We had a chance to talk with the April’s Featured Artist, A Halo Called Fred. They are a delightful group of musicians with a serious amount of talent.
Q: Where did you come up with the name “A Halo Called Fred”?
Geverend: A halo is a circle of light that represents the goodness of an angelic being. A Halo Called Fred is a circle of light that reflects the reflected goodness of all humanity.
Brushwood: We like to think if there is, or can ever be, a collective halo of goodness around humanity, it will be friendly and familiar, with an easy to remember name. We believe this name is Fred.
Q: Geverend Dee, tell us some of the characteristic of Strum-strum, Swirly and Woody and why you choose one over another for a given song?
Geverend: Woody is my acoustic — A 1973 Martin D-28. It’s great for really folky stuff and a classic acoustic sound, but it’s very difficult to get a good live sound from unless we’re doing an entirely acoustic show, so I save it for recording or really small rooms with no mics.
Strum-Strum is the all purpose guitar — A Hofner J-17 hollow body jazz guitar. Great for anything jazzy or with a countryish twang. And it’s big and bulky and bright red, so great visually on a larger stage.
Swirly was my first ever electric guitar – a 1980’s Kramer Aerostar ZX10 that I bought used from a high school classmate for $75. It’s got one bridge pickup, only one knob, and was meant to be a beginner metal guitar if you play lots of power chords. It has a really cool swirly hippie paint job from another high school friend of mine, and probably has more sentimental value than actual sound quality, but it’s good for really raw metal or punk sounding stuff, and it’s small and easy to carry around for gigs that are harder to travel to, or for squeezing the band onto a really small stage.
Q: Brushwood, you play a lot of different instruments. Care to elaborate on the technique you use with Tupperware? and what is a Bang-O-Tron?
Brushwood: Bang-O-Tron is the name of the surface upon which the Brushwood beat is played. And the Brushwood beat is the best low-cost found objects I can find that approximate what I imagine a real drum kit sounds like. In my head, I’m playing exactly like Dave Grohl, Jimmy Cobb, and Clem Burke. But I’ll happily go with Ringo Starr, Mo Tucker, and Skid Roper. Sadly, only truly vintage, and now difficult to find, flat-surface nigh-unbreakable Tupperware and Rubbermaid gives that sweet thick sound. You can’t buy it at Target.
Q: So you have songs about body parts and flying things. What was the inspiration for some of these?
Brushwood: Have you ever looked at bugs, walking/flying around like they own the planet, which they kind of do? It’s infuriating. In the words of Lucy Van Pelt, “What makes YOU think you’re so happy?!?”
Geverend: The boring answer is that the Body Parts and Flying things EP was a result of looking at the songs we were recording and saying “Whoa! Those things are all body parts or flying things!” The original concept for that EP was to see if we could write songs that were only one note. “Aliens” succeeds in this, and the lyrics were inspired by the alien sound of the song. “Butt” Starts out on one note, but gets a little crazies on the verses…. The rest — well– how many one-note songs do you REALLY need?
Brushwood: That one song was called “70 Bucks” until we realized there’s a Yiddish body part in the chorus.
Q: You perform at a wide range of conventions and counter-cultural events. What are some of your favorite stories from these shows? – you can have each member tell their own favorite moments
Queenie: Playing at Wicked Faire in 2011 and getting shut down during our love song by the police because someone complained that we were playing “loud devil music”.
Brushwood: That same music later won over a summer outdoor gathering of Faerie people, at a mountain farm. I wasn’t sure that it would! But it’s important to note that our themes at their core are not about embracing evil and misery, but about overcoming it. Or at least feeling better by singing about them. It’s geek blues.
Geverend: One stand out moment in my mind – we were playing at the International Steampunk City – which was a steampunk event they used to do in an old historical village. Our set was right before sundown, and someone had just crashed their car into the telephone pole right outside the event, causing a town-wide power outage. We ended up playing a completely acoustic set in an old barn which ended with an impromptu conga-line of steampunks weaving in and out out an old historical village, with no lights , and it truly felt like an out-of-time experience.
