Haulm (JT Norton and Reed Kackley) are set to release their sophomore EP (Posture) in early 2019, and you’ll be able to get a sampling of the minimalist dance vibes at tonight’s Union Stage show in DC, and tomorrow night’s Rough Trade gig in Brooklyn. In advance of the live sets, I was able to hop on the phone to JT to talk about what it’s been like to flesh out the project, and how it’s been to explore creative vulnerability with a friend. You can internet-eavesdrop on our full conversation below, but do be sure to grab tickets to catch Haulm live, and stay tuned for a concrete release date for Posture!
BYT: So you’re based in Austin now, right?
JTN: Yes, technically. Physically. I ran away from New York last year, just to try it out. So far it’s been lovely!
BYT: How’s that bit of distance been in terms of working creatively on this project? Because Reed is still based here in NYC, right? It seems like it’s going fine, but do you have a preference for whether or not you’re physically in a room together working on stuff, or is it easier to just send things back and forth digitally?
JTN: We haven’t had any problems at all with the distance. I think it’s nice to have or own little studios, our own little work flows. We both work really well independently, so we’ll both come up with a bunch of different ideas. It’s kind of nice to work in isolation, actually, because you can get a lot of stuff done without relying on the other person. Then you send it off, and they can just sort of tweak it, so that’s great. Usually there’s no wasted time, which is really nice.
BYT: Did you both immediately feel comfortable being creative partners on this? Obviously there can sometimes be nerves involved when you’re opening yourself up to this shared personal narrative.
That’s a very good question. A lot of why Reed and I work so well together is that bizarre moment when you meet to decide if you really, truly want to be vulnerable. That’s true for any creative endeavor with someone else. It’s like a courting or a dating of that person where you wait to see how they respond to just how open you can be. It’s sort of like, you hold their hand and see how wide their eyes go, or whatever dumb analogy you can make about a relationship. Reed and I had known each other for a while, but we’d never really worked together. Through mutual friends we had the willingness to start the project, but the music didn’t start to take shape until six months of us just sitting in a room together twice a week. We knew we were onto something, which was exciting, but for the most part, we made sure we just kept talking everything over about what we wanted to do with the project, what we wanted to have in a song, how we wanted to build things.
It was a really interesting learning experience for me to just grow a friendship, and grow that trust, and not just focus on the music. Reed is so shy, the most introverted guy, and I am not. [Laughs] But I literally had to be oppressively charismatic with him to have him open up. He hates being on the phone, and I’d call him up every other day just to see how he was doing. He’d be like, “Why are you calling me?!” Eventually he was able to let his guard down, though, because he’s super professional, and he has what I’ll consider the greatest quality of any person I’ve ever worked with – he’s super neurotic about not finishing things, which is the strangest thing I’ve ever come across. He goes nuts if there’s something lingering, so for the rest of us creatively flawed humans who can’t finish a damn thing, partnering up with someone like him has been a life changing experience for me. I just get to create, create, create, and then he gets to help me whittle it all down, and vice versa. I’ve sort of tried to adopt his whole ethos. For lack of a better term, it’s been very sweet to grow alongside each other and figure all of this out.
BYT: It sounds like a really ideal counterbalance. For you, like you said, being the less shy one, what do you feel has really challenged you or pushed you out of your comfort zone with regards to this project?
JTN: I think sitting in a room working on a song, there’d just be stretches where I’d be silent for forty-five minutes, just letting Reed do his thing. Not looking over his shoulder, giving him his space, and having so much respect for someone like him and his solo project, and then learning how to confidently disagree with that forty-five minutes of work that he did. To open up criticism, to actually figure out the right language to try and improve something without hurting anyone’s feelings. And then Reed doing the exact same thing, where I’d work on something and he’d disagree with it. It’s the first time I’ve ever worked on anything with anyone where ego was totally outside of the room. Just because of how sort of different we are, and that we bring (sonically) totally different things to the table, but our interests are totally aligned. So for me, as far as comfort zone, I think every musician thinks they’re not good enough, that there’s always going to be someone better than them, and being around someone as talented as Reed, someone who made me feel so seen and so good at what I do, just allowing myself to feel confident in front of him and for myself was super important. If that makes any sense at all. [Laughs]
BYT: Totally! Well, it sounds like in your case it’s an amazing, serendipitous fit, but do you have any tips for getting into a creative project with a friend? As opposed to someone you’re less emotionally or socially attached to?
