TUNE IN TO
iNTERViEWS TONi HALLiDAY
MiSTRESS OF THE HOUSE
FORMER CURVE FRONTWOMAN TONi HALLiDAY
TALKS TO ROCKWiRED
ABOUT HER SOLO PROJECT 'CHATELAiNE'
AND MAKiNG A FATTER, WiDER, MORE ORGANiC SOUND
iNTERViEWED BY BRiAN LUSH
I can't quite explain my fascination with women who could eat me for breakfast. Back in the early nineties, TONI HALLIDAY was such a woman. As the pretty half of the English rock band CURVE, she and bassist DEAN GARCIA either wittingly or unwittingly broke ground with a sound marked by distorted guitars and sampled beats with HALLIDAY's ethereal voice floating over such venomous numbers as 'FAIT ACCOMPLI', 'CLIPPED', and 'THE COAST IS CLEAR'. Nowhere did the duo's songwriting chops and production smarts shine through more than on the bands 1992 debut album 'DOPPELGANGER'. CURVE was my only reason for staying up for MTV's '120 MINUTES' and I was convinced that this thing that everyone was dubbing 'alternative music' was going to move on from the grunge that had already started to outlast it's welcome. Well, the mid-nineties came around and the sound of distorted guitars and sampled beats with a pretty angel voice on top finally came to define the alternative sound, however it was through the band GARBAGE. Oh well! By the time, SHIRLEY MANSON and the boys had arrived, one couldn't exactly rely on consistency from the HALLIDAY/GARCIA team. A record here and a record there was released until HALLIDAY in 2005 announced on CURVE's official website that she was done.
As the song goes, wild horses couldn't keep her away. HALLIDAY resurfaced in 2006 with a little help from THE KILLERS. She performed on their Christmas track 'A GREAT BIG SLED'. This performance led to renewed interest in pursuing music again and now, a peroxided TONI HALLIDAY has been toiling in the studio with a solo project called CHATELAINE. This time around, it is HALLIDAY's purr that is front and center with a lush, music soundscape that promises to be ENYA-like in it's scope. For the time being, demo versions of the songs are available while the finishing touches are being worked out. "If I was going to come back and do something, it was going to have to be dignified because I couldn't go back to the stupid indie world. That's for young people. Thats for ALEX TURNER." says HALLIDAY "If you are twenty years old, you want ALEX TURNER to be your orator to speak for you and say whats going on with you and your life, so it took me a while to work out what it was that I was going to do and what would be appropriate. When I did work it out, then I went on the journey to find people to help me to try to do that."
ROCKWIRED spoke with TONI HALLIDAY over the phone. Here is how it went.
Well you've been in the studio quite a bit lately. How is the project coming along?
It's coming along very well actually. At the moment I'm trying to get this one last song. I've written quite a lot and at the moment I feel like I'm just shy of one song and I don't know what it is. It's just a feeling you get when you feel that something is incomplete. I'm about to go back into the studio next week and I'm really focusing my energy toward this one last thing that ends up finishing the story really.
And you don't quite know what the song is yet. Right?
I don't know what it is but I know what it should feel like and what the message should convey and all that sort of stuff. I've written a lot of songs trying to get to this song. I've got all of the songs that I'm going to use but I've been busy for over a month trying to get this one last thing. There is a hole in the record.
So it sounds like the process for you is an instinctual one.
So it's not like journal writing or anything like that.
Oh no. It's about what you feel.
I guess that makes sense given your career and I must say that I've got goose flesh talking to you right now because I loved DOPPELGANGER. That album got me through high school as well as the EPs that came out before DOPPELGANGER. I had them on vinyl with the posters inside.
Oh great!. They were lovely little albums.
Who is all working with you on this latest project.
