Volume 94, Issue 88

Thursday, March 8, 2001


Mojave 3's Halstead finds excuses to travel

Location sinks Greek diner

Talley returns to get paid

Mojave 3's Halstead finds excuses to travel

Gazette File Photo

By Matt Pearson
Gazette Staff

Neil Halstead is tucked quietly into a booth at the rear of a busy cafe on Bloor Street West. The 30-something singer/songwriter looks weary at best, his clay coloured, corduroy pants frayed at the cuffs and the dirty blond hair atop his lanky frame matted after a long night on the bus.

Despite his slight despondency in conversation, Halstead seems no worse for wear. "Touring is great, because you get to see places and meet people. I like that, because everyone's got their own story and I find that very exciting," he admits, hours before joining his band, Mojave 3, for a sold-out show at Toronto's Lee's Palace.

Since the release of their third album, excuses for travellers, Britain's Mojave 3 have kept a hectic schedule. But for Halstead, along with bassist/vocalist Rachel Goswell, guitarist Simon Rowe, drummer Ian McCutcheon and keyboardist Alan Forrester, that seems to suit them fine.

The album in question, lauded by critics on both sides of the Atlantic, is a stunning collection of folk-pop treasures, highlighting both Halstead's commendable songwriting efforts and the band's overall musical abilities. In some circles, Halstead is considered one of Britain's finest contemporary songwriters, often compared to the likes of Bob Dylan and Gram Parsons.

But for the principal architect behind such a project, Halstead seems surprisingly remote. "It's the most comfortable album in terms of how the band actually sounds and the way it fits together," he offers, adding it was recorded over two separate two week-long sessions in the studio.

"We never have any kind of plan when we record," he continues. "In actual fact, we don't even approach them as records; we record a song and then we record another song, and when we've got about 16 songs, we figure we've got enough for an album and pick the songs we like."

For the most part, Halstead has known little in his adult life beyond the glare of the indie rock spotlight. Slowdive, the band he headed prior to Mojave 3, was signed when Halstead was only 18-years-old, but after six years, the band folded and Halstead felt untethered.

"When Slowdive split up, there was a point when I had enough of music. I took a big break and literally went away for four months and didn't even think about, listen to, or have anything to do with music," Halstead says, trailing off shyly.

His musical exile didn't last long though, as he teamed up with fellow Slowdive alumnus Rachel Goswell and drummer Ian McCutcheon to produce 1995's Ask Me Tomorrow, inadvertently forming Mojave 3.

"Ask Me Tomorrow was just a bunch of songs we recorded; we didn't have a record deal at the time. I think we recorded the album in two or three days. When 4AD offered to put it out I guess at that point, it became a project or a band," he recalls.

As Mojave 3's most prolific songwriter, Halstead thinks the art of songwriting isn't so much a chore as it is a random occurrence. "I don't do it in a disciplined way. I go through periods where I know I can write songs, so I'll write a lot of stuff. I find it much easier to write a song if you're tired because you just catch things on the edge rather than focussing on them," he explains.

Halstead appears to be loosening the reins of control within the band. On excuses for travellers, both Goswell and McCutcheon are credited for penning songs, and according to Halstead, there will be more of that in the future. "My ego doesn't feel the need to dominate the band. The next record will be much more balanced in terms of songwriting," he says earnestly.

"I think you have to make records that you want to listen to yourself and that's the only way I approach things," he says, buttoning his parka in preparation for the chill of a late afternoon in February. "I don't know if you're ever completely happy with the final product, but there's a point when you just have to say, 'This is the closest we're gonna get.'"

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