INTERVIEW WITH SEAN DALKE & PHOTOGRAPHS
BY DOMINIQUE D’COSTA
“It started as an internet project with all kids from Connecticut.” After going through lineup changes and unplanned sound adjustments, the band Half Hearted from Hartford has finally found its voice. They have gone from a local band to being streamed all over the country. Their short career has been quite a journey, but every part of those experiences is what makes them who they are today. We spoke with lead singer Sean Dalke about Half Hearted’s debut self-titled record.
What led you to your current sound?
We had our first US tour lined up and an EP written with screaming on it [but no screamer] and we were going on tour with three to four other metal bands. We tried to take the songs that were already done and rewrite them with no screaming. Instrumentally, they didn’t change a lot, but for the most part, I was singing over parts that were meant to be screamed over. It wasn’t necessarily comfortable for me, and the songs weren’t written to sound the way that we released them, but we were in a spot where if we didn’t pump that EP out right away, we were going to have no material to play on the tour. We got it done, we did the tour, and we made the best of it. We played Warped Tour, and at that point we were playing some old songs with no screaming and some of the new songs that weren’t out yet.
“WE ALL KNEW WE WERE GOING TO BE HAPPIER PLAYING A DIFFERENT KIND OF MUSIC”
When we got back from our fall tour, we knew we needed to take a step back and reevaluate, because we loved to tour, loved the lifestyle, got along amazingly, and playing shows every night was amazing. Every part of it was perfect. The only part of it that we weren’t all 100 percent happy with was the actual songs that we were playing. We didn’t feel they represented us as best as we could. So, we were like, “The first thing we’re going to do when we get back from this tour is just totally take a step back and re-evaluate what we are as a band.” We were considering changing our name, rebranding, and totally starting over. But we didn’t feel like we had to. We all knew we were going to be happier playing a different kind of music, and at that point we didn’t really know what it even was yet. So, that’s when we started playing around and we wrote “Eighteen.” Before “Eighteen,” I had never been involved in writing any instrumentals. Jay would take care of instrumentals completely, and then I would write top lines over them. “Eighteen” was the first time that me and him sat down and were experimenting with a bunch of sounds, experimenting with new song structures, and trying different things out—writing the instrumental with me sitting there.
We wrote “Eighteen” and we were all stoked on it. It was the best song we ever wrote. We put it out in March of 2019, and it was like a boom. Streams were coming in faster than we ever had streams come in and everybody was hitting us up. Everybody we’ve ever talked to was saying “Oh, my god, this is the best Half Hearted song ever.” So, we were like, “Okay, maybe this is closer to what we need to do. This sound plays more to the strengths of the current four of us.” Not singing high the whole time, not very aggressive, really focusing on my voice and Jay’s leads, and then having Parker and Nick kind of groove.
What was the writing process for the new album?
We took a whole year off to write this. The first song we wrote for the record was “Breathing Pattern.” It started with that verse. Jay wrote the verse instrumentally first, and then we built the whole song around that idea, including vocals. The other 11 songs were written in vocals and piano first. Jay and I both realized that this writing process plays to both of our strengths better. It was this light bulb moment for both of us where we were just like, “This is how Half Hearted writes songs.” I write a top line with a basic synth or piano under it, and then Jay and I get together and produce a whole instrumental around that top line. At this point, I was already doing music full-time. I had nothing to do but write for us. I was writing for us at night. I was working on other people’s songs during the day. The only thing I cared about or focused on was thinking about our music and writing.
“THIS WRITING PROCESS PLAYS TO BOTH OF OUR STRENGTHS BETTER. IT WAS THIS LIGHT BULB MOMENT”
Did working on music full-time benefit your songwriting for the band?
Definitely. And I think a big part of it is the change in process, because when I was writing when I was working full-time, I just straight-up didn’t have time to write full songs. I didn’t have time to sit down and be like, “Alright, this is the full idea. Let me bring it to fruition.” I was 22-years-old, working 65 hours a week, and miserable. I would work all day and come home, drink and write in my free time. When I was no longer working retail and no longer miserable and had all of this time to do whatever I wanted to do, that’s when it changed to me writing from the core idea. So, I’m figuring out exactly what I want to say and how I want to sing it first, and then we’ll build the whole production around it.
What was the motivation behind writing this self-titled album?
