Interview: Other Half – Still Having A Laugh, Forever & Amen

Other Half are a trio from Norwich that toes the line between post-punk and post-hardcore, twinning enthralling guitars with percussive and forthright vocals. Think Pixies meets Fugazi meets Les Savy Fav, tumbled in the dark stew of 21st-century malaise.

We spoke to Cal and Sophie (Soapy), earlier this year, discussing the release of their debut album Big Twenty. Since then they’ve completed a UK tour with fuzz-loving contemporaries Cultdreams and they’ve released a tense split EP with Negative Measures. If Other Half isn’t on your radar yet, this is your time to get to know them.

Other Half has been popping up on bills for years, so I was excited when I heard the news of your debut album earlier this year. Big Twenty feels like it’s been a long time coming – when did you start working on the album?

It actually all came together pretty quickly considering how long it took us to record the very limited output that preceded it. I think we hit a groove after writing Heads Go Soft and for the first time in our time as a band, the songs felt really natural. I don’t think I’d be able to give you an exact time we started though- the last few years have merged into one homogenous lump.

What was most challenging and most rewarding about recording the album?

Cal: Not to come across as too smug, but the actual recording process was a super easy, enjoyable experience. A lot of that had to do with Owen, who engineered the record and his beautifully shambly studio, Sickroom. Owen is really good at stitching songs together regardless of how incapable we are at sticking to a tempo so we always felt in safe hands. The only real difficulty we had was deciding which songs would make it onto the album- in the end, we admitted defeat and just lobbed them all on. I think that actually worked out pretty nicely with the whole record feeling like a big, sprawling entity all of its own. 

Are there any songs – or parts of songs – that you’re especially proud of?

Cal: The last 20 seconds of Community Spirit always feel pretty cathartic whenever we play it. It’s basically just a big violent climax to the story that snakes its way through the album and is about as cinematic as I’ve ever dared to be in my songwriting. It probably helps that we always play it last and by that point, we’re so knackered that it becomes an out-of-body experience.   

How do you feel the band has grown/developed since releasing Misery Movement in 2016?

Cal: I’d hope an awful, awful lot. As a band, I don’t think we really knew who we were at that point and ended up making music that neither we nor anyone else really connected to. As soon as I stopped trying to sing (something I objectively can’t do) and we all started to let the heavier, goofier influences seep in, things became so much more rewarding. I think now Other Half sounds like Other Half and that feels really nice. 

Whilst your music is pretty deep or serious at times, I’ve always felt you were a band that doesn’t take itself too seriously. How important is that to you – is the band more about music or about fun or a mix?

Cal: I’d like to think those things aren’t mutually exclusive. I don’t think I can ever fully believe in anything that doesn’t also know how to laugh at itself and so I have always tried to mix the horrible shit I write about with flecks of humour. I think solemnity is given too much regard in art and as such don’t want to present ourselves in any way that doesn’t reflect how we actually are. Other Half, still having a laugh, forever and amen. 

What do you take inspiration from lyrically? The album’s uncomfortable at times, uplifting at others.

Cal: The writers and lyricists I love have always flirted with the best and worst of the human condition, and really I’m just trying to do my best impression of them. Writers like Kurt Vonnegut, Aidan Moffat and Randy Newman really know how to make an unpleasant character sympathetic. They understand that it’s systems that corrupt people, not the other way around and as such we’re all capable of shitty behaviour. As a fallible person myself, I like exploring those cracks and hopefully inspecting some of my own shitty qualities in the process. 

What gear are you using? We love a pedalboard.

Cal: I’ve long considered pedals to be cheating but nowadays I do have at least three. I use a rickety old Ibanez DE7 delay pedal for spacey bits and an Electro Harmonix Superego+ to make noise between songs. I tend to be the bane of every soundperson’s existence as I don’t use an overdrive pedal and rely on my very small Orange head cranked up all the way. It gives off a hell of a buzz but I don’t think you can really beat it for a big, walloping tone. 

