Henry Green, Illuminated: The Creation of 'Half Light' [Interview]

Interview with Henry Green

video stills by Josh Aarons

“I’m half in the light, half in the shadow; I’m not quite myself but there’s so much more to come from me.”

There’s a certain duality that floods Henry Green’s upcoming sophomore album ‘Half Light’, out June 12. Fascinated by sound, the Bristol-based singer, songwriter, and producer created an immersive world in just six months. Although finding sparks of inspiration within the pressure of a time crunch, the circumstances that allowed him to bring some of his greatest work to life were nearly his detriment.

“I spent too much time by myself,” he admits. “I wrote, produced, recorded the whole thing myself, and in some ways I’m proud of that, but also the overriding feeling is that it was a lonely process.” Although having worked with a few collaborators in the past, his choice to work solo came as a result of having such a highly-developed vision for his music – one so distinct that it was hard for him to imagine other musicians adding their colors to the mix. Looking back, he might have involved others in order to pull himself from the enveloping shade of overthinking.

“In some ways my best collaborator is myself, but also the worst as well,” he continues. “I found myself mentally in the dark. I’ve always written about light – I think it just works so well metaphorically. The actual album title, ‘Half Light’, came quite early in the process. It’s a lyric from the first song on the album. And I just liked that idea, because this album has been quite difficult to write, and I feel like I’ve had a few personal struggles through the process. [It’s] that idea of just being honest [that] you’re not quite feeling yourself and you’re not feeling fully illuminated.”

Henry didn’t come from a musical family or formal background, but his passion for music runs deep, songwriting since the age of 14 and honing in on his sound two or three years later. “I just started to pick up a guitar once and play around,” he recalls. “I had guitar lessons for a long time where I was just learning other people’s songs, and all I wanted to do was create my own. I can’t really pinpoint where that love of music came from. I think it’s more a love of creation – I love to create something from nothing.” And his songs truly have the sense of emerging from a blank state of mind, with unearthly layers and perpetually circulating motions. The listener is pulled into a juxtaposition of tranquil stillness and restless fluctuation.

“In the arrangements, I’m always trying to counteract things,” he describes. “I’m always trying to have opposites attracting, the electronics mixing with the acoustics. If I’m putting in a completely synthetic element, something fabricated by a laptop, or a synthesizer, I’m always wanting to counteract that with the personality and the character of an acoustic instrument; the hollowness of an acoustic guitar, or the hammers hitting the piano…Otherwise everything can be just synthetic – you’re not capturing the heart and soul from the instruments. I feel like sometimes I need to ground an arrangement with an acoustic element that people recognize.”

In other ways, developing two contrasting parts can be a source of conflict for him. “I find that I’m either really hung on the production and I’m trying to make that sound shiny, [and] make it sound tight, and I feel like I neglect some of the emotional side,” he reflects. “[Or], I’ll write a song that I’m really proud of, [but] I can’t quite complement [it] properly with production. So that’s definitely an ongoing challenge.” In the end, though, he finds excitement in the effort to strike the perfect balance.

Perfectionism infiltrates all of his work; something that allows him to invent detailed, intricate musical patterns like no other artist. However, he also has a desire to get back in touch with his carefree, younger self. “When I was 16, 17, and starting to produce [and release] my own stuff, I was just doing these things in an evening and then putting them out,” he explains. “I almost want to retrace my steps to when I was younger. You know, that kind of innocence you have when you’re first making music, and just throwing it out into this online world and not really thinking about the implications of it.”

The most well-known of his spontaneously-released tracks is 2017’s “Electric Feel”, a raw cover of an MGMT song that, to Henry, lacks any of the typical perfection that he strives to achieve. “It’s funny how that can connect with so many people, and you could spend two years working on something that maybe doesn’t connect with people in the same way,” he expresses. A chance encounter on Soundcloud gave the track even more exposure as well through what’s now a multi-million streamed remix. “I had a message from a guy called Kygo – he was quite small at the time, and he just said, ‘Oh, I’ve remixed your song’,” he laughs. “And I was like, ‘Oh, okay. I didn’t really give you permission, but that’s fine’. And it blew up, and he got massive, and obviously that got me a load of new listeners.”

But it’s the original songs that define Henry Green, and he has plenty more to come, conjuring images from his sounds that are nearly three-dimensional. “The way I’ve written has always been very visually emotive,” he relates. “Whenever I’m writing, I’m always imagining textures and colors. I want to touch on those senses; I want people to, as I say a line, feel it under their skin.” It’s a powerful approach, with each chord feeling like the vibrations of a distant mechanical whir, and each synth arpeggiation feeling like grains of sand slipping through your fingers.

“It’s just always been a thing within my music to try to create those kind of swirls, those movements,” he says. “[With] the last album, ‘Shift’, the main intention was to create a record that flows in different ways throughout. I like the idea of nothing being too linear, and having these twists and turns.”

There are many twists and turns on ‘Half Light’, too, as well as countless intimate moments stemming from sounds that provide an organic resonance. “A lot of my percussion is built out of iPhone recordings,” he reveals. “I’ll be out somewhere and I’ll hear someone knock something, and I’ll go over and knock it myself. It’s little things like that that I’m connected to. And then there’s things like my nylon classical guitar. I love recording that because you get this really wholesome, warm sound.” He also walks the line between the musician mindset that wants to leave these moments be, and the producer mindset that craves to chop, warp, and manipulate.

As it turns out, though, intimacy was something that he wanted to step away from initially for this album. “I think that [came] from a desire to enjoy my music more,” he explains. “When things are so personal, and you’re giving all of yourself into either your lyrics or into the delivery of the vocals or anything like that, it’s hard to detach yourself from that piece of music. It’s hard to hear it as the listener and not as the creator. So I think I wanted to make something that didn’t feel as me as me. I essentially wanted to make a dance record. But ultimately it went the other way, and I think that’s because I got so wrapped up in my own head and I started to write my truest lyrics.”

His first single from the album, “Realign”, is a pulsating track with evocative strings and crisp beats, his vocals drawing you in close. The music video, just recently released, was conceived by his friend Josh Aarons. “We wanted to allow each concept that came to life to take its own route and not tether them to each other,” Henry says. “[We shot] this first concept in a kind of desert landscape. It’s to represent the mind, and that endless space that you feel when you’re in your own head, and the quest that you’re on to find something different and ultimately ending up in the water.” The visuals take the audience on a breathtaking journey through stark expanses of sand, faraway silhouettes, and the relief of churning waves.

But if he had to choose a track from the album that he’s most connected to, it would be one called "Fabric”, which will also have a video to follow. “[It’s] probably my favorite track I’ve ever written," he tells us. "Just the way it flows and just the lyrical themes that I explore. I came up with a concept that I really like the idea of. The first lyric is, ‘We put fabric on our skin / Fold it back to let the water in’, and I think that’s just a really nice idea; this visual of soaked clothing and that being a metaphor for letting your true and honest words out, and giving those honest words to people.”

With endless metaphors and expressive soundscapes, we’re ready to be pulled into every dimension of ‘Half Light’.

Stream "Realign" and pre-order 'Half Light'

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