Interview by Vinnie Baggadonuts

Vinnie Baggadonuts: Just so you know, we record this verbatim. So if thereís something you say that you donít want to run--
Count: Itís my fault.
VB: No, no. I can take it out for you.
C: (laughs)
VB: Like, say, if you were to trash talk some big--
C: Whoís your most hated band right now?
Both: (laugh)
C: Yeah. Two months from now weíll have to go on tour with them: "Hey, dude. Remember when you said...?"
Both: (laugh)
C: No... Third Eye Blind? I love them!
VB: Matchbox Twenty? No, theyíre our opener!
C: Theyíre hot!
VB: First-- no, thatís not first. Thatís second now. Second, Iím going to just let you know that I know nothing about the roles of an engineer, mixer, or digital editor, so if Iím asking you questions about doing this stuff and the answers seem obvious to you, just keep that in mind.
C: Oh, no, no. Donít worry about it. Most people donít know about that stuff.
VB: I guess that could kind of be my first question: whatís the difference between those roles?
C: Well, in the old days-- which wasnít that long ago-- typically, on a decent budget record thereíd be an engineer, an assistant engineer, and a producer. These days, because of everything becoming more and more computer-based, it seems like the job of engineer, producer, and assistant have, in many cases, morphed into the job of one person. Particularly with me, because I do all of my own engineering and producing. And as for what I actually do, the capacity varies depending on what album Iím working on.
VB: The first time I ever committed your name to memory was on Lyrics Bornís Later That Day, just because you were all over that record, and, sonically, thereís something so different about it. I canít describe it any better than that. But, your name was all over it, so I held you responsible.
C: Thatís actually a good reference, because thatís a perfect example of how records are starting to get made more and more: where itís just me and one other guy. Even if itís a band, itís usually me and one other guy. And most of the time, itís just me in the room by myself. A lot of people might find that weird. Like, "Thereís no vibe anymore." But Iím a firm believer in, if you get good people that you trust working on a record together with, you donít necessarily need to be in the room with them while itís all happening. Lyrics Born and I, and DJ Shadow and I... both of them are very hands-on in the making of their records. But once we got comfortable with how we worked, we actually started doing this trade-off where Iím working on one song while theyíre getting the next one ready. And if you get good people who are good at what they do, you bring things to a certain level, and then do the hand-off. Then again, the way I work is not like how most people work.
Both: (laugh)
C: In fact, Halou might be one of the most backward-ass bands on the planet. (laughs) We record, mix, engineer, program, and fully produce an album in its entirety before we play it. So itís never actually played until after the finished album version is done. Then we go back and say, "Okay, how are we going to play this?"
Both: (laugh)
C: Itís getting to a point now though where Ryan [Coseboom]-- the main songwriter-- will come up with some of the most amazing songs. Some of them are fully realized, some of them are just sketches. But heíll bring them to me, and sometimes Iíll change them a lot, and sometimes Iíll leave them pretty much how I get them.
VB: When he hears your changes, is he okay with it?
C: Itís strange. Weíve been working together for ten years now, and I donít remember when that point first happened. It just sorta did.
Both: (laugh)
C: Each one of us is just really good at the thing that we do, and are good at handing it over without stepping on each otherís toes. I think the best bands-- not to say that weíre the best band-- but functionality-wise, thereís a longevity with bands like this.
VB: You can say youíre the best band. Itís okay.
C: (laughs) I donít think weíre the best band. Weíre not. But we do work really well in that way. Every band thinks theyíre the best band.
VB: Oh, I think some of them know that theyíre not.
C: I work with a lot of other bands for a living. Iíve worked with some amazing people, and Iíve worked with some shitty people. I think Iím a lot less biased than most people, though, because regardless of who it is Iím working with, I know when somethingís not working, and when I need to do something to improve it. I can tell right away.
VB: As part of Halou, what is the biggest difference for you between the new album [Wholeness & Separation] and Wiser [Halou's previous album]?
C: Well, itís funny because we went through this sort of gradual transformation, but it didnít happen within our albums. Because Ryan and I have our own studios, unlike most bands who get together to write songs and then go in to record them, we actually do them as the ideas come to us. So thereís no defined moment where we go in and make an album. For example, Wholeness & Separation comes out May 23rd, but we already have about five completely finished songs, and about twenty half-finished songs for our next record.