I'm mainly doing it with another girl in London. I've done some writing in LA with a friend of mine NICK PAGE. In London, I've been working with this girl called LOUISE DOWD and she's been producing the project. I hooked up with her through a friend of a friend who had told me that I must meet this girl. "She's an up and coming writer and she's unknown still, but she is gonna do very well." So I popped over to her place and saw her and she's a got a lodge kind of set up and I explained to her about the project and what I wanted to do and what direction I wanted to go in. And she said 'I hate that! It's an awful idea!' and I said 'Well, this is I'm doing and are you you in or are you out? I don't care what you say, I care about what I think. It's my project.' So then she went off and came back with this initial idea and she just completely nailed it. I could tell it was the beginning of a rather feisty little writing production relationship, but it was going to be worth it because she's going to fight me the whole way to make sure that what I do and what I put down is the best it could be. I suppose like all artists, I'm intrinsically lazy so I needed someone who was going to push me and she was obviously that girl. It's a great working relationship. It's fantastic and I love working with her. Then I went out to LA and started working with this other guy. I wrote a couple of tracks with him which were really good and will end up on the album as well. So those are the two people that I'm working with right now; LOUISE DOWD and NICK PAGE - both unknowns right now but I'm sure they will do very very well in the future. They are both very strong writers and producers.
Was this your first time ever working with a female writer?
No, I had bands actually where I worked with women. The first band that I ever had that got signed was this band called THE UNCLES and it was me and this other girl. She was a bass player and we both wrote songs together. And then when I was in my first band with DEAN which was STATE OF PLAY we had a female percussion player. I've worked with them quite a lot.
Is it easier or harder?
Harder. There is no question about it because I think women are just driven in a completely different way. I'm not saying that men have got it easy but I think women have it slightly harder in the music industry. Women have to fight a lot harder and when you get into the studio with them, there are no avenues that you can't go down that they don't know because they are female so they know all of the tactics and logic. It's not like you're trying to deal with two different logics; a male and female logic. You've got two female logics who know every avenue that you can go down. Especially with working with a producer like LOUISE, she wouldn't let me go home until something was absolutely right, whereas before with a guy I could go 'I feel a bit tired!' and the guy would go 'All right darling, you go home, we'll do it tomorrow.' That never happened with LOU. It was like 'No, we're not finished. Stay until it's finished!' It's a very different experience.
I've heard the tracks on your MYSPACE page and it's wonderful to hear your voice again. I remember back in 2005 when you had posted a message on CURVE's website saying that your confidence was shaken and that the music business was killing your love for music. What brought you to that point?
It was lots and lots of different things. One side of it was that I didn't think that I could continue with CURVE and that we had started to tread old ground. That was something I had no interest in doing musically and then there was lots of other stuff such as 'you have to do this!' or 'you have to do that!' and 'if you don't do this, this won't happen'. I was like fuck off! I don't care! These are the people that are prepared to sell themselves down the line and I'm not prepared to do that. I've got more integrity than that. You are hearing this from people that you think give a damn and its just a manipulation of artists. It's getting to be the beginning of the end for record companies and they are getting desperate in trying to force every single angle. Now it's getting worse. What does a record company know about selling a tee-shirt? They don't know anything about it. There are loads of companies out there that know how to sell tee-shirts well, but the record company just feels like they have to have a slice of everything that you've got without actually offering you any services. They tag all of these clauses onto record deals and it was absolute rubbish and I couldn't be involved in that and I properly retired for a few years after that. I've started this project about eighteen months ago. I swore that I would never go back to music again and it was only when I worked on that track with THE KILLERS (the 2006 Christmas track 'A GREAT BIG SLED'). THE KILLERS are these amazingly brilliant writers and they asked me to do this single with them so I sang on it and they were like "God! You need to go back to writing music. You can't sing like that and not write! You've got to put something out!" And I was like "Really?" I thought about it for a while. If I was going to come back and do something, it was going to have to be dignified because I couldn't go back to the stupid indie world. That's for young people. Thats for ALEX TURNER. If you are twenty years old, you want ALEX TURNER to be your orator to speak for you and say what s going on with you and your life, so it took me a while to work out what it was that I was going to do and what would be appropriate. When I did work it out, then I went on the journey to find people to help me to try to do that.
THE KILLERS make me proud to be an American.
