Halimede: A Symphonious Synthesis of Pop and Rock
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Sarah Al-Mulla, lead woman of Halimede, took some time to speak with Progressive Man about how she first got her start in music and how she stumbled upon Dave Chetkin, Wade Wilkinson, and Mark Cox, the fantastic instrumentalists that round out Halimede. Fusing elements of pop and rock, Halimede has carved out their own niche in the music scene. Take a listen to their song “Sincere Lust” and read on to learn all about this up-and-coming band.
Today we have the pleasure of speaking with Halimede front-woman Sarah Al-Mulla. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us Sarah! Let’s dive right into things here, Sarah; you’re a singer, a pianist, and a guitar player, which one of these was your first love and how did you first get into it?
As most children, I, at one time, had a dalliance with the notion of becoming an axe wielding rock star. On the other hand, I have always been captivated by the beauty of classical piano ever since I can remember, and knew, somehow, that I was destined to get off the metaphorical bench and sit on a real one.
By the time I was six my father finally gave in to my relentless, and apparently effective, annoying begging techniques and bought me a piano, with the promise that I’d take lessons. I secretly believed that as soon as I sat on the bench, the music would bleed out of me and that my fingers would instantly perform magic. As that was not the case, I took lessons but quit two years later as I just couldn’t wrap my mind around having to learn sheet music.
At 16 I felt an inexplicable void in my life, so I bought a Roland keyboard, locked myself in my room for a couple months and composed 14 contemporary classical piano pieces, that was the beginning of my musical renaissance, so to speak.
As I understand it, the band was formed, as many bands are, with the help of Craigslist. The two initial members of Halimede were David Chetkin (Drums) and yourself, who met through the site. What was it that made you start browsing around online in the first place? Was there a particular event that lit that fire?
That’s correct, David and I met via craigslist. Overall, I prefer a more organic meeting of the minds and talent; however, at that time, I was looking for opportunities to gain some film scoring experience, as that was, and still is, something I’m extremely interested in pursuing.
As I was going through different websites, I thought I’d just briefly check craigslist, not expecting to find anything of interest. I happened to come across Dave’s ad in search of a female singer/songwriter and thought “why not?”
Two days later we met up to talk about what we were looking for musically, and by that weekend we were recording at Mambo Sound and Recording in Long Beach. As the saying goes, good things happen fast, and great things happen all at once.
So how were the rest of the members found? Was it done entirely through Craigslist?
Dave and I had been practicing and performing together for some months and we decided it was time to start recording the album. We were without a bassist and guitarist, but figured that we’d lay down all the tracks we could and fill in the gaps later.
The album was engineered by Wade (Wilkinson) who really liked our material. As the recording process progressed, he decided to join the band and lay down bass on the remaining songs. Shortly thereafter, as we were still looking for a guitarist, Mark (Cox), Wade’s colleague and longtime friend, decided to join our project. I had previously heard Mark play with one of his other bands, so we were glad to have him on board.
The four of us have now been playing together for about two years, I think. It’s really hard to discern the exact amount of time we’ve been together, as playing with these guys is so natural and organic that I feel as though I’ve always played with them. I’m very fortunate to be in such great company with such a caring and talented group of guys who are as committed to our music and journey as I am.
For those who don’t know (like me until I did a quick search on Google), Halimede is a reference to Greek mythology and also happens to be the name of a tiny moon orbiting Neptune. How did you guys come up with the band name? Would you happen to just be Mythology or Astronomy aficionados?
This is always a hard question for me to answer, I’m not so sure why. Essentially, Dave and I had been playing for a couple months and he wanted to start performing live, so he suggested that I start thinking of some band names. Dave has this knack for coming up with band and song names, something I’m kind of horrible at.
We ran through a couple ideas, none of which stuck. He wanted a completely original name and scoured the internet for something unique, which is quite difficult as there are millions of bands out there. A couple weeks later, he came to practice with “Halimede.” I was a little dumbfounded at first as it sounded like the most random word I had heard in a while.
