Singer/songwriter Henry Hall speaks with Atwood Magazine about his tireless insecurities, never-failing sense of humor, and endless relationship with music.
Watch: “Do I Love You?” – Henry Hall
My whole life is built around my neuroses.
Henry Hall stands in the corner at parties.
He is tired and he would like to go home, but as soon as he leaves he knows the music will stop and everyone will start talking about him.
The LA-based singer/songwriter panics as hard as he loves on new EP, Are You Kidding Me????? (out September 30, 2022 via Terrorbird Media). The collection explores a relationship through five tracks, each punctuated by not a question mark: I’m Just Busy, Okay? Am I in the Photo? Please Tell Me? Do I Love You? Can I Get That in Writing? Hall wonders aloud how to love and how to love someone well.
Wrestling his own insecurity to the ground, he delivers a five-track EP packed with sticky melodies and zany lyrics. “Do I Love You?” tears at distorted heartstrings. Hall gently sings, “But actually there’s one piece of advice I’d like to hear from you/ Please tell me, how do I love you?”
I’ve always felt the uncertainty, and there’s no other way to express uncertainty than a question mark.
As endearing as a child and as neurotic as a serial killer, Hall toes the ever-thinning line between insecurity and uncertainty.
He questions his own sanity, brutally honest and refreshingly playful. Punk/indie track “I’m Just Busy, Ok?” features an instrumental nosebleed as Hall word vomits in the foreground. The guitar runs in circles behind Hall’s vocals, his signature falsetto leaping through the music as he sings, “And by the way it’s not like I’m scared/ I’m the furthest thing from scared I swear/ I’m just busy I think that’s fair.” It’s not exactly graceful, but it is honest. In love, that’s all you can ask for.
Henry Hall spoke to Atwood Magazine about his tireless insecurities, never-failing sense of humor, and endless relationship with music.
If you are looking inside yourself, you also project things into the world. We all rely on each other for confirmation and reciprocation, so I think that’s what led me to this current project.
Stream: ‘Are You Kidding Me?????’ – Henry Hall
A CONVERSATION WITH HENRY HALL
Atwood Magazine: Thank you for your time! What are you up to in anticipation of the EP release?
Henry Hall: Today I had coffee and did a Peloton run. It’s really hot here in L.A., luckily most of the music I make is indoors, so I’ve been staying relatively cool. That’s the topical update. Otherwise, I’m really excited about this EP. I think it’s a new direction for me in terms of production style and songwriting. It’s cohesive, kind of a thesis. All of the songs have questions as titles and the overall sentiment is about uncertainty in reciprocation, whether that’s from someone you have a crush on or someone you are trying to coordinate something with logistically. I wanted to write about those feelings of disconnect and the “Are you kidding me?” feeling of things.
When did you write these songs?
Henry Hall: The songs are all pretty new. I started “Am I In The Photo?” a long time ago, same with “Can I Get That In Writing?” I wrote the other three while quarantining. They were written in ten days, so that was pretty productive. I’m a little bit addicted to being isolated, which can help my productivity but it can also be unhealthy. In this case, it gave me some clarity.
You tend to use humor as a conversation starter. Why incorporate this into your music?
Henry Hall: I think it’s how I function. I tend to break the ice with humor. Sometimes it really backfires, and other times I really connect with somebody. Just like everything in life, it’s either really bad or really good. People sometimes interpret my music as ‘parody.’ It’s not, but I do want to use humor in my music. It’s tough to find the balance, I’ve kind of given up on the interpretation aspect of it.
It’s a nice thing to have in your toolbox as an artist.
Henry Hall: Yeah, it’s not super common from what I see in the indie world. (laughs)
I wanted to ask about the insecurity that is so central to the EP, which you called uncertainty earlier. Is this a ‘now’ feeling or has it been plaguing you for years?
Henry Hall: I’ve always been having those feelings. I naturally tend to write songs in pairs. I write one song and a lick or an idea from there doesn’t work so I toss it aside. That lick tends to become its own song. I never write with an overarching idea in time. I always do chords to melody, lyrics come out of that naturally. I realized that all these songs were connected and put them into a project. The EP fell into place. It’s true to my writing style.
I also really like the choice to do an EP, which isn’t as common anymore. But this is very concise and packaged, and it serves the songs well.
