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Noise Rock Without Boundaries: HAAL ‘Back to Shilmarine’ Track by Track Breakdown

I love bands that create out-of-the-box music! I love bands that create from a place of honesty! I love HAAL’s new EP Back to Shilmarine because it sounds like nothing else out. I love what this band is doing because their music puts a smile on my face while making my brainwaves dance at the same time. The band blessed us with a track-by-track breakdown of Back to Shilmarine.

Vinculum

The lyrics are a story written by our longtime friend and artist Nathan Richards. The song started off as a jam that we then wanted someone to narrate, with the music coming first.  Nathan seemed the first port of call, given that we live together, and he is a writer, as well as an illustrator (Scrungo Incorporated).

As he doesn’t play any instruments but is probably more of a music fan than me, I wanted to see if he’d be willing to lend a story of his to our songs, which then kept in the community led aspect of making this EP and it being a community-based project.

He actually had already written the story when he lent it to me, but the thematics particularly resonated with the themes of my other lyrics (transhumanism particularly), so it seemed a perfect fit.

Ethan, our synth player, performs the narration of the lyrics, as I couldn’t when jamming it. However, this ended up being a happy accident and suits the song much more I think, given his ridiculously deep voice.

When recording, our producer Alfie Tyson-Brown (Katy J Pearson, Scaler, Lice) came up with the idea to re-sample Ethan’s narration. He recorded it in one-two takes, then cut up certain lines and re-recorded them into the track – this made Ethan sound particularly liminal and unreal, almost like a robot. 

Given the story concerns a medieval boy finding a ‘mathematic creation’ that then turns him into something other whilst changing the rest of the world immeasurablythis production technique fit the themes of transhumanism perfectly. 

The longer the song goes on, the more twisted and corrupted and robotic Ethan’s voice sounds, mirroring the subject in the story. Could Ethan be the boy from the story telling his own story etc?! 

The music is also very much our most jam like and very much our most ‘stripped back’ to an extent, despite the glitch effects on my guitar and vocals.

Nathan’s words:

Looking back, I think Vinculum came from a place that I’d meandered in for a very long time. A feeling of being lesser than most of the human race, a deep want to be indistinguishable from anyone else, as well as a fear of what that would do to me. But at the end, everything dies. That is what keeps the boy, the old man, the rats, and the kings the same.

HAAL have done a stellar job bringing my words to life through their music, and Ethan has been an incredible narrator.

A Squared

An instrumental track dating back to the very beginning of our band. This one utilised a radio that our bass player Joe Collins created himself.

He actually makes all of mine and his pedals, bar a few, as he is an actual engineering genius. This song is very much dedicated to him, as the whole song is run through pedals he created.

The sparse and vague vocalisation you hear are from an Fm radio he created with a sapphire crystal (?!) and a frequency we tapped into by chance when recording. We knew we wanted vocal samples, but couldn’t settle on what specifically, so we let fate literally decide and used the first one with speaking that he ending up tuning into. 

The outro then became an amazing process of experimental production with Alfie Tyson Brown, putting certain synthesisers through Joe’s other pedals, to create sounds that are completely distinct from their source instruments.

Platform 1, 18:19

Probably the most personal track on the EP, with the lyrics written at a desperately volatile time. I wrote down a lot of invading thoughts whilst waiting for a train, consciously hoping to verbally bottle those feelings you can experience when you’re at your lowest. Its intention was not to be in a song, but to essentially serve as a meditation for a future self to reflect on when they weren’t in that low position.

It then materialised into a poem of sorts, which I maybe tried to use as a cathartic release of those feelings, but it ended up just gathering dust in my notes app.

When I then wrote the music, my guitar was in an odd tuning of dropping the low e string to a low A and the lyrics found a home in this dark tuning.

It almost shouldn’t have worked cos it’s so low and can easily go out of tune, but the main riff I found was too exciting not to use. 

