Back in 2018, half•alive became an instant sensation with their viral hit “still feel.” and the world turned whirlwind for the Long Beach-based alternative band. Since then, the band has toured arenas, continuously innovated thoughtful and refreshing visual elements and striking live shows, and of course, envisioned and crafted two sonic universes with Now, Not Yet and Conditions of A Punk.
With half•alive still being a relatively young band that’s just now mapping out the second half of their first decade, and a dwindling pandemic that is only beginning to move away from a roughly normal life, half•alive has been busy. Lately, half•alive had fun bringing on a long-time friend and fellow musician, dodie, to collaborate on the infectious yet thoughtful “Nobody” off of their sophomore album, Conditions of A Punk. In addition to the new version of the track and the ongoing touring cycle for the album, the band was highlighted among a stellar new class of musicians in NME’s C23 Mixtape with the tender, synth-driven new single, “Beige.”
Finally catching a blissful moment, EUPHORIA. chatted with the three members, Josh Taylor, Brett Kramer, and J. Tyler Johnson while they settled back home in sunny Southern California in between the latest European tour and their upcoming North American run.
I’m going to ask everybody to go around the room say your name and tell me, what’s one song you’re currently obsessed with?
Brett: This is Brett. Obsessed with the song “Ribbons” by Ryan Beatty. Ethan Gruska produced it, who we worked on our record with, and it’s just mind-blowing.
Josh: I got a surprising one. Miranda Lambert’s “Bluebird.”
J. Tyler: This is J. Tyler. This has been an old favorite of mine for a minute now, “Many Times” by Dijon. A gem.
I will start by asking about “Nobody” and the new version of “Nobody,” because I’m also a big fan of dodie. You guys mentioned that she was one of the first artists who really rooted for you guys when you first started, what was it like to collaborate with her, particularly for this song?
Brett: I think it was a dream-come-true idea we had. We had connected with her the first time we were in the UK and wanted to make something for a while. Nothing really connected [at the time], with COVID happening the next year and all the different types of songs that we were working on. And when we finished this album and we had now such a massive body of work, “Nobody” really stuck out to us to have a feature, and immediately dodie came to mind. When she sent through her verse, we were so hyped about it, it was a very easy process. Having her in London was just another really amazing experience, when she walked out, I remember getting chills, it’s one of those things you kind of dream of, and then it actually happens. It’s a full circle and a really exciting moment for all of us.
I also watched the two videos side by side and try to catch any differences. I cannot figure out how you basically somehow incorporated her part into a finished product of a multi-media video. Can somebody give me the rundown of how that happened?
Josh: We have the art director for this album cycle named Anton Reva. He’s amazing. He has a whole team working for him called Save My Mind. So one of his people put the video that she sent and made it wild. And then I spent a lot of time trying to integrate that into the video that we already had in this really seamless way. But yeah, very tedious work.
I think you edited part of it too, right? Or did you edit a whole thing?
Josh: Yeah I edited the whole thing. The multimedia part is Anton and his team adding texture to the physical part. So all of that and how it looks, it is all him. But where the clips actually go and the timing of it, and then the scale and all the other stuff is me.
That would take forever because it’s so very on the beat and almost every single snapshot is an edit–but it looks great! I also want to talk about “Beige.” It is part of the NME C23 Mixtape, why was that the song that got chosen? How long have you guys been sitting on that one?
Josh: “Beige” was one that we had written at the same time as writing some of the last tracks that went on Conditions of A Punk but it felt like it could be something else. And then the NME collaboration came up. It just felt like an easy pitch to them to see if they would like it for that compilation. And I think we got word within 15 minutes of submitting–they were like, This is perfect.
We wanted to make sort of a visual identity in the same way that we do for many tracks of ours. It seemed like using the “Summerland” footage and that storyline would be helpful for the visual element, but then having the only actual people in the room being the band, then shooting the whole thing on film on 16 millimeters would give it that sort of texture, but it also made it so that we only had six takes. So it was a finite amount, which we hadn’t done before.
Contemporary dancing and choreography has always been such a core element to your band’s identity, was that a decision that came before you released your first single? Or is that something that just happened?
Brett: The first time we did it was “Aawake At Night” and [it was] the first time Josh connected with Jordon, who’s one half of JA Collective. And their eye and their style match our music and the visuals on the music video worked really well for that music video. Then I think the next one we did was “still feel.” which we decided to fully send and bring in Aidan [from JA Collective] and have a music video dedicated to the choreography. And I think once we went through the process with them, it felt more organic that I think a fingerprint was able to bear from that; but it wasn’t really something that we sat around the table and said, We’re gonna do choreography, or we’re gonna do dance, it was something curiosity and relationship led to.
It was very refreshing to see a band that came out with a very heavy emphasis on visual language. That’s something that you guys stuck with over the years, developed it, and really made you a pioneer in the visual realm. When you approach a new project, sit down around a table and discuss, like “This is what we plan for the music,” do you also have a meeting for the visual aspect of things? How do you make sure you’re ahead of everyone in terms of being a band and creating an atmosphere for your music to live in?
