Sombear goes dance pop on Love You in the Dark
Before Now, Now got a major-label record deal and began giving performances on late-night talk shows, Brad Hale was just a typical mixed-up suburban teen with a hidden love for dance-pop. The drummer for the moody local indie-rock trio titled his synthy solo project Sombear, and decided to revisit those youthful passions on Love You in the Dark, his solo debut.
While the occasional vocodering of his reedy tenor nods toward current trends, the bulk of Dark plays like a talented Depeche Mode disciple going for broke after soaking up a thousand spins of Violator. An icy Reagan-era aesthetic largely prevails, and Hale smartly takes some surprisingly warm hip-shaking detours along the way (the disco-driven "Never Say Baby" being a particularly delightful and Daft Punk-ish surprise). Not long after Love You in the Dark's nationwide release Hale, 26, took time out to talk with City Pages and share the still-unfolding story of finding his footing as a frontman.
City Pages: You've been a working musician for the entirety of your adult life, but it's always been with one band. Did creating in isolation feel like starting back at square one?
Brad Hale: It's simultaneously scary and liberating. With Now, Now everything we do is collaborative. By contrast, Sombear is completely me. It's something that I've really wanted to explore musically since I was a kid, but lacked the courage to pursue. The whole process has been sort of therapeutic. The songs are made up of musical ideas and personal emotions that I've been secretly hoarding for ages, so to put them out there for public consumption has been this intense thing that's really pushed me out of my comfort zone in a good way.
CP: Your liner notes shout out Now, Now bandmate Jess Abbott for "calling my voice 'sexy' and giving me a self esteem boost." Do you feel secure as a lead singer now that you've got a full album under your belt?
BH: I understand how my voice works, but I'm far from having it all figured out when it comes to singing lead. The thought of singing in front of people is still always scary to me, particularly because this set of songs is so personal. That's more the psychological part of it; the physical part is probably even hard. Last week when I was preparing to record a live session on [89.3 the Current's] the Local Show, I killed my voice after like three days because I'm just not used to singing so much. The same thing happened during the recording process for the album a few times. It's definitely still a work in progress.
CP: For that Local Show performance you had Death Cab for Cutie's Chris Walla in town to play in your band. Just like Now, Now's last album, Sombear's record was released on Walla's label, Trans-Records. What does his continued support mean to you?
BH: He's an amazing resource professionally, but he's also a friend. When he was just in Minneapolis we had some really great conversations about both the music industry and life in general. It is strange to have formed a friendship with someone that I grew up idolizing. It's still sort of surreal to me that I can call Chris, or that he would fly out to Minneapolis to help with my music. There's always kind of a dreamlike aspect to it in some respects, but at this point it's not like I'm star-struck in his company or anything. He's just a really sincere guy and the label he runs feels like a super special thing to be a part of. When he was here in my basement writing new guitar parts for some of the songs for how we were going to play them live, I couldn't stop smiling the entire time. That was really the first time we had collaborated on a music-creating level, and it was beyond exciting.
CP: A different incarnation of Sombear is set to hit the road next month in support of Dessa. How are you planning to translate the dense, sample-heavy sound of the album to the stage?
BH: When I originally started work on this record, I never thought the songs would ever be performed live. It just worked out that Now, Now had a fairly large break from touring around the same time the Sombear record was going to come out, and the opportunity to tour just sort of arose a month or two ago. I still don't really know what it's going to be like even now. I've sort of grown to hate computers in live performance. It feels much more solid and creative to me to work with synthesizers and drum machines rather than trigger samples with a keyboard. For the Dessa tour it will probably be me and a drummer. Right now a lot of what Sombear actually is remains a mystery to me. I kind of prefer it that way because it leaves room for the project to change alongside me.
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