Haley explains the political decision to make forthcoming LP 'Pleasureland' a fully instrumental album
Spurred by the shock at the results of the 2016 presidential elections, Minnesota-based artist Haley's upcoming isntrumental LP 'Pleasureland' is also a statement about the silenced voice of women today.
Canadian-born artist Haley McCallum, known professionally as Haley Bonar for the past 15 years, is all set to unveil her latest album 'Pleasureland', this Friday, Oct. 12, via Memphis Industries.
It's Haley's ninth studio album to date and a follow-up to the highly acclaimed 'Impossible Dream', which dropped in 2016 to rave reviews. Between then and now, the Minnesota-based singer-songwriter legally changed her name from Haley Bonar to Haley McCallum -- taking on her mother's maiden surname -- and adopted the stage-name HALEY. But that's not the only thing that's changed.
'Pleasureland' is an ocean of stark, minimalist, and melodically entrancing tunes, but what is glaringly missing from the album is Haley's powerful vocal flair. Picking up from her 2011 release 'Golder' (which featured two instrumental tracks), 'Pleasureland' walks us through a range of emotions through its 12 tracks as it takes a hard left turn from all of her previous material.
The choice to do away with vocals entirely is a purely political one, Haley revealed to Meaww in an exclusive interview. "On my record 'Golder', which came out in 2011, I had two instrumental tracks. All those years working with my publishing company, I've done some work with instrumental music for various commercials and things like that," she says.
"But the real reason why I chose to do a full-length [instrumental album] is definitely political," Haley said with a heavy sigh. "After the 2016 presidential elections, I felt overwhelmed and very...," she breaks off, looking for the right word. "Depressed," she settles, with an awkward laugh.
"I didn't even know how to make sense with words about how I was feeling. So I just felt like... how can I express myself in a way that's real... that's not forced. And I thought of the abstract artists coming out of the 1950s and early 60s and how it wasn't something you could look at and tell what it was, but you could look at it and feel it. I wanted to do something like that."
She elaborated: "It was also a representation of where women are in the world. We're silenced a lot and punished for speaking out. So I thought this kind of represents that for me too. Also, I'm a White lady, and I didn't feel like I had anything to add or contribute to a conversation that is meaning to happen for people of color and women who are not in the United States and don't have the same kind of civil rights that we do... but we're all kinda struggling in general."
"So there are a lot of elements to it, but me sitting down at the piano and composing this music is kind of the only way I stayed sane over the last couple of years. It was just calming and something I could bury myself in and feel like I wasn't turning to put across some political message in a direct way," she concludes.
The album opens with the chaotic, synth-driven intro 'Credit Forever Part 1' before transitioning into the deeply enchanting 'Give Yourself Away', which blends piano melodies in the style of French Romanticism, with the production stylings of Brian Eno to build a sonic landscape which is as lovely as it is melancholic. Just as Haley intended, the eclectic soundscapes of 'Pleasureland' evoke a sense of capitalistic excess and a feeling of dread for the current socio-political scenario, and the many ways through which Haley does this is commendable.
"I wrote 'Credit Forever Part 2' first and when I was trying to find the synth sound for 'Give Yourself Away', I just started playing that song on the [Roland] Juno," Haley said, detailing the instrumentals on the album. "I really like the contrast of having this glitched-out mechanical sound... like the humanness versus the digital... which is this very stark contrast of contradictary melodies and stopping and starting... it's very imperfect and there's also something menacing about the end of it where it's like kinda floating around. Then it goes into this really beautiful melody. I think of 'Give Yourself Away' as a river. It's sort of grounding at times and also the opposite of that. I think that was a good representation of how everybody was feeling. Everybody was thinking 'this is chaos. It's total chaos'. But it's brief."
"Underneath that, we still have our humanity and we still have many beautiful things to contribute. I like the concepts of the two and thought it's definitely a good way to start the album. Because I thought that's sort of how everybody was feeling."
The name of the album just clicked in a hilarious moment that laid bare the often comical effects of the system of capitalistic excesses. "The title 'Pleasureland' is actually named after an R.V. park in the country outside Minneapolis," Haley reveals. "I thought that sign was hilarious when I passed it... It's just this junky, weird place where they're selling the idea of American consumerism. It's the ultimate capitalistic thing to do. To buy this gigantic home on wheels to drive around... and take up space and fuel while you think that you're living the dream. I wanted to say something about that... What the idea of pleasure is and how that's become this grotesque landscape for our culture right now."
There are a few assists from some well-picked collaborations on 'Pleasureland'. In the stoner-metal burner 'Syrup', the lead guitar swaggers lazily over a fuzzed out, intense layer of distortion, courtesy of long-time collaborator and guitar wunderkind Jeremy Ylvisaker and Steve Garrington (Low) on bass. The intimate and devastating 'Pig Latin' showcases McCallum’s extraordinary gift for melody, carried by world-class saxophonist Mike Lewis (Happy Apple, Bon Iver).
"Jeremy and I have worked together for a long time and we played together in another band as well," Haley said of her collaborations with Ylvisaker. "So it's really easy to work with him. It's like an extension of myself that knows exactly what I like and he's got a pretty good idea of what I like and my style. So I showed him the guitar parts in my demos and I just wanted him to do it because he's a way better guitar player than me to be honest!"
"I asked Mike Lewis to come and play the piano melodies [on 'Pig Latin'] and that was our first take. We recorded that in my room and I really wanted that song to sound breathy, organic and human, and there's just no better person to do that than Mike. I'm not a self-proclaimed jazz-head but when I watch Mike Lewis play, I understand it. He's got this unique, down to earth style and I thought that would be the perfect match on the song."
Self-produced by Haley, her intimate production shines through in a new light on the album. Sparsely interlacing the organic and digital, 'Pleasureland' moves through the full spectrum of grief, perception, and empowerment, eliciting both the uneasiness of a world shifting unexpectedly, as well as the innate capacity for goodness and beauty. As Haley revealed, after not feeling "at home" with a bunch of pianos at local studios, she converted her home into a makeshift studio where she recorded a good chunk of the album. The rhythm section was mostly recorded in a studio and the strings came courtesy of Haley's friends, the Laurels String Quartet.
Every single track on 'Pleasureland' also comes with accompanying visuals, and the clip for 'Credit Forever Part 2' was released last week. Using clips of television commercials and news coverage from the summer of 2001, McCallum furthers the critical theme of the album by encapsulating the year she graduated high school and moved to Minnesota, just days before the events of September 11.
"I did half of the videos myself, which is the first time I've dealt with that medium," Haley revealed. "I asked five of my artist friends who I've collaborated with over the years to do whatever they wanted with it. I said 'choose a song and do what you want. You have a 100% creative control and then turn it in when you're done'."
"So that was exciting for me. Just to see what people's interpretation of something was with a lack of lyrics. It opens up the floor to do a lot more of what I wanted. To me, seeing the videos was like Christmas. Every time, I'd be like 'ooh! what is gonna be?' I'm really surprised by how well all of the videos go together. Because they hadn't seen my videos and I, of course, did not know what theirs look like."
Haley's 'Pleasureland' arrives this Friday, Oct. 12 and will be available on all major streaming services. You can also pre-order the "white with red splatter" colored special edition vinyl here. All the videos will receive a simultaneous release coinciding with the date of the album release and you can keep an eye out on Haley's YouTube channel to catch them.