It also contains samples that are completely abstracted from their source – for instance, the drone that begins the song is taken from a video of me and my friends beating Bop It and going mental after completing it! 

I always love finding sounds locked away in completely and seemingly juxtaposing places – a very silly and fun video from my childhood gave birth to the very eerie bedrock that guides the entire song. I also wanted to go as heavy as we could at the end, as I always felt we played it a bit safe in our recorded music, so this shows us wearing our influences on our sleeve.

To Be A Machine

This was the newest song on the EP, and we only decided to do it on the day of the recording, yet it’s probably my favourite song of ours. I feel it best represents the band and all our influences, whilst not being too derivative of those.

It started off with the bass line and I then built the rest of the song all around that, wanting to utilise everything that excites me about music. I wanted a heavy section, I wanted a melodic section, I wanted sampling, I wanted synthesisers, I wanted screaming, I wanted singing, I wanted lyrics that excited me, I wanted everyone’s parts to shine in their own right, but also serve the song and I think we found that with this. 

I feel its dark and brooding nature that constantly progresses truly encapsulates with what we set out to do and what I said at the start; and that was to create music that sits in itself as a song, yet also utilises atmosphere. 

Particularly, I feel the end section is my fave thing we’ve ever done. It also has guest vocals from Esther Pollock of the Bristol based band Foot Foot, who is an incredible singer and has a particularly alluring voice. I wanted someone who could offer something different (and better!) to my voice to come in and harmonise with, especially given that she’s a woman too and can reach certain notes and sounds that would go so well as a harmony. She’s also a good friend too, so it’s great to have collaboration again from the Bristol community, but this time on the music itself.

The lyrics concern my place in the universe and what it means to be human, by utilising words and quotes of others. Whether that’s authors, philosophers, tv show characters, games or my own words but instead to create something new as a whole – everybody is moulded by their experiences and this song is a direct reflection of that.

Even the title is taken from a book I love (The City & The Stars by Arthur C. Clarke) but am almost cosmically scared of, because of what it represents and what that meant to me, even though it may not have been intended to have that meaning. Though the book concerns actual transhumanism and uploading of consciousness, I use the title to reflect how i am made up of other people’s parts to create a whole. 

It also uses the title of the EP as the first line of lyrics, another homage to ‘The City and The Stars’ that I ended up remembering incorrectly – rather than change it to reflect the reality of what was written in the book, I chose to keep my misremembering as a nod to the themes of the lyrics. Sounds wanky but true lol! 

Blank Sleep

This song is probably our darkest and my favourite to play live. For this one I wanted to truly utilise atmosphere, without it just being reduced to an ambient soundscape.

It’s downtempo and repetitive in an almost mantra type way, especially with the drums and the bassline, particularly with the bass playing exactly the same thing until the break with the rain sample.

The lyrics unfortunately concern my existentialist thinking about death and the universe and my processing of my place in it. They were written this time for the song specifically and what I was meditating on at the time, whilst the song was entirely written in a solitary way rather than with the band, with only myself at my computer with a guitar. It was essentially written first, then we had to figure out how to play it after.

I’m particularly drawn to the outro and its metering, as although it can be a bit weird to hear to on your first go, I still think it’s easy enough for a listener enjoy. I’ve referred to it as ‘tasteful fuckery’ before, where there is a difficult part that challenges us as musicians on being able to learn and play, but isn’t necessarily hard to listen to, whether you’re a musician yourself or just a punter and nor does it take away from the music as a whole. There’s plenty of music where it’s essentially people being incredible musicians and borderline just showcasing that talent, but then not serving the song, which is what I didn’t want to do with this. I wanted a song first and then wanted to work in some fuckery after.

When I brought the drum part to our drummer Joe, it actually broke him for a bit, which I’ve always been secretly proud of as he’s an incredible drummer and blows my mind with his chops.

I also love the dying embers of the arpeggiated synth sounding like the calling out of a man right at the very end of the song, it closes off the EP as a whole quite well.

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