VB: Wow.
C: And during the point where we released Wiser, we already had most of the songs for the new record done. We just never stop doing it.
VB: Do you pick up on little evolutions in the songs youíre making?
C: Yeah. If you take them as records, and listen to them as one versus the other one, you definitely hear a difference. But itís a difference that didnít happen all of a sudden. I think this is the first one weíve done where we were able to get the sounds we were hearing in our head all along.
VB: So, what do you go for sonically? You were talking about recreating the sounds you hear in your head....
C: Itís tough. Ryan will start with really interesting noises. Sometimes they arenít even musical elements. Theyíll just set the tone. Other times, theyíll be the catalyst for the entire song. There are also times where heíll start playing with things, and theyíll produce a cool kind of sound, and heíll then hand it off to me. Or heíll send me a sketch of a song, and itíll hit me like, "Oh my God. I know where this can go!" But it can get frustrating because I know in my head what I want it to sound like, but even with all the technology and software out there, to get something 100% where you want it still takes so much time. I mean, the Lyrics Born record or the DJ Shadow record, theyíre both incredibly deliberate. Every noise, every sonic change, it all takes so much time.
VB: Well, even for me, someone who doesnít make music and know whatís technically happening, those records sound so thorough. I love that you can turn it up loud and hear all these little things in the background that make it perfect.
C: And those are the things that all three of us in Halou have in common. All three of us have all these tiny little details that we spend forever on. We donít ever think about whether someone else is going to hear them.
VB: I live for that shit, though. The first time I heard Wholeness & Separation, I had the volume down kind of low because I was talking to people. But the next day, I was blasting it while I was working, and it sounded like a totally different record!
C: (laughs)
VB: It sounded like weather was coming out of my stereo!
C: (laughs) Iím glad you listened, man. There are a lot of people out there who donít. Thereís nothing wrong with it. There are a lot of ways to use music. Some people use it for background noise, some people listen closely, and some get even closer with the headphones. A lot of the records that I like best are the ones that you donít fully get after even the first few listens.
VB: Oh, yeah. I was talking to someone the other day about [DJ Shadowís] ...Endtroducing, about how I bought it when it first came out, but I donít think I really fell in love with it until a year later.
C: Yeah. Itís one of those records that grew on people, much in the same way the last few Radiohead records did.
VB: Iíd never heard any of your music before those Lyrics Born records, but they catapulted me into seeking you out. I mean, when you remixed "Last Trumpet" [from Lyrics Born's Later That Day]... I mean, that song was already menacing and looming. But when you remixed it....
C: That song took more time than any other on the Lyrics Born record.
VB: It was worth it.
C: It was highly intense. There are so many elements. And I have to say, itís one of the most interesting... you canít even call it hip-hop. Itís genre-defying.
VB: Yeah! It just feels like war. And the remix... it wasnít like, "Hey, Iím a DJ. Hereís my crazy style." You just went in and really nailed it.
C: That was one of the ones where after we finished it and were talking about a remix record, I said, "I call 'Last Trumpet'. I donít care if Radiohead wants to do it. I'm doing it."
Both: (laugh)
VB: So youíre obviously not at all intimidated working with them.
C: No, not at all. Theyíre very open-ended people; you can almost go overboard. They provide such great stuff to start with, and sometimes theyíll come in with something that has more stuff than you can even use, so it becomes a matter of taking things away. And even with Ryan and I it works that way even more. I think Lyrics Born and Shadow are really good at distilling their ideas down to a point where, oftentimes, they really have it nailed. But theyíre very open to trying other things.
VB: Do you ever feel the opposite, where you feel extremely limited by who youíre working with?
C: Iíve felt that, and wonít name names, but sometimes there are people who want to please too many people. I think the best records are made by people who literally do not care what people think, and theyíre just made from the gut. Itís hard in this day, because people are so concerned with what other people think. But these people just worry about it after theyíre done making it. Iím very fortunate because Iíve worked with some unbelievably cool acts. John Cale from The Velvet Underground was extremely cool about it. He gave me so much freedom. He literally played acoustic guitar, and then said, "Alright. Letís fuck it up. Do what you want." We recorded a cellist, then ran it through a Moog, then distorted it. Give me free reign, and....
