are from Arizona but don't expect any Gin Blossoms style desert rock. The
band has recently released their debut LP called A Fascination with
Heights and like some similar sounding American groups such as the
Ropers and the Curtain Society, they are very much inspired by the British
shoegazing scene which thrived earlier this decade. I caught up with vocalist/guitarist
Brandon Capps over e-mail and here's what he had to say for himself.
Ben: When did you form Half String?
Brandon: The band formed in a haphazard manner in the summer of 1991. I'd gotten bored with writing and playing alone so I asked some friends if they would be interested in noodling around for fun. Kimber borrowed a drum kit and I convinced my roommate Tim, who had just bought a bass, to join in. Neither had really played so our expectations weren't very high. We were really just interested in making some novice noise and having fun at doing it. From day one it was pretty obvious to us that some kind of musical alchemy was happening. The playing was shabby, but spirited and full of creative ideas that just burned through the rough edges. We continued meeting 3-4 times a week from there on out and never looked back.
Ben: Were you in any other bands before that?
Brandon: Prior to Half String, I was the only one who had ever really played much. I had been writing and recording on the four-track since I was about sixteen. I pretty much kept to myself as I had serious doubts about collaborating with others. I had too many of my own ideas I wanted to tackle. Matt who joined on second guitar in late 1992 had played with a couple of local bands. Dave who replaced Tim on bass used to play with Ecotour. He currently moonlights and plays bass for Alison's Halo. He occasionally plays guitar and sings with the Introspection Trio who have some really stupendous songs. Kimber probably learned a thing or two from being the daughter of a jazz drummer, but didn't play in a band before Half String. She was helping out Six String Malfunction for live shows last year.
Ben: Did anything in particular inspire you to form Half String?
Brandon: A number of things really. Tim and I drove out to LA to see Ride and Lush play in 1991. I was so impressed by the wall of noise sonics that a band could produce in a live situation, that I sold off my drum machine and keyboard and invested into a decent guitar and amp and effect rack shortly after that trip. The music being produced at the time (the year of the shoegazers and peak of Sarah Records) was also really inspiring. It was the first time that I was buying records on their release dates rather than searching a record out 2 to 20 years after the fact. It was a real rush to try to stay on top of something that was current and seemed so relevant to me. I also had, and still have, this die-hard fascination with music from the early eighties. I was dying to revive some of the sounds from bands like The Names, Modem English (Mesh And Lace era), Dif Juz, and countless others.
Ben: I've read about the Beautiful Noise scene in Arizona through magazines like The Big Takeover and Whirlpool. How big is it? Are there a lot of bands, fans etc. with similar visions?
Brandon: Things always look bigger on the outside, but two years ago the local underground scene really seemed to be on the up. People were exposing their bedroom projects and secret musical plots. An audience who had an appreciation for something more interesting than the local bar band mentality also seemed to be growing. It was exciting to see and feel something so different surge in what has always been a cultural wasteland. Unfortunately things never really carried on. Bands broke up, moved, or just slipped back under their shells, and the general interest just drizzled off. It's more like "Beautiful Void" now. People here slip into apathy very easily. We have very few outlets to any culture that isn't mediocre and so many talented and inspiring people have moved away after losing their patience with this place. I can't say that I blame them, as I myself am almost ready to relocate somewhere where the ground is a little more fertile.
Ben: It seems ironic that while shoegazing/dreampop started out as a UK movement, the only bands working in the genre today are American. Why do you think this particular sound has had more of an effect on American groups?
Brandon: It's easy to ignore the UK press and their flavors of the month when you're living across the ocean. The English music papers have a heavy influence over anyone who is buying or making records in England. They always pull the carpet out from beneath someone's feet shortly after standing them up a thousand stories tall. When they gave shoegazing a bad rap, it stuck, and had everyone running to pawn off their Slowdive records and guitar fx pedals. But most Americans were unfazed by the slagging off. I've always been more interested in the music rather than the chicness of the movement, and in turn it's made a long lasting impression on me.
Ben: In an interview you did with Whirlpool a couple of years ago I thought it was really interesting how you said you hardly ever played live because you were more interested in pursuing an artistic vision as opposed to being a working band. Is this still your approach?
