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'We Just Get Our Heads Down and Create': Halo Tora Discuss 'Man of Stone: Chapter One'

Thursday, 05 April 2018 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

A decade ago, there were few places more exciting than the Scottish rock scene. Biffy Clyro had demonstrated that bands north of the border playing heavy off-kilter music could break out and get radio play. The likes of Sucioperro, Twin Atlantic, the Xcerts and Flood of Red duly followed suit, creating a network of like-minded artists who would invariably play each other's shows.

This is usually a recipe for a sustainable scene in the long term, but the changes in that time have been considerable: streaming is now king, festivals have become more homogenised, solo artists have overtaken groups, and alternative bands are largely confined to their own niche market.

Chris Alexander, frontman of the Glasgow band Halo Tora, describes Scotland's music industry as “frustratingly safe to the point where people are deprived of the range of stuff that's out there”.

“I guess alternative bands are now a bit out of step,” he says. “There aren't many big guns grabbing the bull by the horns and putting this sort of stuff out anymore. Down south, there are festivals like ArcTanGent, 2000trees – even Reading and Leeds to some extent – that will put on bands like us. But there's nothing that really covers that side of the spectrum up here.”

In many ways, Halo Tora are a throwback to another era: they're a heavy five-piece with guitars, keys and drums; they use terms like “soundscape” and “conceptual” to describe their music; and they're unashamedly album-oriented. That's not to downplay the effectiveness of their sound, which is an enthralling mixture of cinematic prog and Mogwai post-rock.

In the three years since their debut release 'Omni/One', opportunities in Scotland have been minimal – if anything, the most significant support they've received has been from arts body Creative Scotland, who funded their upcoming concept record 'Man of Stone: Chapter One'.

The band have found more success forging their own path, touring Europe and playing UK-based festivals, most notably ArcTanGent, alongside Converge and Explosions in the Sky. They will return to the event this summer.

“It's weird,” Alexander says. “We'll play local shows and things where only a few people know us, but we'll then go and play in Germany or wherever and people will be singing our songs back at us. They really get into it there. We had an acoustic show in Manchester recently and there was a guy who'd literally travelled from Paris to come see it.”

The band's growing international fan base can perhaps be partially explained by the 'progressive' tag, which Alexander believes to be “less of a hindrance now”. They cite outfits such as Oceansize, Karnivool and Coheed & Cambria as key influences, which makes sense given their technical abilities and keen emphasis on dynamics.

“We used to hate being called a prog band because we associated it with 'Dad rock',” Alexander says. “But when you peel back the cover, there are spaces for our kind of sound when you might not think there are. So, when we write songs, we're quite ambitious.

“On this new record, we've tried to explore our instruments a bit more. You can get into a habit of 'this is the chord section' or 'this is the lead'. Melodies don't need to be constructed like that. Guitars can be textural or provide a harmony or serve another function.

“In terms of dynamics, I suppose it's hard not to be linear when you're restricted to three minute songs or whatever. But this time around, we were keen to at least condense our good bits and focus on being that bit more energetic where we can. So there are a few tracks that are a bit more compact.”

Concept albums have been an element of prog since the '70s: Pink Floyd's rock opera 'The Wall' told the story of a character feeling abandoned by society, Rush created a sci-fi universe on '2112', while Yes's 'Tales from Topographic Oceans' served as an extended interpretation of Hindu texts. Alexander says the band's ambitions are a little more personal, reflecting on the difficulties of mental health issues and how they have dealt with their own anxieties.

“We're certainly not trying to do anything like Yes!” Alexander says. “The music and the lyrics are a discussion and, for me, a remedy. The idea was to be as honest and open about it all so that the listener could relate. A lot of people only scratch the surface and music offers the opportunity to explore and talk about these things.

“I wanted to kind of vent and write a song about it, but it just developed into a whole concept in of itself and two whole thematic chapters. The first chapter really deals with the point of acknowledgement. Some songs are a little darker – it's that part when you're stuck in it – and others are more about the release you feel. Chapter Two deals more with the aftermath and consequences.”

Halo Tora appear to fit a few prog clichés at first glance: Alexander initially formed the band as a way of soundtracking a book he was writing, and founding bassist 'Dr Particle' Kenny Wright was forced to leave the band because he was “too busy working on the large hadron collider” in Switzerland. For all their frustrations and sonic aspirations, Alexander says the five-piece's overarching ethos is one of resilience.

“We appreciate the number of people who have stuck with us,” he says. “At this point, we're just excited for the next step. There's been so much stress and build-up with this album and now there's just this big release – which reflects the record.

“Expectations don't mean too much to us – we have a rapper called Solareye on the title track on the new record for example. As soon as we get in the studio, all the outside pressures are gone and we just get our heads down and create. We spent a while recording – hopefully we got it right.”

'Man Of Stone: Chapter One' is out on April 6.

Halo Tora Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Fri April 27 2018 - GLASGOW Stereo
Sat April 28 2018 - BRISTOL Mothers Ruin
Sun April 29 2018 - BRIGHTON Hope and Ruin
Sat May 05 2018 - LONDON Birthdays

Click here to compare & buy Halo Tora Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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