Luna Halo Biography
On their self-titled American Recordings debut, the foursome shows an uncanny ability to segue from playing nice to kicking out the jams in ferocious fashion, unsheathing incendiary guitar riffs, then cooling the burn with a coating of shimmering keyboards sure to induce a trip to the dancefloor . The mortar holding those approaches together comes from the voice—and pen—of frontman Nathan Barlowe, who melds the vulnerable and the cocksure with aplomb on songs as varied as the anthemic "Medicate" and the slow-burning "On My Way."
"I've always written from the moment that I'm in, like taking a snapshot of my emotions," says Barlowe. "I've never been the kind of person who sits down and writes stories or anything like that. The songs on this album are an honest look at my life, with no filters at all."
He bears that out in songs like the disc's seething first single "Untouchable," which cushions Barlowe's rending vocal delivery with a pulsing rhythm worthy of forebears like New Order and The Cure, whose vintage work the frontman admits a strong affinity for. The band takes a different tack on the switchblade-sharp "Kings and Queens"—which proved universal enough to provide a sonic backdrop for both the 2007 Stanley Cup playoffs and the final season of the long-running sitcom The King of Queens (no mean feat for a band that had yet to make its major label bow).
"This is all I've wanted to do—ever since I was seven years old," is how Barlowe explains the preternatural maturity of his writing and performing. "Kids were out playing cops and robbers, or whatever, and I had a fake concert stage built in our basement with lights and everything. I'd put on whatever cassettes I could find around the house and get up there and lip-sync and pretend I was a star."
There's no "pretending" in evidence on Luna Halo, a collection of eleven short, sharp songs that attests to both the quartet's dexterity (as evidenced by the stinging riffs that vein the Muse-like "Fool") and Barlowe's keen ability to make listeners feel like part of the stories he's unfolding—as borne out by the gripping album closer "World on Fire."
"I was sitting in this apartment in Los Angeles and working on this lyric that was basically about being so taken with someone that you couldn't think about anything else at all," he recalls. "Well, it came on the news that the hills right by the apartment building were burning and we had to be evacuated by the fire department. It really did look like the end of the world."
That passion put their demo tape into heavy rotation on many a record industry stereo, notably the boomin' system of Rick Rubin, who signed the band to his American Recordings label shortly after hearing that session, saying "I usually wake up hearing music in my head. I can't tell you how many times it has been a Luna Halo song."
It's easy to see why even ears as experienced as Rubin's would fall prey to sounds this seductive—and while the raw demos were impressive enough, the contents have been brought into even clearer focus on Luna Halo by the production skills of Neal Avron (Fall Out Boy, Yellowcard). "Working with Neal definitely gave us a lot of insight into how to shape the songs," says Barlowe. "We were confident going in that we had a lot of cool things to draw from."
Nathan, who moved from North Carolina to Nashville at an early age to pursue his musical vision, assembled an early edition of Luna Halo as long ago as 2001—earning respect for his ability to, as one reviewer put it, "mix honest lyrics with musical integrity." This early model of the band released the well-received Shimmer and a brace of EPs that chronicled his growth as a songwriter and his increasingly restless spirit—the latter of which prompted him to take stock and splinter that Luna Halo lineup at a high point in its popularity.
"I'm proud of all the music I've ever done, but I felt like I had to go in a different direction," Barlowe explains. "I needed to take the band somewhere where my music would always be the first thing people associate when they think of Luna Halo, not one particular philosophy."
To do that, Barlowe was willing to start from scratch, going, as he puts it, "from playing festivals in front of 20 thousand people to playing clubs in front of ten." The singer didn't have to look far to find the first piece of the puzzle—namely, his guitar-slinging younger brother Cary, who hopped in the van (for tours with bands like Hoobastank and Velvet Revolver) before the ink on his diploma was dry.
The "other" Barlowe, who cites influences as diverse as Led Zeppelin and Smashing Pumpkins, enthuses that "being in a band with your brother is the most amazing experience I can imagine. We get along great and I feel that there is a connection that comes across, even on stage, that you can only have with a brother."
Nathan echoes that fervor, recalling "I always wanted Cary in the band, but he just wasn't old enough. He kicked ass as a guitarist when he was 14, and he could've played in just about any band right then, but when I started Luna Halo, he still wasn't old enough to join. I wanted him to graduate from high school before I dragged him out on the road."
The Barlowes scoured their adopted hometown of Nashville to complete the lineup, recruiting a rhythm section made up of bassist Aaron Jenkins and drummer Chris Coleman, who he'd shared stages with when they were toiling in previous combos. "Playing with these guys has really freed me up to experiment more in terms of coming up with interesting beats," says Coleman. "Nathan has a way of writing songs that are as rhythmic as they are melodic, so from the first rehearsal, I knew we had something special."
The newly-configured Luna Halo began to edge away from the glossier sounds showcased on earlier releases, and focus on roughing up the edges of their tunes—while keeping enough pop sensibility to occasionally throw a smile-inducing cover of a-ha's "Take on Me" into their live sets. "It's impossible to get bored playing in this band," says bassist Jenkins. "The guys are all such great musicians that anytime somebody comes in with an idea, we're able to give it a shot—whether it's something really hard-edged or a dark pop vibe."
That breadth is evident throughout Luna Halo, which offers plenty of thrill-ride twists and turns to those who buckle in for the trip. As impressive as it is, however, Barlowe insists this is only step one in the band's development.
"I look at every record we do, every show we play, as part of a learning process," says the singer. "I'm definitely proud of this album because I think it shows how much we've grown over the years—and how we stand out from the pack in a lot of ways. But while it definitely captures what I've always envisioned Luna Halo to be, I know it's not the final picture—we're not going to stop evolving."