It's been two years since Halls, AKA South London musician Sam Howard, quietly stunned with the release of his debut album Ark. Since then Sam's been hard at work, dabbling in the fashion world with a brief stint in Paris for Hedi Slimane and recording his latest album Love to Give. The choral nods that came to dominate Ark are still there along with a fresh, more open mood. Recorded in a theatre in Woolwich, the sounds from the street outside often spill out across the melodies, making for a densely layered listen.
Dazed Digital: Ark was very much defined by its choral sounds, what's Love To Give defined by?
Sam Howard: The choral elements in Ark took such prominence in the palette of sound because of the concept surrounding the album - the idea that the album was loosely set within a church dictated the sounds that were used (pipe organs, choral pieces, pianos etc). With Love to Give there is less of an emphasis on a certain mood or place, and is rather more scattered in its approach. I'd say this album is defined by the opening up of the palette of sound - there are many instruments used that have not been used on a Halls record before (marimba, brass, saxophone) and some of the sounds, such as guitar and drums, take much more of a prominent role in the makeup of the songs. The sound is bigger, open – especially compared to the isolated sound of Ark.
DD: You've said this album's about opening up - does it get more personal than Ark? What sort of stuff are you opening up over?
Sam Howard: Yes, this album is more personal. The experiencing of creating an album taught me a lot, and so for the second album I was able to approach the songwriting with a clearer mind, free from the distractions of naivety. So because of this I did dig deeper, and I made a more conscious effort to reflect this in the lyrics of the songs. This time around it is clearer - if you can get to the lyrics then you will hear what I'm "opening up" over.
DD: What drew you to record in a theatre? Was the noise from traffic outside not distracting for you?
Sam Howard: Accessibility, more than anything. I was offered the space to work in for a summer, and so I spent every day working there, writing the songs and eventually recording many of the parts in the different rooms. I used the time with my band to strengthen as a unit too. I was not distracted by the outside noise, in fact I enjoyed it. There were rooms more cut off from the outside world than others, but I decided to record some of the album in the noisier rooms so I could capture a sense of place and time. I want the surroundings to seep into the songs. I want people to feel that it was created in a concrete place.
DD: You've also said in the past that most of the people that influenced you were dead, have any more current influences crept in since then?
Sam Howard: I'd say about half dead and half alive. Me and Ian Jenkins (drummer) worked together on creating the drum parts for the album - I would show him a sketch of how I'd want the drums to sound and he'd spend time skewing it and building a new part from the remains. We both listened to a lot of jazz over the summer, and I think some of this shows in the drum parts - they feel looser, impulsive. Those are the dead influences. The live ones are from shows I've seen over the past year, picking out little phrases and building them up into new songs. These New Puritans, Cat Power, Bill Callahan, Neil Young, Portico Quartet. There are more I guess.
DD: What's next for Halls? Any collabs on the horizon?
Sam Howard: I am open to new things. Halls will be touring as a 4-piece band during the next few months. This band is the strongest lineup Halls has been, so I'm excited to bring the album to life in the near future. Other than that I will continue writing - I don't take breaks.