Brandon: This is still our approach and will continue to be for a long time to come. We don't do too many live shows and when we do it's pretty sporadic. I like taking part in festivals and playing on bills that are cohesive in sound, but mostly I enjoy working on new material. As of late everyone is very busy with their day jobs and home lives so the time we've spent together as a band has been infrequent compared to the past. I don't think any of us would turn down an opportunity to live off the band if it were the right situation, but I have serious doubts of that ever happening. I think that there is only a small audience interested in what we're doing and I don't really see it having potential to grow to the point where we could all quit our day jobs. I also don't foresee sacrificing our artistic vision to please someone else's marketing scheme.
Ben: Do you get a chance to play outside of Arizona at all? If so where have you played? Any plans to tour the new LP?
Brandon: We've only gotten out of Arizona on a few occasions. In 1994 we drove back east to play a night at CMJ with For Against. The Catchers, The Bardots, and a couple other bands. We played a date in College Station, PA with the Ropers and Samuel and played instore at GO! Compact Discs in Arlington, VA on the way back home. Over the last six months we've done a couple shows in Los Angeles. Once with Scenic and Dart at Spaceland (that jaunt included a radio session with KXLU and an instore performance at No-Life Records) and most recently we participated in the 97 Popfest which was a really fun two day festival at the Haven in Pamona. I don't think we'll do any extensive touring in support of the album unless some great demand miraculously comes about. We do however plan on some one off shows in California and Texas (a place we haven't played before).
Ben: How did you first hook up with Independent Project Records? Are you a fan of groups like Savage Republic and For Against? Would you ultimately like to be on a major label?
Brandon: Bruce Licher, IPR chief, was visiting Arizona in 1989 and stopped by Kimber's record store Stinkweeds. He was asking about local music and Kimber played a tape of my pre-half string 4-track recordings that I had on consignment there. He liked it well enough to purchase a copy for himself and his friend in For Against. When Half String recorded the first demos Kimber and I decided to give Bruce a copy in hopes of getting some feedback on it. Shortly after he listened to it he offered to release the recording as the Eclipse 7" EP. We were ecstatic as all three of us were fans of Savage Republic and For Against and had been collecting IPR records for a while. Our relationship with Bruce has been on very friendly terms over the last few years. IPR is not a huge conglomerate. It's just Bruce's personal project that he spends his free time with. There have been occasions where we wished the label had funds to help us record and release things when we wanted, but unfortunately it works on a small-scale. The band had to borrow money to fund the recording and manufacturing of A Faciscination With Heights. We really like being part of the IPR roster and would ultimately hope for a licensing deal through a bigger independent label that we all approved of. It's always astounded us why someone hasn't already offered IPR a licensing deal as it is such a unique label.
A lot of American bands I really like such as you, the Curtain Society,
Ropers, and For Against seem to be in a vacuum where you don't get much
press in American magazines perhaps because you're too British sounding
yet you don't get mentioned in the British magazines either because they
tend to only write about American bands with American influences. I imagine
this must be very frustrating?
Brandon: It's frustrating to an extent but then again I'm not terribly impressed with what either press is choosing to cover at the moment I've always felt that it was a shame that so many people including the general music press were so patriotic about a band's sound and what they deemed was appropriate and inappropriate. I don't understand why anyone should limit their musical tastes to a particular country or era. Brilliant ears exist in all corners of the world.
Ben: Who are some groups you relate to past and present?
Brandon: I could list a thousand for myself and I'm sure everyone else in the band would include quite a few others. We all seem to have a big appreciation of 60's stuff (The Association, We The People, The Zombies, Love, The Beatles), 80's stuff (Factory and 4AD bands, Breathless, Echo and the Bunnymen, Smiths, And Also the Trees, A.R. Kane), shoegazing stuff (Telescopes, Secret Shine, early Ride and Chapterhouse, Bark Psychosis, Butterfly Child, Moose), indiepop stuff (14 Iced Bears, Sea Urchins, Field Mice, Blue Boy, Summer Hits, McCarthy, Action Painting, Beatnik Film Stars, Boy Racer, Rocketship, Ropers). Broadcast, Carmine, Stereolab, Moose, American Analog Set, Lilys, The Apples (in stereo), and Scott Walker have been ruling our airwaves as of late.
Ben: If you weren't playing in a band what do you think you would be doing?
Cloning squirrels, making films with tap dancing midgets, collecting those
tennis socks with the fuzzy balls on the heel, or maybe producing my own
line of denim boobtubes.