Henry Hall: Thank you. It just felt natural.
Your last record, Neato, came out a couple years ago. Neato was an identity based album, would you agree?
Henry Hall: For sure. It was an exploration of identity and anxiety.
Well those are the same in my world, so that works out perfectly. (laughs) I liked that the album was very focused on figuring yourself out. How does that influence this project?
Henry Hall: I think an offshoot of that idea is the unknown, the uncertainty. If you are looking inside yourself, you also project things into the world. We all rely on each other for confirmation and reciprocation, so I think that’s what led me to this current project. This one is more outwardly focused, lyrically speaking.
You’ve been writing songs since elementary school. How would you characterize your relationship with music? Has it changed since twenty years ago, or even two years ago?
Henry Hall: My relationship with music has become more holistic and less hysterical. (laughs) In my teens, I had a lot of superstition around music. “I don’t want to listen to that right now, it doesn’t fit the mood!” I was more pragmatic and boxed in, I didn’t want to be influenced “the wrong way.”
You were “preserving your artistry”
Henry Hall: Exactly, it was so ridiculous! Now I’m more focused on the overall sounds of things after working more on production. Also, it wasn’t until I was 22 that I started to think about lyrics at all. I didn’t give a shit about the lyrics until then.
Were you in band as a kid?
Henry Hall: I played guitar in jazz ensemble in high school. But my program wasn’t jazz focused at all. The guitar was looked down upon because it’s not “the” jazz instrument if that makes sense. If you do a jazz number with guitar as the lead instrument, there are only a couple things you can do without it becoming cheesy. That’s why I’m very chord and melody focused. After college I transitioned to lyrics.
That makes sense because you have really fun guitar licks!
Henry Hall: Yeah, I like playing around with chords and voicing them differently.
So how do your lyrics fall into that?
Henry Hall: I start singing along to the chords and figure it out. I rarely start with a phrase.There’s this Frank Ocean interview from ten years ago where he says melody should be really natural and should be the first thing you think of, it’s the most non-intellectual bit of the song. But you can take a year and work on lyrics if you need to. I subscribe to that idea.
Another fun thing about the EP is the side of love you focus on. Why focus on the manic / neurotic side of things?
Henry Hall: My favorite types of songs are ones that take on a general theme and then pack a punch. Patsy Cline for example, will say “He takes me to the places you and I used to go/ He tells me over and over that he loves me so/ He gives me love that I never got from you/ why can’t he be you?” It’s about someone loving you so much and so well, but he’s just not the person that used to mistreat you. It’s a ton to think about, but she opens the door with the song being about love, and then she gets to what she wants to get to. In “Do I Love You?” I focused on how inevitable love is. I try to find reasons to not be in love with this person, but I can’t help it.
Are you neurotic?
Henry Hall: Yes. My whole life is built around my neuroses. (laughs)
I wanted to talk about the questions. How long have these questions, been bothering you?
Henry Hall: They’ve been bothering me for almost forever, but now they’ve boiled up to the surface. I definitely question if people like me or if my girlfriend is just putting up with me and faking it. I’ve always felt the uncertainty, and there’s no other way to express uncertainty than a question mark.
What was music like growing up?
Henry Hall: My dad’s a great guitar player and a great musician. My mom is also a good singer. My dad definitely influences me with his music taste. “The Smiths” was a big one growing up. He thought I’d really like them.
That’s such a back-handed compliment.
Henry Hall: Totally (laughs). He was like, “You seem kind of fucked up.”
You seem miserable. Ever heard of Morissey?
Henry Hall: Yeah, he really helped me out in that department.
Everything sounds very organic on the project. How did production work on this EP?
Henry Hall: I worked with Clay Blair. He’s unbelievably talented and he mixed it for me. He has such great taste in sound design and instrumentation. We did the EP in a very analog, vintage way. A lot of the stuff on here is first tape, lots of cuts from live performances. It’s also a change from what I’ve done on my past records. We mashed up a lot of styles, did a ton of home recordings, which I really loved.
How will you look back on this EP in a couple years?
Henry Hall: I do hope that I look back on it and pick out what I would do differently or better, because I’ve hopefully grown. I also hope it’s an accurate representation of how I was feeling at the time.
Stream: ‘Are You Kidding Me?????’ – Henry Hall
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