Tiny: My favorite memories are of the after parties after some of the early Wicked Faires which I can’t really give any details about, but let’s just say they were very fun.
Q: You get to (have to) travel a lot for your music. What is the strangest place you have ever performed?
Brushwood: A fetish and S&M dance event in Manhattan. I can’t remember most of it. Lots of leather and thongs. I was overdressed.
Geverend: Brushwood, I remember that gig well! In fact I was going to pick the same one! It was the Sybarites Ball in Philadelphia which we played at some point in the mid-90s. A very large percentage of the audience and performers were wearing nothing but thongs and body paint, so we naturally decided the most punk rock thing we could do was play in corporate looking shirts and ties.
Brushwood: It was the 90s, so we were still dressing for the 80s.
Tiny: That gig at the Gothic Bar. That was the first gig I did with you guys, in Staten Island. An after hours bar. We didn’t even start our set until 2 in the morning, and we played until about 5 in the morning. It was full of all these Long Island guidos who couldn’t give a shit what we were doing and were a little annoyed that we weren’t doing Shania Twain covers. At one point we were playing and everybody was looking and I thought, “Oh wow, great, they’re paying attention!” But then I realized the TVs behind us were playing some Pamela Anderson show where she was in a bikini. So yeah, the Gothic Bar.
Queenie: Every Halo gig is strange. That’s the new normal for Halo.
Q: As a follow-up to that last question, is there a venue, event or a city in particular where you haven’t yet performed, but really want to?
Brushwood: The Way Station in Brooklyn. The bathroom is a TARDIS.
Tiny: Carnegie Hall. Red Rocks. My parents’ back yard. That’s a gig we could actually get.
Queenie: Perhaps Amsterdam.
Geverend: I want to be the first band to play from space. So if anyone reading this interview works for NASA…
Q: Tiny, you not only play the bass units, The Shark and Uprighty, you are the master of audio. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced at various venues?
Tiny: Most of the places we’ve played have had very competent sound engineers, but occasionally we run into a situation where for example they only provide one microphone, and we need about 5 at a minimum. Or where there’s not sufficient monitoring. Or we’ve run into cases where there’s supposed to be back line, and we showed up and there was nothing. Luckily, I try to carry as much extra gear with me as I can but it’s impossible to be prepared for every situation.
Q: Musicians are famous for putting outrageous requests in their contract riders. Is there anything special you ask for?
Brushwood: Bottled water, and a working toilet.
Geverend: I’d ask for all of Van Halen’s green M&M’s, but since they don’t play much any more, I think neither would we….
Tiny: Well, besides knowing if they have the facilities to house two Bengal tigers? You know, I’m pretty low maintenance. Just the tigers.
Queenie: How about a personal masseuse?
Q: Queenie, which instrument did you learn first, the Baby Vee Violin or the Uko Ono Ukelele? and how easy was it to learn the other?
Queenie: I’ve been playing violin since I was 9, so that’s my main instrument. Baby Vee is my main violin, but I also have a solid body electric violin named “Betty White” that I play in a lot of live shows. I don’t claim to know how to play Uko Ono, unless you count “Tiptoe Through The Tulips” and a few notes on “Drinking for Science”. I also play bass, and every once in a while on a rare occasion, I get to do that with Halo.
Q: In your album, Lies, Damned Lies and Songs, you have a song Pignocerous of Spleebonia. Care to help us understand what that is?
Brushwood: I don’t think that song was about anyone. At first. The gift of prophecy is a curse.
Geverend: One night in 2012, Queenie told me about a prophetic vision she had while talking to Tiny about “Pignocerous of Spleebonia, the Pig Man with the Rhinocer-Ass”, and suggested that there was a song in this somewhere, and I should write more lyrics to it. My first thought was that this is a very evil politician – a man who uses fear and lies to create imagined “Very Real” threats to manipulate the public into supporting him. The song is from the perspective of one of his deluded supporters. And did I mention that it was written in 2012, a full four years before the 2016 election? We wonder sometimes if this was a true prophecy or just the inevitable conclusion of where politics was heading.
Q: You have been performing together for quite a while. How did you meet?