They should. They are a very very good band.
How soon do you expect this project to be released?
We're talking at the moment with a couple of labels. There are quite a few interesting things going on. I think it will happen sometime this year. It's taken a little longer than I thought. I thought it would've been last year, but I didn't have enough songs. I didn't have the "killer" songs; the songs where people can listen to them and decide where they can go in the market. It was just me taking my time and wanting to have good quality and have really high standards. The first people that I played the new stuff to came back right away and said they absolutely loved it. Another person heard it and they wanted to manage me immediately. The few people that I've played it to at labels have had a very very good response, so it will out this year. At the moment, what we're thinking about the most is what route to take. There are some major labels interested and there are also some indie labels that are interested. There are also other avenues that you could go down as well but we've just got to see how things pan out and see which one will be the best avenue.
Why the name CHATELAINE for this project. It's a lovely name, but why?
Why? Because its the mistress of the house. The woman who holds the keys to all of the doors.
I love it!
It's the boss! I just loved the name. It's a funny thing that happened how I came across the name. What happened was, I was in Spain and I had to fly back a day early so I ended up getting on this flight and on this seat was a newspaper that I never read called THE DAILY MAIL because it's like 'The Daily Fascist'. I would never read it or buy it. I was on the plane and I picked it up and figured that I would just give it a quick scan and then toss it. But on this one column that was talking about TONY and CHERIE BLAIR. In this column the word 'CHATELAINE' jumped out at me and I knew from that point on that that was what the project was going to be called. It was a word I hadn't heard for years, I knew exactly what it meant, and I had been searching through countless names for this project and that was how I can across the name. It all started on a plane that I never should've been on while reading a newspaper that I never read.
What drew you to music inthe beginning?
It started when I was really really young. I always used to love to sing and dance and I remember one time we were visiting my grandmother. We'd go out for Sunday lunch and afterwards, we'd have to do something like a card trick or sing a song or do something like that. So I opted to sing a song. It was a very small house and I heard my grandmother whispering to my mother 'She can sing! She really can sing!' When I heard her say that I was like 'Awwh!' because I had realized that I had had some kind of effect. My mom loved muisc. She loved LEONARD COHEN and THE STONES and THE BEATLES and MELANIE and all of that other stuff. She was also into BOB DYLAN and was a big DAVID BOWIE fan. I remember that she would listen to LEONARD COHEN records and she would sit and cry to them. I used to think that was the coolest thing ever; that you could create something that could effect people on that emotional level. I thought it was the best thing you could ever do and then to be confirmed by my grandmother - who is hard as nails - that I could sing was wonderful. I was always surrounded by music. I was brought up in kind of a bohemian way and music was around me all of the time and it was good music. My favorite album of all time is 'HUNKY DORY' by DAVID BOWIE. I've had that in my life since it came out. And that was from my mother.
How did CURVE begin? I know that DAVE STEWART of EURYTHMICS had something to do with it.
When I met DEAN GARCIA he was in EURYTHMICS and DAVE introduced me to him. DAVE came from the same place that I grew up - in the northeastern part of England. I met DAVE many, many moons ago way back when he was in THE TOURISTS with ANNIE LENNOX and then that band split up. I was still a young girl. When I came to London, I reconnected with him and he had just started to do EURYTHMICS and had begun working on their first album 'IN THE GARDEN' with -
Yes. So I kind of hung out with them a bit and then they made 'SWEET DREAMS (ARE MADE OF THIS)' and then they brought DEAN GARCIA into the band. So DAVE and ANNIE introduced me to DEAN years and years ago and then we set up our first band called STATE OF PLAY which didn't work at all. It was too much of a consensus. After that, we didn't speak to each other for years and years and years. DEAN went off to Spain and was doing all of this claymation stuff and all different sorts of things. Then he came back and rang me up and I already had this idea about CURVE and what I wanted to do, and the name and exactly how it was going to sound. We wanted to see how it was going to work, given the fact that DEAN is the best bass player in the world. He's amazing. That was it really! I had a studio in my basement at the time and we started sitting down there beavering away. Things worked instantly. The first thing that DEAN and I ever wrote for CURVE was 'NO ESCAPE FROM HEAVEN'.
