I’m not talking about the palpable, election year angst in our nation’s capital or any gloom related to the city’s draconian budget cuts. I’m referring to an emerging strain of fiercely independent, DC-area bands with a predilection for darker sounds and emotions, not to mention a propensity for spindly guitar arpeggios and plenty of volume.
Silo Halo is one of the newer bands in this growing scene, which to my mind, also includes Buildings, Lenorable, Sansyou, Washerwoman, and the John Carpenter-obsessed, synth-noise deviants known as Screen Vinyl Image (by the way, more evidence that something is definitely afoot: Slumberland heroes Lorelei have reformed and are prepping a new album.)
But while the members of Silo Halo clearly have more than a passing interest in effects pedals, the band’s obvious affection for the late 80s/early 90s U.K. shoegaze scene is just one of their musical reference points. In seeing a recent Silo Halo live show, I was struck by the realization that the band probably owe just as much to the doomed romanticism of Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave as they do to early Ride and Lush.
But that really shouldn’t be surprising. This is a band that embraces THE SONG. For most bands that revel in static and high volume, the squall reigns supreme. Silo Halo distinguishes itself from the pack by always ensuring the melodies and hooks are never lost amid the drapes of all enveloping noise.
Combine that with the fact that all three members are multi-instrumentalists, vocalists and songwriters, and you have a recipe for something quite compelling … even for music fans who don’t know their Souvlaki from their Black Metallic (btw, the band does a pretty mean cover of Catherine Wheel’s “Crank,” but I digress…)
To mark the release of Silo Halo’s debut album (Night and the City, which is out on the DC-based Etxe Records) and Saturday’s show at Comet Ping Pong with Edie Sedgwick and Talk It, I interviewed all three band members (bassist Christin Durham, guitarist Chris Goett, and guitarist/keyboardist Greg Svitil) to find out more.
Prior to forming Silo Halo, all three members played in other DC area bands—how did you guys find out about each other?
Christin: I met Greg when I invited his band The Antiques to play a show in my basement (The Basement Speakeasy) in Arlington in December 2008. That ended up being their last show. He came to see my band Victor Victoria play there not long after, and then he asked if I would be interested in collaborating with him for a new project.
Greg: This was around the same time that Chris and I met through a mutual friend, and both of our bands were starting to slow. The way the three of us started playing together and building a body of songs was natural.
Chris: Greg and I first met through a regular communal gathering of musicians and recordists in early 2008. I first met Christin at We Fought the Big One in April 2009. I started collaborating with both Greg and Christin shortly thereafter. Songs started to quickly take shape in an exciting manner that summer.
Who came up with the name Silo Halo? What does it mean?
Christin: Our band went through two names before settling on this one. We’ve had lots of brainstorming lists. Picking a band name is really difficult. I’m glad we eventually arrived at this one, as we all really like it. There is no specific meaning, just a feeling perhaps. The feeling seems to match the music.
Chris: Like most things in our band, the name was chosen through a deliberate and democratic process. The lack of specific meaning allows our songs and sounds to further define ‘Silo Halo’ with each release and show.
Greg: We arrived at our name during a group conversation. I like how the words sound together, and their ambiguity. Even though I have a clear idea of what the name means to me personally, I do think that leaving it open-ended is more interesting.
The Silo Halo sound is moody, emotive, and like my favorite shoegaze/dream pop bands from the early 90s, sometimes incredibly loud and abrasive while at other times, beautiful and contemplative in an understated way. Can you talk a little about how you arrived at the Silo Halo sound?
Greg: Having three songwriters in the band, with each of us contributing to arrangements, shapes the songs really differently than if just one of us were writing all of it. Our aesthetic comes from the mixture of all of our approaches to writing and to our instruments.
Chris: All three of us put in the work to explore and push our music collectively. Each of us writes and brings ideas to the band that often become more full-bodied after several practices.
Christin: I think our unique sound stems from having three unique individuals with different backgrounds and influences in the band. I had very little experience with songwriting before Silo Halo, and I was unfamiliar with the term “shoegaze” before a few years ago.
