and trying to incorporate it from a practical perspective, which is less pop in terms of venues we play. Like last year, we were playing this tiny club show and Jordan hit his hand on the ceiling and cut it up pretty bad.
Luckily, Jordan can’t jump as high as this roof in this place (The Metro Theatre). This is actually a pretty big space for us, but it’s cool, we’re excited to play it.
Earlier this year you played Jimmy Kimmel Live! So tell us, what was it like being in the presence of greatness?
Josh: (laughs), Well our experience with Jimmy Kimmel was we performed, went backstage to the monitors, took a photo, talked about Snoop Dogg, and his [Kimmel’s] aunt.
So back in the day, operators used to pull out things and plug them in manually and stuff, and his aunt and my mom both did that which is a weird commonality but yeah. He’s a good talker! So he’s a good guy.
Brett: The Kimmel team are phenomenal, and they’re so good at what they do, we were able to throw out some ideas that we wanted to do, based on the ‘Still Feel’ music video, and we were fully able to pull off all the elements. They were so accommodating and fun and willing to be creative with us.
Watch the video for ‘Still Feel’ below:
What was the collaboration process like working with Kimbra on ‘Ice Cold’?
Josh: She’s rad! It was interesting because she lives across the country in New York and we’re based in LA, so we still are yet to “meet her” in person, but we’ve just been connecting through our producer. He had worked with her before on her stuff, so he recorded her parts in New York and sent them back to us and then we just went back and forth on it.
J Tyler: We talked to her on the phone a lot though. I have her phone number saved in my phone and I’ve texted her twice! It was awesome! (laughs).
Brett: I feel like her contribution elevated the song so much, cause we listened to the track before we brought her on and we were like, “I feel like there’s something missing”, and she brought exactly what it needed, and we were like, “this is it! This is incredible!” and she went “Full Kimbra” on it which we were really happy about.
What track on the Album was the easiest to write and what track was the hardest?
Josh: The hardest one…
J Tyler: I’d say it was ‘BREAKFAST’
Josh: Really?! I wouldn’t say ‘BREAKFAST’!
J Tyler: I would!
Josh: I feel like I was banging my head against the wall on ‘TrusT’, and on ‘creature’.
J Tyler: ‘creature’ is I guess the longest.
What did you get stuck on?
Whole band chanting simultaneously: The Lyrics!
Brett: ‘creature’ was interesting because it was the first song that we were writing from scratch-ish and then we actually stopped in the middle of it and wrote more songs and then came back to it, and we were able to finally finish it.
I feel like we had to grow as songwriters to be able to finish what we were pushing into originally, so that was cool. Easiest, I vote maybe ‘Pure Gold’ because we made that in like four days and it was the quickest we’ve ever worked.
But at that point in the project, I guess we’d honed-in the skill of getting things done in a short timeframes that we have, and we just said to ourselves, “we have to get this done in four days, that’s just it”.
It was the most amount of stress in some ways, but also the least amount of stress in other ways, but yeah it was just a simpler ordeal than other tracks on that album were to create.
Stream Now, Not Yet below:
Okay, time to hit you with a serious question right now.
Being from Long Beach, California, have you ever run into Taylor Hawkins (Drummer from Foo Fighters)?
Josh: No! But I feel like I’ve heard a second hand story of him like living on 4th Street or something or someone hearing them practise, but it could all be folk law!
Brett: Ugh, I’d love to run into “The Hawk” man… (laughs).
How do you go about marrying up your sonic influences as songwriters considering they originate from and draw upon so many different genres?
Josh: I feel like a lot of it is just a product of the times we live in today, that’s what a lot of kids are used to listening to. What this new generation “the streaming generation” does with playlisting, you can have so many different genres sit right next to each other and have it work, and I think “genre-less songs” are becoming the “norm”.
Listening habits are much more driven by mood now.
Josh: Yeah absolutely! It’s about if you’re feeling the vibe of the track. So I feel like that’s what naturally happens when we write because that’s the generation that we’re part of, but I feel like we pull from so many genre specific areas, and we all come from different musical backgrounds too so that contributes to it.
Brett: And that helps us bring a lot of different aspects to our writing that we wouldn’t incorporate on our own without collaboration.
J Taylor: And Living in Long Beach, there’s so many performing artists coming through all the time, that are so eclectic that in any given week you can be exposed to so many different types of music and you just grab all those different things.
Like we’ll be listening to a certain artist one week and we’ll be working on this song and we’ll be like “I feel like this song could have this spin on it” and then the next week we’ll be listening to something else and add those elements to it.
So a lot of the songs as we were creating them, we were listening to a few different artists simultaneously, so we’d be like “Let’s go for this kind of guitar part” or “Let’s try this kind of beat”. And they might be totally polar opposites to each other, but we were like “I think they could work together”.
Who are your influences individually as musicians?
J Tyler: For me, in my formative years I listened to a lot of hard rock, which doesn’t show too much in our album but like System Of A Down, I know like every single song and I guess I took something from listening to a lot of that.
Brett: Phoenix was big for me. Probably them and The Strokes were pretty defining for me.
Josh: For me, it was a band called United Pursuit. They’re still probably my all-time favourite band, I listen to them the most.
Brett: They’re amazing, Will Reagan specifically!
Josh: Yeah, they were very formative for me, for sure.
How do you convince an A&R guy/gal to trust you on that vision that’s rooted in blending an eclectic mix of sonic influences/genres?
Brett: We’ve been very fortunate in that we love our A&R guy.
J Taylor: When we started working with the label, their approach to us was, “they seem to be doing something right, let’s get out of the way”. So their contributions have been really positive and framed in ways like “We think you should try this” rather than, “You can’t have this, or do that”.
Brett: And I think that’s how most labels work these days, if a band knows what they’re doing, they have an aesthetic and a great approach, they step back and just throw some resources at you to help you keep growing.
I don’t think anyone really knows what to do with three guys and two dancers though! (laughs). So I think because that element is a bit odd for our genre they just let us figure it out.