From the 'BLINDFOLD' E.P.
Yes. The first four songs we wrote went straight onto the 'BLINDFOLD' E.P. I think it all came together because I knew exactly how I wanted it to sound. It's the same with CHATELAINE. That is the interesting part for me, which is to work out what you are trying to say, and what dress and what shoes it is going to be in. I love that!
Looking back, it seems to me like DOPPELGANGER was this real trend-setter. You guys were doing this guitar noise and sampled beats well before GARBAGE was doing it.
Right, but we came up more with things like MY BLOODY VALENTINE. We were very much inspired by records like that and by the time GARBAGE came, there were a few more bands mixing beats with guitars and they were more influenced by that as opposed to what we were influenced by, which were more hardcore records really.
It's just I remember when GARBAGE was getting all of this press for being groundbreaking when to me there sound seemed familiar.
To me, I always think of GARBAGE as a really good pop band with really good pop songs and we didn't do that. It wasn't our aim. We had pop elements but (laughing) we were snobs! We were music snobs! I can't tell you all of the things we turned down BRIAN because it wasn't the movie PARIS, TEXAS! We were like "Okay, this isn't PARIS, TEXAS so it can piss off!" I mean really snobby. Really, really snobby. And arrogant. I wouldn't change any of it. I think it is absolutely brilliant that we did that but looking back on it it's like 'You what? Oh my God!' We did lots of that and GARBAGE came out and they wanted to sell records and there is nothing wring with that.I think our aspirations were nothing like that.
You've got some songs for this upcoming project on your MYSPACE page. What songs stand out for you at the moment and why?
The songs that are up there aren't my strongest ones because I want to hold something back for the record so that there is a surprise once its released. It's got nothing to do with downloading or anything like that. All of the heavy hitter songs, I've kept off of it. There is a song that I uploaded recently called 'BROKEN BONES' which I absolutely love. I think the song is self-explanatory and I absolutely adore it. I wrote it in Spain with LOU with my little laptop and a little recording setup. We cleared out the front room of this house that I have there to make room for recording. The idea was to go to the beach and tan and come back at night and write songs. Instead, it rained for ten days in the middle of June - when it's supposed to be boiling hot, and that forced us to stay in and write songs. I wanted a song that was seamless, that just sort of slipped into the chorus without a big drum fill. It has a defined chorus but the music kind of glides into it. The music kind of went up a gear without going up five gears. I love that song because the transitions are really smooth and I like the melody and the vocals which is funny because it's demo vocal that was recorded in that room in Spain.
OH DADDY was the first upload. Is that a demo as well.
They all are.
It sounds like the real thing.
The finished track won't be much different. What we're going to do is put real strings on the track. Everything is programmed at the moment and the finished product is going to sound more organic. We'll be working with a violin player named FIONA BRICE. She's totally brilliant. She'll be helping with the string arrangements and she'll be joining the live band as well. Real piano sounds will be added as well. The songs will be bigger, fatter, wider and more organic and less processed-sounding. We're also not going to max them out. The mastering is going to be done on ANALOG instead of PRO-TOOLS just get a warmer, less digital sound.
When its all finished and out there for people to hear, what would you like people to come away with after they've heard it?
I'm hoping that they can hear something about their life in it really because it's all about them in the end. This difference between this record and a CURVE record is that CURVE lyrics were all stream-of-consciousness stuff. I wrote what came into my mind and didn't think in terms of a story. Every single song on this album is a story, and it's all about my friends and all about their lives and the highs and the lows and all of the stuff that goes on with people just by living their life. Most of it was based around my kitchen table with friends, a few bottles wine, and all of us drinking and telling our stories to one another. This album is about the human condition so I hope people come away with a sense of empathy. Whatever we go through, all human beings go through the same thing - maybe in different guises but it's the same. We've got the same feelings and the same emotions. So I get a sense of hope about this album and I hope others will too.