Eight and a Half: A New Measure of Continuity
    • MONDAY, MARCH 26, 2012

    • Posted by: Don Saas

    If there's one thing independent rock musicians do more efficiently than their mainstream counterparts, it's that they don't let little hiccups (like their original band breaking up) stop them from continuing to make good music. 2011 saw the official disbandment of Canadian post-punk act The Stills and the beginning of an indefinite hiatus for iconic north of the border super-group Broken Social Scene (we won't believe they're gone for good until Kevin Drew himself says so). Out of those dissolutions though, we saw the birth of a new band, Eight and a Half, consisting of Dave Hamelin and Liam O'Neil of The Stills and Justin Peroff of BSS. After an enlightening conversatoin with lead vocalist and songwriter Dave Hamelin, we walked away with an understanding of what makes this new project so special and how it's much more than just another BSS sideshow.

    The obvious question with any new band and especially one consisting of former members of separate bands is how they got together. "Liam was an old friend of mine and he was in Stills. We've all been friends with Justin for a long, long time because stills and social scene toured together a lot early on," Hamelin explained. Describing the Canadian Musician's Association as a small and tight-knit group, "Everybody knows each other and Justin was just a person who was one of my closer friends out of that crew people, and we would hang out and not play music all the time," and that friendship led to the obvious decision to make music together. After talking about playing together for a long time Hamelin told us how, "One weekend we just decided that we would try and jam, and we decided to working on it in the background while Scene was still touring. And then the Stills broke up, and it gave us an opportunity to finish it up and put it out."

    Broken Social Scene and The Stills are two very different sounding bands. The Stills crafted a sound that fit in easily with the post-punk revival of the 2000s while Broken Social Scene is legendary for fusing art rock, dream pop, and baroque pop into a ridiculously expansive sound. Rather than trying to craft music that was a hybrid of their two previous projects, Hamelin said the band realized they wanted to chart their own course after the first two tracks came off as more of a fusion of the sounds. "We didn't think about it. It just happened through playing with each other and developing a new dynamic. There was no conscious decision about what we were going to sound like until halfway through it."

    We caught Eight and a Half opening for Canadian rockers Zeus at the Mercury lounge in February and despite the fact that it was only their second live show, they seemed completely in control of their heavily electronic sound. "We've jammed together before many times. We've all known each other for so long that it wasn't weird for us to be playing together at all, and all of us have played so many shows. The only thing that was challenge for us this time was that we have all these electronic elements," Hamelin posited adding that "It's tough to do electronic music live. We have a lot of live elements to our music which sort of subverts the electronic part of our sound a bit." While figuring out how to translate their sound to a live audience in a suitable way wasn't a primary concern during the production process, "We really were mindful that we needed to sort of not jump the shark on that one." Complaining about how it seems as if too many electronic acts are simply on stage with their CD, Hamelin bemoaned how these bands often don't leave any room for performance and how Eight and a Half attempt to avoid that common problem of live acts.

    We've had the chance to check out Eight and a Half's forthcoming self-titled debut LP (which will be released via Arts & Crafts on 4/10), and it is an impressive debut that speaks to the veteran performer status of the members of the band. The album bridges the gap between higher brow ambient music and more direct electronic pop although Hamelin had interesting thoughts on just how "poppy" the album really was. "This is probably the least poppy sort of thing I've done yet. The Stills stuff was more middle of the road and more pop. This was the type of situation where it wasn't conscious. It just happened that way." Hamelin went on to say that "I never set out to write a specific type of song ever. It's always, I sit down and whatever comes out is what happens that day. Some days I write pop songs, and some days I don't write pop songs. Some of the songs on the record are poppy and some of them are less poppy. I have no formula aside from being who I am and doing what I do."

    We got Hamelin to name-drop some of the artists he's been listening to lately and that helped inspire or entertain him while working on the self-titled album. He cited Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy as an album he really enjoyed (which continues to affirm our opinion that it's the best hip-hop album in a decade). Other artists that he's been enjoying lately include Flying Lotus and Bob Dylan. Is there a better lyrical inspiration than Dylan? The most shocking admission was Hamelin's love of Lil Wayne. "I really like a lot of his lyrics; he's an amazing lyricist. He has a lot of lyrical gems," he said, discussing how Weezy's singles might not be that deep, a lot of the other tracks on Tha Carter III were intense and featured "pretty nice rhyme schemes."

    Their self-titled was the first time that O'Neill, Hamelin, and Peroff had produced an album from top-to-bottom mostly by themselves, and Hamelin described it as "a serious learning curve." Recording the first part of the album in a rehearsal space, they weren't even able to hear their initial performances until post-production. Because "Justin feels very strongly about first takes," the band had to nail things without many performances and then do any tweaking they wished to achieve in the post-production stages. "It was a painstaking process along the way, and we learned a lot of stuff as we were doing it."

    It was a great chat with Hamelin, and while we know how good the new album is, it made us even more excited for the general public to get a chance to listen to these talented guys and their upcoming debut to the world. If you're looking for the next impressive electronic act, look for Eight and a Half to drop 4/10.

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