Once I started researching what it was, a retrograde moon with one of the most eccentric orbits around Neptune, I started really liking it. After thinking about it for a while, I felt that it definitely fit us, especially because our music is eclectic and goes against the grain of commercial music.
Your debut album, the 9-track C/O A Conscience, was released back in April of 2012. How did it feel when you finally released the album? Did you get a lot of positive feedback?
We digitally released the album first and felt like a huge weight was lifted off our shoulders, but that a slightly heavier one was put in its place. We worked so painstakingly hard on the album and felt triumphant and extremely proud upon its completion. We were lucky enough to have the wonderful Juan Ramirez master the album which brought everything a little tighter together.
The album is diverse, and I like to think that there is something that almost everyone can like on it. We knew we wanted to get a packaged hard copy of the CD made, so that was our next step. After months of laboring over the artwork, we finally had our hard copy CDs in hand by the beginning of last October.
Wow, funny how time flies. I suppose that’s when I started to feel the pressure really start mounting. It was almost as though I could excuse a lack of progress on the fact that we were waiting to have a hard copy to distribute at gigs, to radio stations etc. Once we had them, it was up to us to get the footwork in and start promoting the album even more aggressively before.
Overall, we have had quite positive feedback. We were featured on the Alana Mana Radio Show, on Mana’o Radio (Maui), Swoop’s World Late Night (based in Long Beach), as well as Radio Crystal Blue Novus Ordo. Furthermore, we love playing gigs and it always surprises me to see how receptive audiences are to new original music. In addition, people seem to enjoy the diversity of the album as a whole, even if they favor specific tracks.
The song we’re featuring, “Sincere Lust,” is the lead track off of the album. Tell us a little bit about the work that went into creating the song and what the song means to you. Did you write the lyrics by yourself or was it a band effort?
I wrote “Sincere Lust” shortly before Dave and I began playing together. I have always tended to be more of a solitary writer. People have asked me what I think about when I’m writing and the answer is “Nothing.” I usually sit at the piano and write the instrumentation, then go into the process of humming along, followed by singing whatever happens to pop into my mind; it either sticks or I come back to it later. I start with a phrase and go from there.
The best way I can describe it is like a left brain drawing exercise, I quiet the mind and listen to whatever comes out of my mouth, write from feeling instead of thought.
I usually don’t know what my songs are about until I’ve sung them for months and I’m past the period of my life that I’m referring to. During the time I wrote “Sincere Lust” I was in the middle of a breakup, but also finding myself at the beginning of an unconventional relationship. So the song expresses some of the anxiety I was experiencing in each situation, and the difficulty of being in both at the same time.
Luckily for me, the act of writing the song greatly alleviates the feelings I’m having, and usually, by the time it’s performed in public or recorded, I’m in another place mentally.
Funnily enough, this was one of the only songs that I re-recorded the vocals way after we had finished laying down all the vocal tracks for the album. There is much more feeling in this take than the original, since by the time we were in the mixing process, I had become more confident with my singing, and had greatly improved, as we were performing more frequently.
In addition, by the time I finished the second round of takes of the vocals Mark had joined the band, so it’s great that he plays on this track as well. Since Dave and I were already recording the album and planning on adding guitar and bass later, Wade and Mark listened to the tracks we had laid down, wrote and recorded their parts accordingly. Then, once we started playing as a unit, the song became more fluid as a performance piece.
All in all, I’m very happy with the way the track turned out, and it still remains one of my favorite songs to play and sing.
Do you ever run into any creative blocks when writing lyrics or the instrumental tracks? What do you do to help get over it and get back to writing?
I feel like the majority of my writing process resides in the writing block phase. It’s extremely difficult for me to break out of a block. Most of the time, I have to force myself to sit and play piano, resigning to the probability that I won’t get anything measurable done. I try not to put too many expectations on myself when I write; it leads to extreme frustration. I also don’t pressure myself to write lyrics if they’re not coming to mind.
