Halem Albright began writing songs and playing guitar at fourteen years old, which allowed his musical journey to be set in motion. Having toured the southeast with multiple projects and bands, Albright formed the Green Light Council, a band that received the Athens Flagpole Award, and provided the opportunity to work on his debut album, Don’t Listen to Me, with Grammy Award nominated producer, John Keane, and singer-songwriter Rev Jeff Moiser of Phish notoriety.
In 2013, Albright joined Nathan Bartlett and John McCoy of The Green Light Council to form The Halem Albright Band with keyboardist Spencer Pope and bassist Dustin Fennell. The band was featured on the Athens Festival compilation album after winning the AthFest People’s Choice Award in 2015, and later released their first album, Through Human Eyes in 2017.
The Halem Albright Band’s latest album, Live at the Vinyl, was recorded in the intimate Vinyl venue at Center Stage in midtown Atlanta, which has launched superstar careers spanning all genres from Kanye West to Queens of the Stone Age, becoming a staple in the performing arts community of Atlanta over the past five decades.
This album is wide-ranging, with lyrical pop-rock moments as delivered in “Not Yet,” and arrangements that hearken back to John Cage’s prepared piano as showcased in “Country Ham & Eggs.” Though multiple inspirations are drawn upon, each song is thoughtfully sewn together by the common thread that is funk, while being skillfully executed on a high technical level by each member of the band. Live at the Vinyl is an incredibly entertaining amusement ride that ends leaving the audience excited to stand in line for another round.
Wanting to explore this songwriter’s mind and creative process further, we reached out to discuss their new album, the future of live performances, navigating a music career during a global pandemic, and more.
Who or what inspired the cultivation of your sound? It’s very unique. It feels new and innovative, yet familiar.
Music was always a big deal with my family and friends growing up, and my folks took me to some unforgettable concerts. The music from the islands hit me at a young age, which started an interest in sounds from all over the world or written in a different time. Most “radio music” became quite boring to me. As far as writing, it’s only natural that I’d have a pretty diverse sound. And I’m usually not finished with a piece until I feel that it does feel somewhat “familiar” (natural).
There seems to be an evolution in your sound between albums. The album, Through Human Eyes, seems to span from pop, to rock, to folk, whereas your Live at the Vinyl album has more of a psych-funk vibe with jazz elements. Was this a calculated decision for the live album?
My first album, Don’t Listen To Me, Halem Albright, was myself both getting an education in recording, and taking my ideas to the highest production level possible. My second album, Through Human Eyes, The Halem Albright Band was more of a band/studio experience. The live album was completely unplanned, and we didn’t even know that that show was being multi-tracked. But that live album is the best example of what we do. Heavy on the improvisation, jump into it and just see what happens on that stage. The studio work is for our listeners to get to know the songs, the live show is where the good stuff happens.
As a songwriter, how do you creatively approach your songs and albums? Do you have a specific process?
There are so many ways to write. I have worked on songs for months before, and I’ve also been hit with an idea one morning and will have the demo recorded by that night. Lyrics and everything. That’s my favorite way to write- it can feel like you didn’t even write it yourself.
When do you know you have the perfect lyric or melody ready to be cut?
There are certain elements I need. Melody is huge. I don’t care how good a lyric is, it’s not done to me until it sounds good. Though, I have gotten a lot better at knowing when to stop and say, “You know what, that’s good enough.”
There’s a bit of subtle humor in some of your work. I love that you occasionally choose to juxtapose your band’s high technical skill, with amusing instrumentation or campy song titles. How do you successfully balance humor and depth when composing?
When someone brings this up, I know they’re paying attention. Humor permeates so much of the music that I love, in every style. Some of the humor I work into songs is very up front, but a little more obscured on other songs. People might think a song is sad or sweet at face value, but they should look closer at the lyrics. There’s some messed up stuff goin’ on there.
“The studio work is for our listeners to get to know the songs, the live show is where the good stuff happens.”
Do you compose music primarily for the audience or for yourself? Who must be pleased first and foremost?
I think if you have something original, you should stay true to who you are and the types of ideas that inspired you in the first place/with a willingness to be open to change. Big or small, your audience will find you if you are yourself.
What do you hope is a common thread throughout all of your music no matter how you choose to artistically communicate your ideas?
I rarely give answers or solutions in my songs. I more often bring up questions, even two opposing viewpoints. And the style in which the music is played is irrelevant to me at a point. If the idea of a simple country song or a slow ballad played right after a 20-minute improvised freak out/dance instrumental isn’t for you, we might not be your band.
With the impact 2020 has had, and continues to have on live music and full-time musicians, how has your band been able to strategically adjust?
Creative people will find ways to get their ideas out there. For example, I’ve been doing more solo gigs/smaller shows(outdoors, distanced) and working on album #4 during this time while we’re not really able to play on most stages. Some talks of livestreaming with the band.
Do you feel live-streamed concerts will have a sustaining success even after the pandemic?
Absolutely. Technology can be a beautiful thing. But there’s nothing like the real live experience.
As 2020 comes to a close, what’s next for the Halem Albright Band? Any projects or performances to look forward to in 2021?
A new album is in the works, hoping to be wrapped up by the spring of 2021. There’s always another album in the works. It helps that I’ve been extremely fortunate to have been able to work with some of the best players, producers, and engineers around. And of course we hope to see live shows start to come back, we will have to see how the year goes.