Both: (laugh)
C: But it was great. That guy is a legend! And Iím also very fortunate because Ryan and Rebecca [Coseboom] are incredible at what they do. With Ryan, more than anyone else, I spend most of my time sorting through really cool stuff, and then eliminating 50% of it. Itís tough, too. But when someone gives you a bunch of ideas and theyíre all cool, you just have to accept that you canít fit them all into one song, because there are just too many.
VB: Is it hard to take these bits and pieces and make them a cohesive whole?
C: With a lot of bands, yes. A lot of times, I get hired to fix shit. But with Halou, itís different. Weíve been together for ten years, and weíve worked together long enough to know what works. Ryan doesnít have to be in the room when Rebecca is singing, or when someoneís in the studio recording cello parts.
VB: In reading up on you guys for this interview, I learned about your unfortunate trials and tribulations with your old label [Ubiquity Records], and I read about a tour you went on with Soft Cell. Or maybe you never wound up going?
C: No. It didnít happen. The whole tour got cancelled, except for one show.
VB: This is a recurring theme with every musician I interview. Why is it so hard for excellent musicians to find a label that will believe in what theyíre doing, and push it like a label should?
C: You know, I donít really understand it myself, and Iíve worked for two labels! Iíve been doing this for so long, so I know indie and major labels really well. It doesnít make sense when you really look at it. If you take the music industry as a history, and look at the acts that are career artists... I mean, not the guys you hear on modern rock radio for two months, then they disappear. Iím talking about bands like The Clash and The Police. These are all acts that did not sell many records on their first album. Under todayís thinking, major and indie labels arenít really supporting acts that donít sell right away, and really, theyíre just shooting themselves in the foot. Theyíre not setting themselves up to have career artists that have records that continue to sell. Itís way healthier from a business standpoint to have ten bands that sell 100,000 records each, than one band that sells a million. Because that one band that sells a million is most likely a throwaway band that will not continue to sell records or get radio support. Ubiquity Records is a great label that subscribes to that. Of course they would love to sell a million records. But if they put out a few artists, and each of them sells a few thousand records, thatís way cooler. But it is baffling.
VB: So how are you releasing the new album? Is it self-released?
C: (laughs) I donít know how weíre releasing it.
Both: (laugh)
C: I ask myself that all the time. No, itís going through Bayside Distribution, which is an interesting way of putting out a record. The Internet hasnít changed the way records are released the way I had hoped. The reality is, because everyone in the world has a computer and is making beats in their home, thereís this glut of music out there thatís clogging up the Internet. Thereís just too much to sort through, and it makes people less willing to buy stuff. But you canít just go to any distributor and theyíll distribute your record. You have to kind of prove yourself, and I think weíve done that. And that's saying something, because weíve managed to sell what weíve sold without really fitting into a trend. Weíve never been a part of any trend. When grunge was popular, we were doing something that was pretty much the opposite. When people started wearing skinny ties and trying to sound like Joy Division, we were doing something else.
VB: So you can see what youíre doing wrong here.
Both: (laugh)
VB: You know what? To be honest, I think thatís what will allow you to last longer. You were talking about Radiohead. They sound completely different than they did when they started. They built this huge fan base sounding a certain way, then one day, completely changed it. And they got a lot of respect for it, because they were being true to themselves.
C: (laughs) Sure, but itís unfortunate that the music industry still revolves around trends. And thatís what gets jumped on. If youíre in a band doing what you want to do, regardless of what trends are out there, it makes things tough.
VB: But isnít it amazing, though, for the eight billion records that are coming out in the next six months, yours still rose above all that to show itself. And frankly, itís something I look forward to now. You and Gnarls Barkley [St. Elsewhere]. Itís amazing how the good stuff still manages to shine through all the crap.
C: Itís true.
VB: Alright. Well, my tape is literally about to run out, so these are your last words. Make them count.
C: (laughs) Well, weíre touring starting in June. Who knows how long weíll be touring, but it will mainly be in The States.
VB: And people will be able to hear you on the forthcoming DJ Shadow album?
C: Theyíll be able to hear all kinds of noise.
Both: (laugh)
C: We did a Low remix for the song "Monkey". And we did the score for the film Quality Of Life. Thatís definitely one to check out. Weíre doing a lot of things. Definitely, though, this new [Halou] record is the first thing Iíve done where I feel 100% satisfied with it.