Hal are brothers Dave (26, lead vocals/guitar) & Paul Allen (23, vocals, bass), Steve Hogan (28, drums) and Stephen OBrien (27, keyboards). All hail from in and around Kiliney, a town just south of Dublin, Ireland.
Hals debut album is populist and arcane, modern and timeless. Most groups arent endowed with a voice as breathtaking as Dave Allens, whose falsetto gives Hals songs a saintly luster and evokes the days when rock was sun-kissed. The harmonies he forges with brother Paul (its a blood thing, see Everly Brothers and the Wilson brothers) are warm enough to melt the coldest of hearts.
Kiliney, Irelands Hal are a hymn to blissful isolation.
"Were pretty removed from any band scene at all," says Dave, whose parents were a double act on Irelands folk circuit. "Every so often people will recommend a new album to me and Ill play it for a couple of days or whatever. But I always return to the artists that I love people like Harry Nilsson, Brian Wilson and Van Morrison."
"Every time we stick on the records we love," says Dave, the mouthpiece of the band, "we always hear something new. Theres an old Buffalo Springfield song called Expecting To Fly that Neil Young wrote that he took a month to record because he wanted to get it just right. Weve done that too. Weve deliberated over a guitar sound that we know is in there somewhere and would make the song sound amazing." Needless to say, Hal are equipped to do just that. Aside from Paul, 23, whose first band this is, they bring years of experience to bear upon their songs. Dave, 26, has been in groups since his early teens, having joined a shoegazing outfit when he was 14. Stephen, 27, an ex-archaeologist, started even younger, gracing his first band aged just 12. He had referenced everyone from The Cure to Joy Division before, via a friend, he met Dave in the late 90s. Immediately, the pair struck up a rare songwriting bond, composing for two years every night, though both of them had day jobs, obsessing over each and every aspect of Hals sound.
"Wed hang around at my dads house, in his backroom," says Dave. "Hed come in sometimes and see us, a piano, a keyboard and piles of his dirty washing, and mutter something about us needing more lead guitar." Instead of heeding Daves dads advice the pair enlisted Paul, whod cycle home, post-practice, from his fathers in Kiliney to his flat in the city centre, crashing out at 3am. The core of the group in place, they wowed The Sugar Club in Dublin, securing a gig a month until - six months into their schedule - Rough Trade beat a host of labels to their signatures. Since then theyve enjoyed a spate of on the road adventures, touring with Doves, The Delays, Starsailor and Grandaddy, none of whom sound like Hal. Then again, who does?
Maybe the idiosyncratic nature of the band can be ascribed to Dave, who is lovably odd himself. Not only is he blissfully unaware of other bands ("People say to me, Do you know this band and that band? And Ive never heard of any them"), but he enjoys collecting postcards and badges ("Ive got a very nice one of the zebra crossing at Abbey Road"); recording conversations which he slows down and/or speeds up, adapting them for use on his answering machine at home; and unearthing 18th century, er, gentlemens manuals. "I found this book called A Gentlemens Companion: A Guide To Victorian Vices, which is a collection of all these stories about brothels and what a good brothel keeper should have in her boudoir. It lists all the addresses of brothels in London, Amsterdam and Edinburgh, and what you could expect to get for your money. I read out a chapter every day when we were on tour."