Soapy: I’d never really dabbled in pedals until lockdown when I bought a RAT to keep the boredom and loneliness at bay. I wanted something dirty and crunchy but still with plenty of definition and I haven’t turned it off since! My dad passed on his love of bass to me and so I continue to play through a Trace Elliot head – partly because it sounds great, mostly because it’s what he would have wanted.

What bands did you obsess over as a teenager? Do you think they’re still influencing your sound now?

Cal: I went through a big landfill indie phase but at the arse-end of that I discovered The Hold Steady in about 2007. It was such a revelatory experience to see a load of older, schlocky people play music and clearly enjoy it more than all the bands 15 years younger than them. That completely changed my outlook on what it means to be in a band and they remain my favourite band to this day.

Soapy: I grew up around vintage Vespas and Lambrettas and the scene that accompanied it so there was always lots of 60’s music, two-tone, ska, mod, Brit-pop, punk and Northern soul played in our house. A real stand-out memory I have is of hearing I Am the Resurrection by The Stone Roses for the first time at around 11 or so; I remember the transition to the chorus being the first time a piece of music gave me butterflies. I was enamoured by that first album; it was so weird and wonderful to me and really changed the idea I had of what guitar bands could be. I do still think that Mani’s bass lines to this day influence the way I like to play. Shame that Ian Brown is such a goblin nowadays. I was also blown away by No Comply and Kelly Kemp when I was younger – I remember listening to With Windmills Turning Wrong Directions on my star-shaped MP3 player on a Year 7 day trip to France and feeling genuinely in awe at how a band could be so heavy yet melodic, and with brass but no upstrokes! I only ever wanted to be able to scream because of Kelly, so I suppose you could say that 15/16 years on she inspired me to find my voice in songs like Cosmic Slop and Building the Brand.

What bands are keeping the fires burning now? What new releases have got you really excited?

Cal: For me, it’s still the weirdos that fill me with the most joy. Richard Dawson is a perfect example of someone who shouldn’t be a rockstar but still manages to command entire rooms with what is essentially a cappella warbling about Sunday league football and working as a civil servant. I think the UK has a pretty healthy scene for DIY bands at the moment too, with groups like Ditz, Lice and Kaputt all adding something a bit spicy to the unending slew of post-punk bands.

Norwich has always been a great city for creativity and artistry. How would you describe the music scene there at the moment? 

Cal: Norwich has in the past released some of my favourite music – Big Success and Rest and Relaxation being top 10 bands regardless of any hometown pride attached to them – but for a while, Norwich felt a bit directionless. We lost venues and there didn’t seem to be anyone new excited about making noise. That all shifted a few years ago and now I see people of all ages and backgrounds attending, putting on and actively engaging in local art and music. I definitely don’t do as much as I could be doing but I feel a lot safer in the hands of everyone who is now flying the flag for Norwich culture. 

We want to give a huge big up to Lowell, our new local record shop for offering a space for local creatives that feels genuinely welcoming, No Glum for their unending devotion to live music and Kitty Perrin who hosts BBC Introducing Norfolk for their earnest commitment to championing local artists as well being one of the very best people making music in Norfolk at the moment.

What’s your favourite of the places you’ve played? Do you have plans to tour more next year?

Soapy: Absolutely! This year has felt the most heartening of ‘um all. We put the record out during Covid and never really got to celebrate or play it until this year. Recent shows like at Big Foot, Wild Paths and our first London headline this month made one or more of us well up – we really give a shit about what we made and it was ridiculous after a year and a half of the album being released to see other people also seemingly give a shit about it.

Playing shows like Fest in America and Pouzza in Canada obviously felt amazing but to be honest it’s been all the smaller gigs we’ve played here that have really meant the world to us. 

What are your ambitions for the Other Half in the future?

Cal: We have no grand ambition, really. We all love it and we’ll all carry on doing it for as long as we all still love it. We’ve got about 30 songs written for a second record and hopefully, that’ll be out before too long but really we’re all still basking in the giddy joy of playing Big Twenty live for the first time. Think we’re gonna milk that for all it’s worth. 

You can and should check out Other Half in all the usual haunts – Bandcamp, Spotify, Facebook. They’ve recently released an exceptional split with Negative Measures called No Half Measures.

Interview by Sarah Williams.

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