Josh: It’s definitely part of it at those conversations. We want to create a world where it expands as we release more projects. And it’s something that people can get lost in and they can go as deep as they want to. So it’s definitely at the forefront of the conversation as soon as the music is done: how do we tell the story and all the sides of the story? That includes the video and dance and the show and the production and then all of the colors and narrative beyond the songs.
It might be a little bit early to ask about the third album, but if the debut album is a little bit more cerebral and internal, Conditions of A Punk is a little bit more emotional and vulnerable outwardly, what would be the theme of the third album?
Josh: It’d be too early for that.
Brett: It feels like what you just explained a lot. A lot of our albums take shape when we’re working on it and kind of like watching Conditions of A Punk take shape in its live form. Once we finish our touring cycle or come back from all these experience playing them live, I think it will influence how the next album will take shape.
How has this tour been so far?
J. Tyler: It’s been good. It’s been great to go back to Europe after a couple of years, specifically in the UK, it was really fun. We met a couple and they’ve come to seven of our shows, and that was the seventh show that we played in London. So it’s cool to be going out and really connecting with people who are coming back to the shows that we’re playing. We met a lot of fans throughout that were saying, This is the second or third show that we’ve seen, or like this one person to seven of our shows. It’s really connecting, we’re finding a connection and we want to keep going back and meeting those fans, make deeper relationships with them, and show them that this show is developing. It’s not the same show you’ve seen before. I think because we focus so much on changing the show, and adding elements to it, people are excited to keep coming back, like what are they going to do next? We’ve heard the songs, how are they going to re-approach it, or the new songs, the dance elements, and other production elements. People are hungry to see this change. And just [the part] when we get to meet people, it’s so cool, like you’ve been here this many times and I’m stoked for the eighth show.
It’s been a while since you guys have been in a band and it’s been a very wild journey. Did you ever envision yourself landing at this exact point, as a band, as of today in 2023? And if you ever had an ultimate goal that’s like, if we got to this point, we’ve made it? How close are you to that point?
Brett: I think for me, I always believed in the band, but I never had concrete goals. I mean, maybe if there was one, [it was] playing arena shows. And doing that with Twenty-One Pilots did kind of feel like a full circle, especially because they’re such a big influence on us. But I think at least for me, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve let go of the idea of arrivals, and I feel like an arrival in itself is just being able to be sustainable in the landscape, grow into whatever the next level is and do it sustainably, and do it without too much stress or pastoral pressure.
J. Tyler: Yeah, I think that the idea of health is so important and we really focus on that. If we won a Grammy Award, that would be so awesome. Doing music for a TV show or movie would be so sick. We had conversations with our publisher, and other bands have done this, what would it be like for you guys? I think material goals aren’t necessarily our thing. But like, hotels are really crappy, having a really nice hotel is a goal of mine for sure at this point. So comfort, some nice things would be cool, to have a meal every day on tour, like those types of things, just like accommodations. Touring is expensive and tough. I was talking to Josh when we were in London, I was like bro, when we’re not 40 minutes outside the city, we’ve made it.
When was the last time you guys were asked why is the band called half•alive?
Josh: Like, two days ago?
Oh ok, why?
Josh: It came up in a film class during college, talking about psychology as a part of the theory of fiction and film, and a lot of psychologists agree on the idea of the soul being pulled in two directions, one into death and one into life. And the tension in between is where we end up and every day, so it’s a state of being half alive. I was like, Cool band name, write it down. That was it.
I really like the idea but the “Cool band name, write it down” part really threw me off haha! That’s very interesting. Even just the way a lot of the visual language says a lot about being in that kind of middle scape.
Josh: Yeah, it’s duality. It’s between chaos and order. It’s where meaning is found.
Very interesting. Well, I know the tour is still ongoing. The last album is still very, very fresh. What’s something that you’re looking forward to this year?
Brett: I am excited to take this show to the States. And that’s coming up very fast. I’m excited to play these venues with the show that I feel like we kind of–not perfected–but honed in Europe. I’m really, really excited to play the Wiltern. Conditions of A Punk were so massive, there was more room to live in and explore and expand. And I think I’m just generally excited for the rest of the year as well.
J. Tyler: I’m interested too with how comfortable fans are getting at our shows. The shows are getting long in a positive way. I think I’m interested just to see our fans get a little bit rowdier and more excited and more comfortable with us, as we build a rapport with them, some people are like jumping on shoulders, or people are stage diving… We’re just trying to create this rowdiness, or we’re trying to get fans to erupt.
I want them to be comfortable enough that they can just be a little bit wilder. We want you to dance more, to jump more, and I think that fuels us. It’s like if you guys can be crazy, we can be crazier. So I think in the US, we’re starting to get more comfortable in some of these cities, where people are just like, That was a crazy show. So I think these bigger shows are going to provide some of that energy and I’m stoked about that.
Josh: Tour is definitely on the mind right now. There’s one particular show, Salt Lake City, that is going to be really crazy. It’s in the middle of nowhere, but somehow it’s our biggest show on the entire tour. It’s always been the craziest city before, they really show up and want to get fully invested, and involved in the show experience. That’s one particular thing I’m looking forward to.
Closing question, Do you know how Pantone has Colors of the Year? If you can coin a color for this year, even though we’re very early into it, what do you think that color would be for you?