How J Tyler Johnson, Brett Kramer and Josh Taylor feel mid-tour in the coldest weather they’ve ever been privy to.
It was a particularly cold day, even for southern Ontario standards, when the guys from indie band Half Alive showed up in Toronto just past noon. They were playing at the Drake Underground, which has hosted names such as Beck and M.I.A., and is a fitting place as any for a west coast band with a radio presence to play their first concert in Canada.
Needless to say, an unforgiving February blizzard makes for an environment that’s quite different than their native Southern California. They were dressed appropriately though, with down jackets, scarves and boots, but the trio’s cold weather preparation could not have helped against fatigue. The three boys, singer Josh Taylor, bass player J Tyler Johnson and Brett Kramer on the drums, finished a show in Syracuse, New York the night before and made the five-hour drive to Toronto throughout the early morning after they finished stowing their gear in their tour bus.
That sort of thing isn’t new to the band, either. Roughly a third of the way through a fifteen city international tour, the boys are used to general fatigue and military-esque sleeping arrangements. They even commented that sleeping stationary in a bed, without the arrhythmic rocking of a tour bus and the various and alerting signs and beeps of traffic outside the bus, would take some getting used to once the band returns to Los Angeles in a few weeks.
What’s interesting about the band is their diverse sounds they work with. Digitally, they are grandiose with an extensive reverb’d, echo’d, bassed-out sound that fits any indie radio station and yet live, the trio becomes a raw exoskeleton of what their digital music is. And once we get the ball rolling and stop discussing the LA Rams in the Super Bowl (they weren’t too disappointed with the result), the band shows that their professionalism is as sharp as the wind roaring down Queen Street outside the hotel we’re talking in.
“Everything you see is very intentional,” says drummer Brett Kramer, who is the articulate and serious member of the band. “From our recordings, to the shows, to the music videos, we’ve been very attentive to everything we put out.” The difference between their live shows and their recorded songs is more than evident from the jump as well. “There is just a natural energy to the show that’s a little bit more rock ‘n’ roll,” the eloquent singer, Josh Taylor adds.
That’s not all the band has to work with, however. Josh, who is the residential director for all things music video, is looking to match the energy of the music to the band’s various videos and other otherworldly cinematic content the band puts out. Take the video for their top single, “Still Feel,” for example, which currently boasts nearly 15 million views on YouTube. The music video is soaked to the bone in 70s oranges and browns and corduroy jackets, and filmed with a “Birdman” style technique of one seamless shot, all the while existing in a Tron-style background of blue-hued squares reminiscent of early digital formatting. While it’s a lot to work with, Josh’s attention to the colour palettes, the choreography and the wide lapels and block-striped cardigans of the 1970s are not only exemplifying the band’s funky sound, but that the success of the band derives from three distinct fields “so there is the same amount of wonder and captivation and care” as there is in their recordings. Nothing is dulled in their attack to make music.
I think we’re really choiceful in going to different areas just to be in a different space and I think the difference in atmosphere really inspires.
While Half Alive is not necessarily used to the scene of sleet squishing under bus tires, the band is certainly used to the scene that their sunny disposition of Southern California offers them. As artists such as Bon Iver recorded their breakthrough album in a snowy cabin in Wisconsin, Half Alive recorded their wonderful EP in a converted helicopter hanger-turned-recoding studio stationed in the Mojave Desert. The location of recording often translates into the music made (why Bon Iver is steeped in sadness) and the exact opposite can be said for Half Alive and their roaring bass lines and harmonized vocals.
“I think we’re really choiceful in going to different areas just to be in a different space and I think the difference in atmosphere really inspires,” says bassist J Tyler Johnson, who, by my estimation, is the philosophical member of the trio. “We try to get out of our normal situation. I don’t know if, per say, that seeing water versus snow or mountains would inspire a different song, but just anywhere that’s not the beach or our street is very inspiring.” If I remember correctly it was singer Josh Taylor that compared the Mojave’s arid climate to that of the setting of Mad Max, and it’s comforting to know that the stimulating and exciting trio can immerse themselves in a setting of desert qualities without any roaming band of vandals with spiked football pads and an absurd amount of leather attacking them for their car.
Their metaphor and the talk of the Mojave’s hot brilliance made it all the more ironic that the band’s first concert in Canada follows a cold front that brought Toronto its coldest day ever recorded. Let’s see if frozen ears and black slush inspire them like cacti and sand did.
Words by Sam Farrell. Stream Half Alive’s latest single “Arrow” on Spotify now.