JTN: Yes. I think it’s really important to dedicate a lot of time to setting intentions with the music. Not like, genre-wise, but just sitting and thinking about who you want to listen to the music (is it just going to be your friends, and you just want to share it in sort of a local, smaller circle, and just play little house shows?), so figure out the scope you want, and then the foundation of understanding what the project should be, really just exploring every type of avenue so you can practice your own communication, you know?
I’ve realized that fifty percent of this whole project was just figuring out how to ask for something that I wanted. The shock of the writing process being about letting someone else in, or how to talk to them about what they’re doing is beyond important. It’s not about two people making a whole bunch of stuff, it’s about figuring out who should be making what, and allocating those responsibilities and trusting that the other person will do their part. But all of that is just about being open and having enough respect for that other person.
One of the most important things that we did early on (and this sounds so dramatic and annoying and band idiot talk) was we went through all the weird sort of trauma we’ve experienced by being vulnerable. I was in a project where it was an abusive relationship, and it took me years to even want to acknowledge it, but just sort of hashing out all this stuff and what not to do. They say you’re not supposed to talk about your ex with the person you’re currently dating, but that’s not true. You have to show your hand to that other person. That extends across every platform and arena.
BYT: I truly believe that honesty is the best policy. I feel like if people can’t handle the truth, whatever you were doing with that person probably wasn’t headed anyplace that great. Now, coming off of everything we’ve just been talking about, and the honesty and openness, how did all of that factor in with the creation of Posture? I think I read someplace you’ve described it as “confidently sad”; did you go into writing these tracks with that in mind, or did it just kind of emerge naturally?
JTN: As much as I’d love to say that we could be prolific enough to set a theme at the beginning, it was just that once Reed and I started to figure out a color palette of what our sound could be, this sort of patient dance music that no one can dance to, inherently there’s a sort of sulking that’s happening with the sound. I’ve had my heart broken three times, whether it be a relationship or friendship, and I’ve found that to be fairly informative. Pulling from those experiences, at least at this stage, I get to play around with how vulnerable and honest I want to be lyrically. It wasn’t until we got through this handful of songs, and all the stuff that’s not on this EP that might be on a full length, that a sort of catharsis happened. And Reed and I were wondering what to call it, and I immediately said, “Posture.” And we said, “That sort of feels like there’s a confidence to it.” And that felt really good after blurting out all this sad guy stuff. [Laughs] It seemed fitting, and I didn’t want to overthink it.
BYT: Right. And how about performing the songs live? You’ve obviously got a few dates coming up here; how do you bring the tracks to life on stage?
JTN: I just had a nice little run with a band called HONNE. They’re a British band who have a massive following, so we were playing sold out shows to like, 800 cap rooms, which (to me) was lovely, because as an opener I’d go out there and there’d be just like, 700 people patiently waiting. The live show is so much fun, though. It’s all sample-based stuff I’m sequencing, a couple of synthesizers on stage that are receiving notes so I can manipulate things on the fly and make it fairly organic. And then one of the things I really focus on is the live looping of vocals, and processing them through delays and reverbs, and my most favorite tool, my voice, I get to really go off the deep end where I’ve created a lot of structure and rules to follow with the instrumentation. On my end, I get to go wild every night and provide different vocal loops. It’s cool, and part of it sounds exactly like the record because there’s all the samples that are chopped up, but you get this added layer of slight chaos, which is really fun.
BYT: Amazing! What else is on the table for you guys moving forward, then?
JTN: I think after two EPs it’s probably socially acceptable to release a full length. Obviously that sort of hinges on how well this EP does, but I will very safely say that we have a ton of songs lying around that we think are pretty good. We have enough already to make a full length record, but I’m sure we’ll probably scrap all of them because of how good Reed and I are feeling creatively right now.
Featured photo by Joey Postiglione