Strap On Halo is a US band, based in Omaha, Nebraska and one of the new generation of gothic rock bands. Which draw influences from the traditional gothic sound, but make something different out of it. They’ve been around since 2003 and have since then changed line-ups numerous times. The band consists of Seán Real (Guitar/Keyboards/Drums), Layla Rena (Vocals/Drums/Keyboards) and MarC Jones (Bass/Keyboards). Since they started out, they’ve released one album and an EP. The forementioned album is titled “The Dead Don’t Lie” and was released in 2011. Also, their first and only EP is titled “Cherry Flavored Quick Fix EP” and was released in 2009. This interview was conducted a while ago and since then, they’ve been working on a new album for 2013, amongst other things. You’ll find out more about this and many things concerning the band, as you read it through. Layla Rena is the person from the band that answered my questions. Hope you’ll enjoy this interview.
Strap On Halo was laid to rest in 2003 and re-emerged 2009, what’s the history of the band and what happened in between these years?
– There really isn’t much of a story. There were a few different lineups before everyone went separate ways. Some formed other projects and others simply disappeared. Sean remained in Omaha and some years after 2003 he met up with another former member of SOH Shawn Boyles. They began working on a studio project called Devilspoons. I moved to Omaha from San Antonio, TX in 2003. Then in 2005 I met Sean and shortly after joined in on Devilspoons. Sean had wanted to revisit his original idea of SOH for some years but just had never met the right combination of musicians. In the winter of 2008 Shawn moved to Philadelphia and Marc moved to Omaha. It was sometime around Halloween 2008 that the three of us got together and after a five hour jam it was pretty apparent that this could work. Then so began the current lineup of Strap On Halo.
When your first release came out, namely Cherry Flavored Quick Fix EP, you also set out on a tour called the Quick Fix US tour – could you tell me more about the tour, what happened there and what was most memorable?
– It was our first time out, everything about it was memorable. The bad and good all had a huge impact on everything we do and don’t do now. We hit the road for two weeks, made new friends, traveled south to New Orleans, into Texas and Florida. The Quick Fix US Tour was just that a quick fix. Our van, who we call Vango, broke down in the middle of Missouri. We’ve performed in windows, on make shift stages and almost killed ourselves on the beach in Florida. It was an all-around great time that fueled the start of our addiction for touring. We love being on the road and meeting new people!
Could you tell me anything about the process of creating your album Cherry Flavored Quick Fix, how long did it take, why did you pick that name for it and how was it received by the general public? You collaborated with Martin Atkins and a few others on this release, how was it to work with them and what did you think about their contribution to the EP?
– Cherry Flavored Quick fix was written in less than three months. Sean and I had traveled down to Martin Atkins studio for a seminar in Chicago and after stocking up on loads of invisible records CD’s, I had time to chat with Martin about producing and recording our first release. He offered to help us out and I jumped. Prior to our trip to the seminar our working songs were all keyboard driven as Sean didn’t have his Gretsch yet. At this point we were still trying to get a feel for each other and make music that we felt. Once Sean’s Gretsch arrived everything just seemed to flow. I don’t recall the order in which we wrote the songs but the first song written was, “It’s All Over”. The EP title, “Cherry Flavored Quick Fix” was taken from the lyrics of Chemical Nation. We thought it fitting since this release was just an introduction to us. I think overall the general public liked it. We built up our fan base pretty quick and the response prompted our next tour and release. Heading out on tour to support the EP was essential and a huge factor in its success. The EP was mixed, mastered, recorded and hand produced at The Mattress Factory. We released a limited edition hand screen printed copy that included three original songs and one remix by Martin Atkins.
Everyone that we worked with on the EP was great. We owe special thanks to our good friend Mike Cartwright whose name appears in the credits. He taught me how to program drums and helped out tremendously when we were trying to figure ourselves out. We would not have come this far is it wasn’t for his help in the beginning.
Layla Reyna seems to be the designer in your band, since she’s created extras for the limited edition packages, but how does she come up with the ideas for that and how was the process in making them? I also looked around on your bandcamp and with that release fans could also buy different packages. It seems like they’ve Sold Out faster thanks to that – how fast did it take for the different packages to be sold?
– I enjoy the hands on process of things and like the idea of packages. I am artist by nature and have a BFA in Graphic Design. Some of the work I do is last minute and don’t get as much time as I’d like. My ideas come from brainstorming and regardless of time I work until I think my design conveys the emotion it needs. Our logo for instance, I designed while we were in the studio recording our EP “Cherry Flavored Quick Fix”. The necessity for artwork and tight schedule ended with us using the logo as the cover and having them screen printed proved to be a great idea as it helped sales. I couldn’t tell you about each item and how fast it sold. We have been out of lots of merch for quite some time. Some will not get printed again and others such as our basic logo t-shirt are waiting to be restocked because there is a demand for them.
Your first full-length album came out after the EP, called “The Dead Don’t Lie” in June 2011. How did the process in making it go and what were your difficulties with it, what was easy and what was hard?
– The easy part was writing the music the hard part was recording. The album was intended to have thirteen songs but due to some issues during the recording, mixing and mastering of the album we had no choice but to only release seven songs and one remix. By the close of our deadline we had recorded only a portion of the songs, the mixes were not right and the mastering only enhanced those imperfections. Mick Shearman and Raymond Ross saved us. They took our tracks, split them up, redid the mixes and Raymond mastered the set. We’re moving along and writing new music but as soon as time permits we plan to record all the songs over and release with the intended 13 songs.
In what way do you think you’ve developed your sound since the first release in 2009? What was your goal in between the two releases, for the album?
– We have developed through constant practice sessions together. We have become more aggressive and more comfortable working with each other. The first EP was more accessible and just a beginning. The goal after the EP was to just write new music. The EP was written in a couple months whereas the album took us a year. Prior to the release of the EP we had only just started writing more guitar driven songs. I don’t think at that time we had developed our sound quite yet and perhaps we still haven’t. We are still growing and exploring. Having a year to work and sort out our writing process proved extremely beneficial. I couldn’t be happier because I think that we have wielded a sound that’s quite nostalgic of our genres heyday. Working with each other has become second nature.
Since the first EP was produced by Martin Atkins and this one was produced by Mick Shearman and John Ross, why did you consult them for this release? What’s the main difference between working with them and Atkins?
– Well, as mentioned before, consulting Mick and Raymond was out of necessity and they proved to be some of the best people we’ve worked with. We were cutting deadlines so close and thought all was lost. Martin was an opportunity to get started. He recorded us, mixed and produced the EP. Both “Cherry Flavored Quick Fix” and “The Dead Don’t Lie” were completely different experiences. With Martin recording the EP went really well, we were present for the mixing, learned a lot and even left with CD’s and shirts to sell at our first gig. I’m trying not to dwell on the issues we had with the second release but what I will say is that Mick and Raymond were the best part of that whole process next to the writing of the music. Both were learning experiences and essential to our development.
What would you say separates your fans from other bands, what make your fans unique? How come they like your band and how was it to meet them the first time?
– I think our fans are some of the nicest and most sincere people around. It is interesting that you would ask this question mostly because I have been approached by venue owners and bar staff about our fans. The general consensus is that to their surprise our fans were amazingly well mannered and a pleasure to serve unlike others they have served before. I’m quite proud of our fans and meeting them is always a delight.
I read that you’ve had a long tour this summer, how was it to embark on the west coast and Texas? What have been memorable? You played four shows with The Spiritual Bats in September, as if that wasn’t enough – you also played at the Age of Decay festival. Were you stoked and is there anything you could tell me about this?
– West coast has always been a planned destination for us. Marc being from Seattle made hitting it not even a question, as with Texas for me. Seeing family and old friends seemed to hit the top of our unwritten priority list. Touring is always exciting and the things we see always sparks conversation that we share over and over, only to extend the “post tour blues”.
Having The Spiritual Bat as tour mates was probably one of the most memorable experiences from this summer’s tour. We met Rosetta and Dario in 2009 at the start of our “Quick Fix Tour”. We hosted a show in Omaha for them, met in New Orleans to perform at the same festival and during some off time that we had in-between both our tours we met up in my hometown of San Antonio, Texas. We really connected and kept in contact. So in 2012 they asked us to join them on tour. I had already booked and confirmed gigs for our tour so it was unfortunate that we could only do the Midwest part. Weekends were spent on the road playing shows and during the week we retreated to the Strap On Halo home base. We had an evening ritual and would converge in the studio just to enjoy each other’s company. It was fantastic to have them stay with us at our home and truly spend time with our friends. The house was full and alive. A comment Augustine made stuck with me. He said, “It’s all Straps and Bats in here”! He was also bunkered down with us for most of the summer. The past two tour was just the three of us and this time we had the pleasure of taking our good friend/roadie Augustine Strange who ended up being the best tour assistant ever. I honestly don’t know how we managed this long without him.