Sometimes, when I’m having a really hard time, I’ll dream that I’m playing new music. I always try to remember the composition, or get up and play it, but it’s a very tricky thing to choreograph. Needless to say, I haven’t done so successfully yet, but I’m working on it.
I’ve come to accept that I have a small window of opportunity, creativity and motivation with lyric writing, so I’ll sit and play instrumental piano until I discover something new. Then play that until I realize that I’m singing along. At the risk of sounding hokey, it’s almost an outer body experience of sorts, when everything just seems to fit and you might not completely know what you’re singing or playing, but you’re doing it, it’s new and it sounds good.
So what has the band been up to in 2013? Can Halimede fans expect new music by the end of the year? Have you performed any unreleased material at the shows you’ve played this year?
So far we’ve been trying to gain as much exposure as possible and play as often as we get the chance to. We’ve played various shows in a multitude of environments which helps us gain footing on how to tailor our sound to different audiences. We also added a cover of “Stubborn Love” by The Lumineers to our set list. The guys have been trying to get me to do a cover for some time now, and for some reason that song happened to be what came to mind. I like the way we play it, and I hope audiences feel that we do it justice.
So far this year we’ve focused mainly on promoting C/O A Conscience, but I have been trying to get some writing done. “Trying” being the operative word here. That said, we have two new songs that we’re currently working on, one of which we’ve already been performing live. We are also planning on recording alternate versions of two songs from the debut album, since we play them live with Mark on the guitar instead of with Dean (Roubicek) on sax/clarinet, as they are on the album. Once the songs are mixed, we are hoping to have a 4 song EP released sometime early next year.
A live performance of “Who We Want To Be” is featured on our Youtube channel as we have been performing it to see how people respond to it; so far so good. We are also hoping to complete our music video for this song by the end of the year. We began the filming process but ran into some difficulties, which we are hoping to resolve.
Ultimately, I think our new material is already shaping up to be a little more evolved than some of the songs on C/O A Conscience, as we are writing them more as a unit, even if I am still writing the base song and lyrics.
One question that I absolutely love to ask bands is about the most memorable show they’ve ever played. During the time the band has been together and been performing, are there any particular shows that stand out to you, either from pure weirdness or from the emotion behind it?
For me, one of the most memorable shows we’ve played was at Rafa’s Lounge for Echo Park Rising last August. We played there earlier that month and were invited to come back for Echo Park Rising.
I had a really strange and uncomfortable personal experience the night prior and I couldn’t shake the weirdness. I was really out of it and needed to play through it. Once we started playing, the music effortlessly came to be. It was as though, all at once, I was in the moment playing, but out of control of my body. I’ve never experienced this feeling when performing on stage because I’m usually so nervous and trying to play accurately.
Once I got over the initial shock of being in that state, I remember looking up and seeing people staring at us, at me, actively listening to what we were playing and what I was saying. People were smiling, tapping their feet and saying to the person next to them “Wow, this sounds great.” Having that positive reinforcement, about our material and performance, from such an invested audience, reaffirmed to me that I was in the exact place that I was supposed to be in, at the exact time I was supposed to be there, doing what I was meant to do.
I’ve thought a lot about that show since, and continue to have a calming sense of direction and contentment when thinking back on it. Okay, this is starting to sound a little cheesy so I shall digress.
Thank you Sarah! It’s great to have spoken with you! Where can Progressive Man readers go to find your music?
I hope this turned out to be a good read, a mouse clicker if you will (as opposed to a page turner). If you’re interested in hearing C/O A Conscience you can check it out at www.halimede.bandcamp.com.
To view live performances as well as our cover and our new song “Who We Want To Be” check our Youtube channel www.youtube.com/halimedevideo.
Lastly, We’d love it if you’d Like us on Facebook, www.facebook.com/halimedeband, that way we can keep you abreast of all our latest news.