We grabbed the occasion to interview Halehan before his live performance at the Nuits Botanique. Young artist on the rise, his universe full of sensitivity won’t leave you indifferent.
Airplane Mode: How did you choose your stage name and what does it mean?
Halehan: I lived in England for three years, and I had a neighbor who didn’t know how to pronounce my name, so she called me Halehana to say Alexander. And I was looking for a name for a long time, so I thought “Why not? Maybe I should choose it”. I just removed the “A” at the end because I wanted something that sounded exotic.
AM: Where does your passion for music come from?
Halehan: My grandmother used to sing. She stopped but she had sung in Jacques Brel’s lodge, who asked her to follow him on his tour. Then she met my grandfather and didn’t follow Brel. My father also likes to sing.
This was around 10 years old that I started singing. My brother and sister both played piano, it was my parents who made them take lessons. My father really likes theatre and music.
I started playing guitar and then I took up singing. Well, I sang some Elton John’s songs in front of my family. I also played piano at the music Academy. Two passions were growing up, basketball and music, and I chose music. Now I play the guitar, synth and I sing.
AM: Can you tell us more about your background? How did you get into music, your evolution…
Halehan: It all started with the guitar. My best friend’s father played guitar and he taught us how to play. Soon after we created a Rock band and we played until I was 18. I’ve always liked writing, and we used to write all our songs together, they were never covers. So that’s how I started. I was then enrolled at the Jazzstudio in Antwerp to do a year of piano-jazz, but didn’t like their pessimism about a career in music, so I went to London to study songwriting for three years. That’s when I started a new project with someone I met at Jazzstudio but this time it was Electronic music. I wanted to find a more acoustic sound so I left the project and started my solo career. I used to play all the instruments on my own but now I have a band with me.
AM: Why did you decide to take on a band?
Halehan: I started doing a lot of openings for other groups on by myself, but something was missing, it needed more substance. I really like playing in a band, I feel more comfortable and it’s always funnier, especially when they’re your friends!
AM: When would you say your career really took off?
Halehan: I would say it was this year, and I’m still at early stages. But I was very lucky to find an experienced manager who helped me finding bigger scenes. But this event tonight is very important to me (Les Nuits Botanique).
AM: Are you nervous for tonight’s show?
Halehan: I’m nervous but I really want to play too, I’ve been waiting for this concert for quite a long time so it’s good stress. But I’m usually not too nervous, I’m confident and just tell myself that I’ll do the best I can.
AM: Do you have any rituals before going on stage?
Halehan: It depends but I like to be alone for a bit, just enjoying silence and calm before the storm. I often just sit on the edge of the stage and tune my guitar on to calm my nerve.
AM: You were saying that you produce your own songs. What are your inspirations?
Halehan: There are a lot of love songs, generally I’m drawn to more jazzy sounds like Nora Jones, voices like Chet Baker’s and Ryan Adams’ folk writing style but also a lot of individual songs.
Lately I listen to singles rather than full albums, therefore there’s so many that I couldn’t tell you which genres I like more but for my first EP I wanted to do something related to nature, like a spiritual exploration. I’m not spiritual enough to say it’s a spiritual work, but it’s very interesting. I feel like there is more awareness on a spiritual level, it unifies people.
AM: Speaking about your influences, is there someone in particular you’d like to work with? A dream collaboration?
Halehan: There are a few singers/songwriters like Lucie Rose, Laura Marling, Alice Phoebe Lou. I really like duets. Otherwise producers I’d like to work with to explore a new musical direction. But in my group of friends I have so many influences that I can always find people to do new things with.
AM: Are you trying to convey something with your music or is it something very personal?
Halehan: That’s something I often ask myself… Am I going to write a song that is about my own experiences or do I want to share a message with others? And it’s really difficult to find the distinction because I think what others are interested in is my personal universe but at the same time the more my audience grows the more I want to speak to them, so then I may not be the subject anymore. But I’d like to combine both. In any case there will always be a part of me in the way I interpret things, but generally I like positive messages I don’t like songs that are too dark, I think there’s already enough scary things in our lives.
AM: Your mother tongue is Flemish?
Halehan: No, actually my mother tongue is French, but my father is Flemish, and so half of my family is Flemish.
AM: But you choose to sing in English, why?
Halehan: It was actually thanks to my American friend I was telling you about earlier. I’ve always liked English music. He introduced me to a lot of English music and since I’ve lived three years in London it comes easier. It’s actually harder for me to write in French, the English language is more flexible.
AM: If you have to describe your music or your universe in three words, what would they be?
Halehan: Until now there’s an intimate side, an aerial side and a lot of storytelling, where words have a meaning.
AM: Do you have a guardian angel? Someone who’s been there for you through your journey?
Halehan: My parents! I’m very lucky because they’ve pushed me to follow this path when in my family the norm is to go to university. At one point I was hesitant to be a musician, it even seemed they wanted it more than me [laughs].
AM: The Belgian musical scene is starting to really explode. Are there any artists you’re following?
Halehan: Tomorrow I’m going to see Burns. I really like Rap, like Roméo Elvis and Simon H. I’d actually like to bring some elements of it into my own music. There’s more of a community aspect to it. It’s clearly in fashion but I think it makes sense since a lot of us have a lot of things to say. I think we’re at a point where it’s going to be more like this, touching a bigger audience. That’s also where my questioning comes from, whether I should make my music very personal or be more open to universal subjects.
AM: When is the album coming out?
Halehan: I clearly have enough songs to make an album, but on a development level it’s probably more intelligent to make an EP. So it will probably be an EP first. I’m still not sure, after the show I will take a small break and really take the time to think about it.
AM: Do you have any other scheduled shows, or any festivals?
Halehan: I don’t have anything coming up, which is good because I want to take some time off.
AM: When do you put yourself on Airplane Mode?
Halehan: When I go to sleep. It’s actually a function I recently discovered [phone rings].
Oh right we were talking about Airplane Mode [laughs]! Well definitely when I go to sleep, when I’m performing, and when I don’t want to talk to anyone, sometimes I’ll do it for a whole day. But I love the concept, I also have a song about going ‘off line’. Sometimes it’s quite annoying to be so over connected, I have to do it for work but otherwise it’s not really my thing.
Interview by Leïla and Marta.