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Q&A with Half Tail

Half Tail is a rock band from Seattle. Song topics include childhood, heartbreak, dictators, and the gnawing feeling of guilt.


We’re named after a number of old beat-up wild animals: Lions, wolves, elephants -- humans have named many animals “Half Tail” over the centuries. Our upcoming EP, I WAS A COYOTE ALL ALONG, releases on March 22, 2024. It’s mostly about the un-forgiving laws of nature, whether applied to humans or other species.


Our debut EP, CATCHING FROGS AT NIGHT, released in 2022. The songs cover everything from falling in love on a road trip, to running wild as a kid (and stressing out your mom), to an ode for Chelsea Manning.


Band photo of Hail Tail.
Photo Credit: Hunter Boen

Coyotes are an important motif for not just this single, but also the upcoming EP. What drew you to them?


James: Basically, I love animals, and a lot of my inspiration is sparked by thinking about the inner worlds of animals. Coyotes in particular played a role in a childhood experience of mine that we tell in our song "Coyotes". At some point, we decided that coyotes would be a cool theme to tie the EP together. Coyotes are scrappy, playful, clever, and mischievous. I'm not sure I could come up with a better analogy for our band in the animal kingdom.


Animals seem to be a recurring motif for us. We came up with our band name after I went on a trip to India and encountered an elephant named Half Tail. He was an old bull elephant who had lost half of his tail in a fight with a bigger, younger competitor. After that, I started seeing news stories pop up about other old, grizzled animals around the world named Half Tail, such as a lion in Tanzania. It seemed to validate the name choice.


Seth: After a lot of discussions as a band about what to title the new EP the central line in "Coyotes", "I was a coyote all along", really resonated. To me it's James a little older and wiser sympathizing with the scavengers lying in wait. I think the urban coyote images are a good reminder that we're not as civilized as we like to think we are. 


What is your writing process like as a band?


James: Usually I (singer/guitarist) will bring a partially complete song idea to the group -- like a verse and a chorus -- and then we'll experiment with it for a couple months until it starts to take its final form. The other guys are excellent at what they do and develop their parts with pretty minimal input from the group. We eventually sort out the full song structure after jamming on it for a few band practices.


When we're lucky, the gestation period of a song is as short as 1-2 months from when I introduce the idea to when we're premiering it at a show. But sometimes it takes much, much longer. I came up with the idea for "Coyotes" in 2009. I showed the song to the band a few years ago, and it took us until now to release it, 15 years after I first made a demo in my college bedroom.


Seth: Recording is one of my favorite parts of the process. Once we have song structures down, we'll record some basic demos to make sure our parts are working and try out ideas. I like to have my parts mostly worked out before we go into the studio, but it's important to leave space for experimentation and happy accidents. I usually go a little overboard with vocal harmonies on my demos, but it helps to get the ideas out and work toward something more appropriate. 


How did you all meet?


James: Aaron (bass) and Carl (drums) were in another band, and the frontman of that band invited me to join as a co-frontman because we were good friends and had played in other bands together. We released an EP as that band, which included our songs "Where I End" and "Laws". But then that frontman lost steam and decided to leave the band, so we had to kind of reform into something new with just my songs. 


We put an ad out on Craigslist for a lead guitarist and auditioned several people. Seth had a sound that fit well with us, and he comes up with a lot of really creative ideas on guitar that I don't expect.


We played our first show as Half Tail in January 2020, and then COVID put the band on hiatus for over a year. But we kept in touch and shared ideas over lockdown, and we were pretty quickly able to come out of it and record our first EP, Catching Frogs At Night.


Seth: The forced hiatus right off the bat was rough, but in the downtime we got to know each other as musicians and people in ways we might not have otherwise. 

 

Do you have a favorite song you’ve written? 


James: My favorite songs of ours are probably "Coyotes" and "Youngest Son" -- a single coming out a couple months after our upcoming EP. For me, the hardest part of making music is writing lyrics that don't suck. But at least with those two songs, I'm proud of the lyrics and the storytelling. 


Seth: It's hard to pick a favorite. "What Was I To Do?" is one that I'm really proud of. Both on the recording and when we play it live we're all really tuned into each other, and it's one of those songs you can tell you are playing well live when the audience gets quiet. 


Band photo of Hail Tail.
Photo Credit: Emma Hanks

Your next EP is slated to be released in March. Can you give us some insight on what to expect from it?


James: Yes! Our second EP, I Was A Coyote All Along, releases March 22nd.


Compared to our earlier releases, this EP is at times both heavier and softer. I think the songs take on a darker atmosphere, but they almost all have tongue-in-cheek moments lyrically. We've got coyotes. We've got romantic imbalances. We've got existential guilt about watching horrific world events from the comfort of your home. There's something for everyone.


Seth: To me it sounds more confident and also more vulnerable than Catching Frogs At Night. We're a lot more comfortable with playing together now and leaving space. We worked with the same engineer Sam Rosson who recorded and mixed our previous EP, so we had both the familiarity of someone trusted to work with and the inspiration of being in a new setting. 


Who, or what, has most influenced your music and artistic style?


James: My all-time favorite artist is probably Jason Molina of Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co. fame. My goal is often to capture some semblance of the atmosphere he conjured in his music.


Seth: As a guitar player my two biggest influences are Tom Verlaine and Johnny Marr. Tom's influence is definitely all over my parts on I Was A Coyote All Along, particularly the floaty volume swells and the off-kilter solo on "Did You Really Wanna Do It?" Rest in peace, Tom.


What are you listening to currently?


James: Current obsessions are MJ Lenderman, Say Sue Me, and Subsonic Eye. More locally, I really like the latest albums from Divorce Care and La Fonda.


Seth: I've been listening to a binaural recording of Art Tatum's "Piano Starts Here" and the latest stuff from American Analog Set. For local artists, Loose Wing's Miracle Baby and Somesurprises are getting a lot of plays.


Listen to Half Tail's single "Coyotes" now.


Band photo of Hail Tail.
Photo Credit: Luke Brown


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