By Travis PersaudEight and a Half garnered a flurry of interest well before the release of this self-titled debut album. While their name will certainly entice film critics and foodies, it's music fans that will continue paying attention. The threesome are made up of Dave Hamelin and Liam O'Neil of the Stills (now-defunct), and Justin Peroff of Broken Social Scene (who are on an indefinite hiatus). The interest is well warranted and the result, while a bit surprising, is entirely satisfying. Aside from Hamelin's dreamy vocals occasionally reminding of his past work, the trio spend no time rehashing what they've already accomplished. This debut is good – very good – hinting that Eight and a Half are on the precipice of something great.
How you feeling about disc? Drummer Justin Peroff: I feel pretty good about it, but [it just came out] and we're already working on the next one. When we started making some noise three years ago as a non-band, we didn't expect this to be a touring act. Now that it's come together, it's great, but we're on to the next thing, in a way. We're focused on being a live band and we seem to be pretty comfortable with that as well. The songs are becoming something of their own; we're trying to represent the record as much as possible. After coming back from SxSW and having about nine shows under our belt, we're becoming more of a live band. It feels correct.
Did you ever toy with the idea of releasing something earlier than this? That was never really an idea. My idea was on the off-cycle [of touring Broken Social Scene] to tour this thing. But then the question was, "When are the Stills going to release a record?" And at the time they were recording. That was the tricky part. It's not really good for anybody to have two active projects happening at the same time; you just burn yourself out. And one would probably eclipse the other in one shape or form. We were more focused on the songs, just understanding what we were doing to begin with. We were all over the place. I was living in Los Angeles at the time. Dave and Liam were in Montreal. Now they're both more or less in Toronto. Dave lives here and we're trying to get Liam here.
Did you have an idea this was the sound you wanted to create with Eight and a Half? The rockier stuff, like "Two Points," which was the first song we wrote, we were all in the room together, plus "Over Your Head" and "Wait Up." The other songs were more or less structured through email, almost like a Postal Service scenario. I was building beats on software, as was Dave, and then Liam would glue it together with the synth-y stuff. There was no destination as to what we would sound like as a band, which I think is a pretty smart format: to not get distracted by what it is you want to sound like. I never think that's good for art; I believe in trial and error.
What does the new material you're working on sound like? We're considering the fact that the new stuff is coming from a band that [now have] a record. Because we're self-producing, we're learning a lot about that aspect as well. Basically, just the fidelity of it sounds better – that's definitely a difference. I don't think the fidelity of this record is lacking, it's just… you live and you learn through doing it, and through being around other like-minded people. We have a wonderful studio we have access to that's run by our friends who are also musicians and producers; it's like one big music camp, in a way. We're learning from each other and we don't know how to do anything else. And it's fun; hopefully it's fun for everyone, including the listener.
This record is quite different from what you've played in the past. Is there newfound creativity playing in a new way? It's interesting. With Broken Social Scene, there were a lot of people on stage that I had to anchor, in a way. With this thing, I'm not there necessarily to be the metronome. In a way, it's freeing. I'm also trying to do other things, like pick up different instruments. There's very mild synth playing on my end and I'm learning about other instrumentation. It's still me. I've been told I have a very specific style of playing and I don't think I'm wavering too far from that. I'm just communicating with whatever other musicianship is happening in a room at any given time. With Dave and Liam, it's a different conversation; it all depends who the other people are that I'm communicating with.
Do you believe it's possible for Eight and a Half to have your own identity, since most know you from you previous bands? Yes, I do. I was watching Death From Above at Coachella last year. I was with some friends who are from Los Angeles, so they weren't too familiar with them before they stopped being an active band. And my friend turned to me and said, "That guy looks a lot like Jesse from MSTRKRFT!" I was like, "That's because he is Jesse from MSTRKRFT." I had a few of those moments at SXSW. There were a few times when someone came up and said, "Hey, Eight and a Half, right?" I was like, "Are you fucking kidding me?" That felt pretty cool. If it doesn't happen, that's fine. If it's happening in parks, even if it's some drunk guy at SXSW, then maybe it will happen in more populated scenarios. But I'm proud of my Broken Social Scene past and I certainly don't cringe at the idea of being known as "the guy from Broken Social Scene who has this other band." But this band are very much a real thing.
Maybe it's a Canadian thing, to attach your past bands with Eight and a Half? So it's your fault. You have to redesign this for me [laughs]! But, yeah, people associate Broken Social Scene with Canada. I think there's a quote out there saying something to the effect that everyone in Canada is on a hockey team or part of Broken Social Scene. That's fine. I certainly don't mind waving the Canadian flag.
You've been in music for quite some time. What has being in a band showed you about yourself? Broken Social Scene started to get really active when I was about 23. In a way, we all grew up together. I was the youngest in the band until Lisa Lobsinger came around in 2005. It's kind of like a bunch of brothers and sisters watching each other grow up, developing identities, ideas and talents. It's just living life in a band. There's not one thing I've learned about myself – there are so many things. Living life on the road is a very unique experience on its own, even for a few weeks, let alone ten years. You experience and develop a threshold for many things. There's a lot of shit you have to tolerate, including from those around you; Broken Social Scene didn't come without drama. I don't have any post-secondary [schooling] either; [being in a band] is a school of life, as cliché as that sounds. I grew up with my band. I wouldn't necessarily have it any other way. It continues to be an amazing experience and life. I'm very grateful to live my life this way. I wake up every morning just thinking I'm just getting away with murder. We also work really hard, so I think that's alright.
As Eight and a Half became a band, did you have to step back and determine if you could do this with Dave and Liam? Dave and Liam are two of my very best friends. I really gravitated towards Dave and got to know Liam better later on. It's not a dream come true, but it's pretty fucking awesome that I'm in a band with these two guys. I love them as people and I certainly appreciate their talents as well. I never had to sniff them out – that sniffing out period never existed. Actually, Dave and I met at SXSW nine years ago. Broken Social Scene played; it was five of us, plus Leslie Feist. Dave came up to me and told me he was a big fan of You Forgot It In People. It was immediate; I really liked this guy. We were marvelling at the fact that we met nine years ago at SXSW and then we were trucking around in a band together there [a few weeks ago].