Age of Decay was a perfect end to our summer tour. Our hosts Alethea and William Carr were amazing. Florida goths are extremely welcoming and have made for us a permanent stop each year. We made new friends, had time to talk with all the bands and look forward to seeing them all again. The event had such a fulfilling vibe, I can say with full confidence that everyone had a great time and all the bands were happy to be there. I couldn’t have asked for a better finale to 2012.
This year was an extremely good year and I cannot wait to see what unfolds in 2013!
Could you tell me anything about the merchandise being offered in your store, which items are the most popular and what do you have for sale?
– The newest item in our arsenal is our logo pendants that we wear religiously and even proud perhaps. We also offer logo thongs that sell really well and are just fun. A variety of shirts, stickers, posters and of course the physical copies of the music. The packages vary and knock a bit off the individual sale price. I like the idea of packages and try to put several variations of merch in the rotation. I love to screen print and really just love the whole DIY aspect of things. I like getting my hands dirty and investing my time into something I am proud of. I have taught the guys how to screen print and I think they like it to. I enjoy processes so instead of sending off my designs to print we screen print all our shirts, some posters and more recently special edition items that I will talk about a little more later.
The one thing I’m wondering about now is your new album; you’ve had the pre-album version of the track, “You & Your Ghost” up since April. Do you have any details on the album? How far have you come in the process? What do you think of the new album, how would you like it to be? What are you aiming at? Do you have any clue on when it will be released or is that still unclear?
– We are quite thrilled with the new songs. We felt that these songs are more representational of where we are going. We aim to write songs that we like, that provoke emotion and make us happy, although the lyrics may not indicate any kind of surreal happiness… the music moves us. I wanted more songs and so did the guys but again time is a huge factor and we want it to be right so we opted for fewer songs this time round.
I made some changes to the track listing due to money, time, and a variety of variables. So when we were in San Antonio, Texas during the last tour we took a day to record six songs. We plan to release a single this year titled “Gloomy Sunday” that will include two remixes. The first 100 digital downloads of the single will be available for free with an option to buy the limited edition physical copy. The edition is limited to only 50 copies. The package will include a hand crafted coffin box, cd, sticker, poster and logo pendant. It will be available via our website merch store. The EP tentative release is set for spring 2013 and will include the other five songs.
Since you’re drawing some of the traditional elements of goth-music, what would you say that you add to the mix to make it sound Strap On Halo-ish?
– That’s a hard question. We are the sum of three. We influence each other. Take one away and the sound/style would surely be altered but I guess I could start from the beginning by saying that when we got together we decided that before we define our genre we should really just play to see what comes out. Perhaps we own our sound because we don’t try to mimic what others have done. Granted we have our influences and draw from those however we never write songs to sound like anyone else. I think writing music is about igniting the senses. If we don’t feel it then it’s no good, in my opinion.
When writing lyrics for the songs, what do you think is the most important thing to begin with? Do you have any tips, any places you like to go or anything you like to do to get inspiration for the process of writing?
– As mentioned in the previous question. Writing music for us is emotional. My lyrics are always emotion driven. I don’t pre write lyrics for songs. I rather prefer to write them as the music is being written. Perhaps it’s silly to say that it has to feel right. I want the words to reflect that moment when we are writing each of our songs together. What frame of mind I am in, what I have been reminiscing about or what I just experienced. A lot of my memories are marked with a scent, season, and time of day. Music has a way of bringing all that out and I am able to best express it in my words when I sing. I think the best thing that anyone can do is to rid themselves of any pretenses.
Thank you for letting me interview you! What do you have to say here, at the gloomy end?
– Thanks for taking the time to ask such insightful questions and to everyone else for reading. Please check us out at www.straponhalo.com. We have lots of exciting news for 2013 and updates on upcoming release. You can find and chat with us on Facebook, Reverbnation and on Twitter.