HÆLOS‘ rapid development from elusive anomaly to critically-acclaimed festival line-up staple is more than just a testament to the power of the online music community; it’s also a reflection of both their relentless work ethic and the broad appeal of their genre-hopping sound.
Back in March, the British trio’s debut album ‘Full Circle’ caught the full attention of the global alternative music scene with a genuine mix of key elements from ’90s trip-hop, early 2000’s dance music and contemporary electronica they call “dark euphoria”.
After a solid stretch of strutting their stuff with local and international headline tour dates and buzzed-about sets at festivals, Lotti Benardout, Dom Goldsmith and Arthur Delaney are rounding out their monstrous first full year with sets at the Lorne and Byron Bay stops of Falls Festival and a cheeky couple of headline sideshows to boot. In the lead-up to their highly-anticipated appearances, we sat down with Arthur to unpack the story behind HÆLOS and their swift rise to the top.
Best Before: In the past, you’ve dubbed your sound as “dark euphoria.” How did you come to that conclusion?
HÆLOS: Its funny – that description actually came from an article written about us by our friend, and we started using it ourselves after that. It just seemed to fit.
What is it about your music that makes it suitable for a post-night-out playlist?
We all grew up in the London club scene. The intensity and togetherness of that environment – the lights, the music, the people – it takes you somewhere; it changes you. You’re held by that lifestyle while you’re living it, but when you leave, you’re out on your own again in the real world wondering where all that time went. At the end of a night out, we would always need great music to put on when we all got home and it would always be our favourite records that we would spin; the ones that really made us feel good. We always wanted HÆLOS to sit in that playlist somewhere. This record was written while we were all winding down the nights out a bit, cleaning up and trying to get some stuff done. I guess it became symbolic of letting go of that ritual that we had re-lived over and over for years.
When you first arrived on the scene with “Dust”, there was an air of mystery surrounding HÆLOS. Do you feel you have revealed yourself more to fans and critics since then with your follow-up material, or have you maintained that mystery?
With HÆLOS, we were going for an evocative mood, but the mystery thing was really just a label that the blogs made for us – it wasn’t intentional. When we put “Dust” up online, we’d sorted out our symbol (which later went on to develop into the album cover) but didn’t have a press shot done, which left a bit of an identity vacuum that people writing about us had to explain. As we’ve toured this record, it’s only natural that people have gotten to know us a little better. We’ve got nothing to hide, so it’s all good with us.
“The intensity and togetherness [of the London club scene] – the lights, the music, the people – it takes you somewhere; it changes you.”
Why did you choose to introduce HÆLOS to the world with “Dust”? Can you tell me a little bit about how it came together as your debut single?
“Dust” was actually the first track that we collaborated on as a trio. The idea for our stacked ‘Future Choir’ vocal sound came about, and then we expanded everything out of that. I think we all knew as we were writing that song that we were onto something. We worked well together and seemed to bring out the best in each other, and it was exhilarating how fast we clicked. I always feel grateful to be working with two other artists as talented as Lotti and Dom; it’s rare you meet people you connect with and work with so well.
The idea to put it up was quite a hasty one. We were sat together in the studio on a Tuesday afternoon and just decided the time was right. I don’t know what inspired that, but one of us suggested it and we just went with the flow. I remember the madness that followed as it spread around the world on the internet, topped Hype Machine and led to loads of interest in us. That was both surreal and amazing; it was such a relief to get that recognition and reassurance that we were on the right path.
Are there any particular eras of music, genres or individual artists that have influenced the HÆLOS sound?
We all come from quite varied musical backgrounds, and everything we’ve been into has found its way into our sound in some way or another. When you start obsessing over music as a teenager, you build your whole identity around your favourite band. As you move through your twenties and your appreciation of music matures, you end up just liking stuff you hear that’s good; as a result, all of our tastes have become quite eclectic. During the writing of ‘Full Circle’, we were always referencing songs or artists – my favorite band Talk Talk, anything on James Lavelle’s Mo Wax label, Motown, Mos Def, The Verve, some modern classical composers like Arvo Part and Max Richter and even Hans Zimmer’s film scores. I remember Caribou was a big one for Dom in terms of production, and Björk inspired Lotti’s vocals. We all found common ground through our shared love of Massive Attack, Portishead and Radiohead as well.
You all share vocal duties for HÆLOS. In the studio, what does that dynamic look like? How do you divide up melodies, harmonies and vocal parts?