It’s really my journey throughout the year that I wrote about. I took so long to write it because we knew that we were purposely taking a step back and figuring ourselves out. “Breathing Pattern” was the first song that we wrote and most similar to “Eighteen.” It was playful and it was this big dance/rock anthem with horns and a lot of emo elements to it. “Danger” was the next song I wrote. It starts out “Maybe I’m in danger, forced to live a life as just a stranger.” I wrote it in a way that could sound like it’s about a relationship because I wanted people going through that type of deal to be able to relate to it and feel that song and the heat of that moment. But it’s really about my relationship with the music industry and how frustrated I was at that moment. My studio wasn’t taking off, it was not doing well. I had so much time to write for us because I had no work. We were taking a break, we weren’t playing shows, I was only writing. I was in that room for a year. So, then a lot of the songs followed suit with that theme. A lot of the more relationship sounding songs are really me battling with trying to get that breakthrough moment, trying to start my business and do something successful with the band after not doing anything successful with the band since “Eighteen” and not playing shows since then.
“THE MORE RELATIONSHIP SOUNDING SONGS ARE REALLY ME BATTLING WITH TRYING TO GET THAT BREAKTHROUGH”
“Trading Time,” the last song on the record, was actually written while we were on that tour in October 2018. We were somewhere Northwest and I was driving. I parked in a truck stop at four in the morning, it’s pitch black, and I fell asleep. I woke up the next morning and rolled out of the back of the van, looked around, and we were surrounded on every side of us by these huge mountains. I had never seen anything like it. The first thought that enters my mind is, “I wish Lisa [wife] was here to see this with me.” I wrote the lyrics for “Trading Time” in that moment, just wishing she was there. The overall concept of the album is what was going on in my head that year, and it would change month to month. For example, “Thinkin’ bout You” was written about when I found out I was going to be a dad and how my life was going to change in crazy ways becoming a father.
Are you happy with the overall success of the album?
As of right now, “One Drink” is number 30 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Indicator chart. We’ve been getting a few hundred plays each week for the last couple weeks from all different radio stations across the country, and our first week streaming number was just over 150,000 streams on the record as a whole. So, it’s hard to gauge that because we spent so long on this record. It was us acknowledging that we’re taking a step back. We really need to make this a statement. So, obviously we love it and are proud of it, and we expected people to like it as much as we did, but as a creator, there’s always that “Oh my god, what if nobody likes this?” moment. If I’m going to write a song and release it, I want it to be something that I would listen to. If I’m writing a song, I’m trying to write my next favorite song. I expect that to be the case for other people, but obviously any success at all or having anyone listening to it is a huge win.
Since Half Hearted is without management, how did you release this record?
This was the first thing that we’ve done with no outside producers at all. It was completely mixed and mastered on our own. We didn’t have management, didn’t have a label, we didn’t have anybody, really. After the record was done and we thought it was good enough to put out, we got some videos done with our friend Sam Link. Then, we hit up a radio PR Company. We hit them up just to see if they thought that we had any songs that were radio ready. We were expecting the XM route that all these other hard rock bands were taking. When we sent the songs, they hit us back and said that they think we had a really good shot. Not on the XM Hard Rock radio stations, but more on the FM mainstream rock stations. That decision alone to push us into that lane broke a huge barrier that we have been trying to jump over for the entire time we’ve been a band. We’re getting away from that sound, getting out of the heavier scene, and becoming more mainstream. We hit up Big Picture Media and hopped on a call with one of their publicists. She listened to the record, heard what our plan was going to be before releasing it, then she told us what she thought she could do to help us achieve that plan and carry it out. We did this on our own, but we definitely teamed up with a couple of companies that pushed us and helped us carry out our plans.
“WE’RE JUST GOING TO WRITE GOOD SONGS AND NOT THINK ABOUT GENRE.”
How has COVID-19 affected your release and future plans for the band?
Our release show was pushed back to June 13th, which is a bummer. Other than that, it hasn’t done much to us. We didn’t have any big tours planned. We have some album release merch that we were hoping to sell at the show, but it wasn’t a $50,000 order for a huge tour or something. We didn’t get hit nearly as hard as the bands that are touring. We’re not in awful shape. If anything, this is giving me more time to write.
Considering the many sound changes you have gone through, how do you describe Half Hearted’s current genre?
Some of our songs are more rock and some are way more pop. We don’t know what to expect. We’re just going to write good songs and not think about genre.