Week in Pop: Dan Koshute, Foliage, Half Stack

Sjimon Gompers

The rise of Oakland's latest upstarts & innovators—Half Stack; photographed by Julie Juarez.

Half Stack

Introducing Oakland’s own Half Stack; photographed by Julie Juarez.

The East Bay scene remains the core creative landscape for artistry & innovation. Not to say that the San Francisco/West Bay is without their own vast arrays of talents; Oakland & surrounding municipalities double & triple those numbers from their neighbors across the Bay Bridge with an inexhaustible commitment to constant creativity by all means possible. The latest of these local disruptors are Half Stack who specialize in a hazy organic rock style that sounds fresh & outfitted from some other era. Made up of members from the bands Jay Som & Babewatch, the group has been recording their debut album that offers a keen new take on the Californian western pop journey.

Seen recently playing with Alex Cameron as part of San Francisco’s Noise Pop festival & preparing to play at this year’s SXSW in Austin; Half Stack is re-establishing their own cosmic American music movement like the illegitimate progeny of the late Gram Parsons. Reinventing the Jerry Garcia dreams of twang-arranged twinkling chord ballads that shine on Workingman’s Dead to exploring a reverse-engineered take on the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo; Half Stack are fixing to resurrect the timeless & comforting spirit of the country rock canon for a new era. Half Stack with Melina’s assistant & influence adhere to that sort of ghost-like quality that permeates some of the best songs we know, love & cherish endlessly. The mellow states of questioning reality on “Dually” feels like a journey-person traveling through worlds while ruminating over existential inquiries in their mind. Cuts like “Quitting Time” mix a working—class quality that ponders the strangeness of changes as they happen, making sure all the guitar sections cast Telecaster beams that shine with a language all of their own—as witnessed on the coastal-consciousness soaring “Top of the Mountain”.

Presenting the world premiere for “Hanging Out (and Hanging On)”, Half Stack blends harmonies into one incredible Americana oddity. With a name that loosely alludes to a chorus lyric from New Riders of the Purple Sage’s “Lonesome LA Cowboy“, the song’s honky-tonk hopping arrangement & lyrical content fulfills some sort of weird Phil Kaufman blood pact/prophecy made somewhere out in the Joshua Tree National Forest. “Hanging Out (and Hanging On)” paints a country-western picture of young-gun desperadoes battling derelict feelings & rodeo dreams. And not unlike its grandfather anthem from the aforementioned Bay Area legends NRPS; Half Stalk tackles the bummer days of loneliness with sights set on an open door to directions at dawn. The shoulder shrug lyrics of nothing to do helplessness and a narrative of stoned indifference, ambivalence and apprehension paints a portrait of rolling with the times. Reflections on how days are getting shorter, nights are getting longer depicts a group setting their guiding compass & gauges on the readings of a sundial where existence & events are brought to a rustic state of holistic hymns for tomorrow’s parlors of pop.

In between the group’s busy tour & performances schedules, we had a chance to chat with Half Stack in the following interview feature:

What currently has been inspiring you all lately in Oakland?

There’s a lot of bands and artists in Oakland to be inspired by! All the construction too, love those cranes. Watching those tech commuter buses whip around on the tiny streets. And the Oakland A’s.

From work in Jay Som & Babewatch, tell us about how Half Stack began.

Half Stack is currently a five piece band. We’ve all known each other for a long time and played in different bands over the years, starting back in Santa Cruz where most of us met. It started as a small country project and gradually grew into its current state, incorporating members from other groups in Oakland (Babewatch, Jay Som, Ziplock). We all share a common interest in older country music and (almost) all of us are big Grateful Dead fans. I think its well reflected in the music along with some more modern influences from our local Oakland music scene. But the biggest thing is that we all really have fun playing music together and working on this project.

East Bay’s DIY country-rockers—Half Stack; photographed by Julie Juarez.

How do you find that your work in other bands, other local artists, groups & friends’ bands have further inspired Half Stack?

So much stuff to do, it’s been great for our time management. But theres a lot of inspiring stuff going on in art and music in Oakland and we’re lucky to be surrounded by it.

Tell us about the experience of making the new album with pop music polymath Melina Duterte.

Working with Melina was great. We recorded half of the record in her bedroom studio, but we tracked the rest of it with Andy Oswald at the Secret Bathroom in Oakland. “Hanging Out (and hanging on)” is actually one we tracked with Andy. We did some of the vocals with our buddy Chuck in his practice space, and then Melina mixed the whole album. This one was fun because we got to work with so many different folks to make it happen.

Interested in hearing too about the inspirations behind “Hanging Out (and Hanging On)”, it’s a real jam!

This was a fun one to make! its got some fun lap steel and some harmonies on the chorus and then Oliver takes a big solo at the end to bring it home. Really wanted a part we could chug on, really dig in. Overall we just wanted to make a smooth country inspired jam. I think its influenced by getting older and not really knowing what to do or who you are. Common theme of the whole album.

Half Stack’s logo; official brand appears courtesy of the band.

Other local Bay Area groups that you all are really excited about?

There are! Folks like Unity, Mane, Pendant, and Club Night.

Non-Bay bands & artists that are really inspiring you?

o yeah lots. palm is a big favorite in the band. the county liners from olympia, and faux ferocious from nashville. some of us are suckers for those big metal riffs too

Spring & summer plans for Half Stack?

We’re going on tour in spring and playing SXSW! Hopefully getting back in the studio during the summer and maybe another lil tour at the end.

Parting reflections?

Thanks for listening to this song, take care of each other!

Catch Half Stack on the following March tour dates!

09 San Luis,CA Obispo at SLO Donut Co.
10 San Diego, CA at Aloha Beach Club
11 Tucson, AZ at St. Charles tavern
12 Marfa, TX at Lost Horse Saloon
14-17 Austin TX at SXSW
17 Fort Worth TX at Main at South Side
19 Phoenix AZ at Trunk Space
20 Los Angeles, CA at Non Plus Ultra
21 Santa Cruz, CA at The Crepe Place
23 Portland, OR at Trash Mountain
24 Seattle, WA at Monkey Pub
25 Vancouver, BC at Red Gate
26 Olympia, WA Sleepover at Nils

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