Its really a fluid process that differs song by song. Each of us have a talent for writing melodies and we all have a unique style that we bring to the room. We all jam ideas together or come out with things we’ve had in our heads, but we’re always at our best when it feels like we’ve downloaded them or been given them by the universe. We are big on editing – sometimes we write and then re-write a melody several times before settling on the one that’s best. The song always wins that way, even if we have to suffer a little. We tend to get the lyrics going as soon as the melody is done, lay it down and then build the harmonies around that.
“It felt brave in the current musical landscape to challenge ourselves to make something that expressed where we were at without being cynical, and we always tried to come back to that.”
In terms of production and composition, ‘Full Circle’ is certainly a dark, foreboding album, but what were you drawn to in terms of songwriting and lyrics? What subject matter did you find yourself coming back to?
I think its fair to say that ‘Full Circle’ is a dark record, but to me it’s also full of hope. One of the first things we decided when we set out to write together is that we wanted to make a record that was honest to where we were at; we wanted to feel moved by our music. It felt brave in the current musical landscape to challenge ourselves to make something that expressed where we were at without being cynical, and we always tried to come back to that. We all go through heartbreak, pain, love, loss and disappointment, but often we deny those feelings in ourselves to protect our pride. We all need hope and connection, but to feel those things first you have to turn around and face your shadow.
‘Full Circle’ is littered with song titles related to natural cycles or spiritual processes – “Dust”, “Earth Not Above”, “Pray” and “Sacred” are all examples. How does it all tie back to the name ‘Full Circle’? What is the overarching theme or concept behind the album?
‘Full Circle’ is built around themes of lost love and heartbreak, but the album also has this other parallel narrative running underneath – a fascination with the way we connect to something deeper; an awakening of the spirit that grew out of a sudden need for answers and a new perspective. When you’ve been in a hedonistic cycle for years, it’s strange coming around from that and realising that you don’t really know who you are or what you believe in. The lyrics on this record were about trying to come to terms with the shock and struggle of that while trying to find the beauty in there too. The title seemed to describe that process elegantly; returning to your self at the start of a new cycle, an eclipse of the sun, hope momentarily lost. It was reassuring to realise that it was just another turn of the cycle, and that out of that pain something can be created to show for it. Music is spiritual; it melts the boundaries between us and brings us together, and I guess that’s the salvation in there. Music is the great healer.
“Oracle” is the epic five-and-a-half minute opus or centrepiece of ‘Full Circle’. Can you tell me a little bit about the story behind that song? How did the various stages of the track come together?
”Oracle” was one of the last tracks we wrote for the record. We were really stuck on a track for over a month and had reluctantly decided to scrap it. There was this cool groove at the the end though, and that ended up growing into ‘Oracle’. I got really ill for about a week, and by the time I was back in the studio, Dom and Lotti had extended it into this incredible piece of emotive techno. Me and Dom wrote all the lyrics in about an hour one evening; they all came flooding out as a paranoid vision for the future that 2016 has truly delivered on.
The songs on ‘Full Circle’ are quite intricate – particularly the percussion arrangements and off-kilter beats. Do these tracks change a lot from the studio to the stage? How do you adapt your material for your live show?
We tour as a six piece, and we’re really lucky to be joined onstage by three seriously talented musicians in Daniel Vildosola, Bo Morgan and Martin Rooney. It took quite a lot of puzzling and rehearsal to get the songs to slam live – Full Circle was such a studio record that we felt it would be an injustice to our audience if we didn’t deliver on the live experience. We all grew up playing in bands and we knew that you couldn’t get that intense energy by just pressing play on a laptop. We looked around at a lot of our contemporaries relying heavily on that and decided it just didn’t feel right for us. When Dom talks about how he programmed the beats on the album, he always says he had it in mind for there to be two drummers onstage, so we basically built our live show around that idea. Our vision was for the songs to be an interpretation of the record when we play them live, but we found that they actually really thrived and developed in that setting. Live elements that aren’t featured so much on the record – like Daniel’s guitar work – have taken the songs way beyond the record, which has really inspired us to take some of that feel and energy through into the new music we’ve been working on.
The simple truth is that we all love playing music together; it’s an unmatched feeling that we are grateful to have the opportunity to do for a living. If that comes across when we play, then we’ve been successful.
HÆLOS are coming to Australia for Falls Festival, and they’re also squeezing in two special sideshows during their time down under. Here’s all the details:
HÆLOS | 2017 AUSTRALIAN TOUR DATES
Wednesday 4th January
Tickets: Secret Sounds
Friday 6th January
Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
Tickets: Secret Sounds