Each member of Silo Halo is a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and also a vocalist. This makes for a varied and interesting experience, especially when seeing the band live—how does this dynamic play out when it comes to crafting songs and recording, not to mention choosing which songs to play live?
Christin: It all just sort of happens. One of us will have an idea and then bring it to the band. Sometimes the idea is complete, and sometimes the idea gets a lot of contribution from the other members before it is fully fleshed out. Agreeing on what songs to play live is surprisingly easy. We all speak up about which ones we really want to play, and if one of us isn’t feeling a particular song for that show, the other members don’t push it.
Can you talk a little about the band’s lyrical content? I know you guys don’t shy away from tackling some heavy emotional subjects. Do you ever find this to be difficult? Cathartic?
Greg: Chris and Christin’s lyrics resonate with me even when I don’t know what their first-hand experience is with their subject matter. Going back to what Christin said earlier about the band name having a feel or a mood to it, I would extend that to how I experience their songs. There are gut reactions with what they’re singing and playing that might morph as time goes by. My lyrics don’t necessarily come from personal experiences, and I often use the first person when writing through characters, but there are still occasions when I’m overtly personal with subject matter, and writing is the area of life where I’m most comfortable with not being shy.
Chris: Writing, performing, and being musical has always been a balancing force for me. My lyrics cover a range from personal experiences to using characters to explore various themes. I tend to gravitate towards songs with a definite ‘point of view’. I think all of our songs have that in spades, and we each arrive at this place in different ways.
Christin: I think it is definitely cathartic, though I know I experienced some awkwardness in the beginning baring my soul lyrically. Now it feels like a healthy and effective outlet.
Lorelei percussionist Davis White plays drums on Silo Halo’s debut release, Night and the City. But these days, the band uses a drum machine instead of a live drummer. What led you to this decision and how do you think it has affected the band’s sound and performance?
Christin: We’ve gone through more drummers than we have band names, haha. We ended up using drum machines and a sampler because we were unsuccessful in finding a permanent drummer. We’re still open to having a drummer, but that person has to have the same level of commitment and contribution as the rest of us, 25% of 100%. I really loved playing with Davis. He’s a dear friend and we really clicked as a rhythm section.
Greg: I also loved playing with Davis. We’ve played together in other situations in the past, and I welcome our next opportunity to collaborate.
Chris: Davis is a pure original. I thoroughly enjoy playing and recording with Davis. He’s got a tremendous musical instinct.
The band’s debut release, Night and the City, is on Etxe Records, which is run by Chris along with Jenn Thomas. What’s it like to put a record out on your own label? Also, what can you tell TVD readers about Etxe as a label? Is there a specific aesthetic you’re aiming for?
Chris: I was very open with the band about Etxe (et- CHAY) being an option – but not the only option – for releasing our music. As we started to gel as a band, the ideas of ‘community, not competition’ and our shared roots in DIY music scenes became more and more apparent. Soon, it made natural sense for Silo Halo to be released on Etxe Records. Etxe strives to be artist-driven, community-minded, and autonomous. Jenn and I seek to put out music that takes a stand. We define this idea broadly, but we look for some ‘backbone’ or ‘risk’ in the music we release. Is there a strong narrative? Are the words and arrangements compelling? Does it have a definitive point-of-view? Does the artist promote community? These are some of the filters we consider regarding an Etxe Records release/artist.
Christin: I was very smart to join a band with a built-in label and built-in recording/mixing studios. For me there wasn’t much of a question of wanting to work with Etxe.
What can you tell us about your upcoming show at Comet Ping Pong with Talk It and Edie Sedgwick? Have you played with either band before?
Christin: I recently filled in on bass with ED Sedgwick for their SXSW tour. It was a great experience. Their regular bass player Kristina Buddenhagen is one of my best friends, and I really wanted to bring us all together for the release show.
Greg: We haven’t yet played on a bill with Talk It either, but their drummer John and I played in a band together for two years, and that was also when I first met their organist Emily.
Chris: This bill reflects our diverse musical tastes, and we hope that we get a nice mix of folks out to hear a band they might not normally come across. It’s going to be fun.
I agree! Looking forward to it! Thanks very much!
Photos: Jon P. Goldman | Live image: Nathan Jurgenson