Brushwood: Geverend and I met creating college radio promotions, which turned into radio comedy. One day, we tried forming a band because we had similar tastes. I wanted to be Jonathan Richman, but my own guitar lessons sadly did not help. Instead, I played along using objects around my bedroom as makeshift drums.
Geverend: I had been trying to start a band for a while before Brushwood and I started playing together. Before that I’d meet with really talented musicians who wanted showcase their playing ability and play covers and jam, and all I wanted to do was start a band that focused on songs – writing simple songs, and playing them as close to possible to what was envisioned, and yet the other bands I tried forming never seemed to get around to actually playing any of the songs I’d written. The first time I jammed with Brushwood, I noticed he had some drumsticks around his house but no drums – so he grabbed a frisebee and a fan and just started banging them, and I picked up an old acoustic guitar, and we actually PLAYED through a bunch of original songs, and even wrote a few more that night… The rest is history. Tiny joined the band years later, followed by Queenie (After a very long hiatus), and this solidified the current lineup and the current sound.
Tiny: Halo’s old bass player Jim Bob and I grew up together and went to the same school. We both started getting into playing music around the same time and formed a Rush cover band in high school. Years later, when Jim Bob left Halo to begin his journey to the City on the Lake of Salt, I was asked to take on bass duties, and the rest as they say is Herstory.
Queenie: After being a long time Halo fan and recording violin on their song “Nekked Hoedown” some years back, Tiny approached me about a gig halo was playing and asked if I’d want to play with them. I happily said, “Sure. How many songs are you talking about?” and Tiny said “all of them”. It was supposed to be a one off show, but it was so much fun, I convinced Geverend we should keep playing, and here we are today!
Q: Death is a huge theme in Sage and Savant – they die in every episode. Tell us what your personal attitude towards death is.
Queenie: It’s quite final. But I believe the soul moves on.
Geverend: Our bodies, our minds, and our identities are byproducts of the evolution of the universe – matter and energy that forms our distinct selves. But our spirit comes from a pool of spiritual energy. When we are born the liquid from this pool freezes into a solid structure giving us our life and our identity. We live our lives and the structure of this solid form grows and changes, but remains uniquely ourselves. And then we die and the energy melts back into the pool, to be freely mixed with the energy of all other life. Thus, our lives are a solid enduring structure in the four dimensional fabric of space-time, with threads stretching out to the lives of all others. And yet we experience this in a traveling across that fourth dimension not knowing how it will end, and evolution has given us the drive to extend the fourth dimension of our lives as long as possible, filling us with a sense of dread and impending doom. All that’s left is to hold off death as much as possible, relate to it in all of our art forms, and know that this inevitability puts death at the heart of the Essence of Comedy.
Bruhwood: Art is like writing graffiti on the bathroom wall of life. Once you leave, you hope the next person in the room is amused by what you left there. If you’re lucky, that wall will one day be on a museum pedestal. With a newer better bathroom in the corner, by the gift shop.
Tiny: F*** it, we’re all gonna do it some day, right? Might as well enjoy it before it comes.
Q: Are there any shows you are really looking forward to this coming year?
Geverend: Yes! we have two big steampunk weekend festivals coming up:
The Steampunk World’s Fair – May 5-7 – The Radisson and Embassy Suites in Piscataway, NJ
Steampunk in the Catskills – June 9-11 – Blackthorne Resort, East Durham, NY
We are VERY psyched to be organizing:
The Freaky Mutant Weirdo Variety Show – November 25th – Roxy and Duke’s Roadhouse, Dunellen, NJ
This will be a variety show of mashups – featuring combined performances between music, spoken word, projected film, belly dancers, sideshow performers, and many others! Details and additional acts to be announced!
Q: If you wanted to tell our listeners ONE THING – what would that be?
Tiny: Be good to each other and have a good time all the time!
Queenie: Every Halo show is the greatest moment in the history of time and space!
Geverend: We Love You All!
Brushwood: (freezes in terror, stares blankly)
Q: Last question, I’ll be serious. Where can fans buy your music if they are not fortunate enough to have a show in a location near them?
All over the interwebs!
And for general band info and updates: