From his pedal-pushing days in the spaced out, shoegazer band Slowdive, to his more grounded acoustic folk rebirth with Mojave 3, Neil Halstead's music has changed dramatically over his 23-year career. But whether cosmic or country, there always has been an underlying somber, soothing and dreamlike quality that links his songs together. While they were once hidden by distance and distortion, his heartstrings now ring out as if they were strung across his acoustic guitar.
"By the time I did the last Slowdive record I was about 24," says Halstead. "Our last record is really super ambient and experimental and everything was built on loops and samples; it was a bit of a cold record. I took a break after that and I felt like I wasn't into music anymore at that point. I needed to be re-energized. Learning to play acoustic guitar and playing country songs was a way back into music for me because it was so different from what Slowdive was about."
After five records with Mojave 3 and occasional tours, Halstead took the band's breaks to focus on solo work. Even more stripped down, his country-folk style and imagery could easily be considered Americana, except for the fact that he's British. Halstead's calm and hushed delivery evokes a sentimental reverie, sincerity and melancholy.
"Palindrome Hunches," his third solo effort, was released last month on Brushfire Records, a label run by fellow surfer, Jack Johnson. Halstead's music bears little similarity to the rest of the roster. Surely the label's saddest and most introspective of the surfer/songwriters; perhaps it is the cold ocean waters of his Cornwall home that gives Halstead's music such a stark realism.
"For me, songwriting is always about expressing yourself," Halstead notes. "So that's me in the song. There are songs [on the new album] that are a little darker than the songs on the last album. They all sit together in a darker space. I think that's just the way the songwriting went. They are quite personal."
The title is a clever juxtaposition of words based on a failed attempt to write a song that is the same when read backwards and forwards.
"I don't know what it means," Halstead says with a laugh. "I guess I like that idea and its contrast to a palindrome where everything works out in the end."
‘Breaking the Ice,’ not with Slowdive
Mojave 3 haven’t recorded since 2006, but after a rare and recent tour of China, Halstead hopes the band will begin recording a new album by the end of the year. And, though there have been murmurs of a Slowdive reunion and offers have been made, Halstead doesn’t seem stoked on the idea.
“[Reunions are] a big part of the music industry these days. They are feeding off their own paws. The people with the money will never let it go free because it’s another way to sell you the same old sh—.”