Half Moon Light, the latest album from The Lone Bellow, was released on February 7th of this year and contains multiple songs with subject matter and lyrics that sound like they could have easily been written last week, yesterday, or today about all of our collective experiences living through and with the coronavirus pandemic. Separation, isolation, reconnection, survival, hope, love, and fear are just some of the themes that this sprawling record addresses. By phone, I spoke with Zach Williams of the group about the album, about where we were as a society before the coronavirus pandemic hit, about where we are at now, and about where we will all be after it subsides.
Americana Highways: Without there being a specific track on the record with the title Half Moon Light, how did you arrive at the title of the album?
Zach Williams: We wanted to name the album after how we thought it might make people who listen to it feel. Half Moon Light is from a line in one of the songs on the album called “Wash Me Clean,” which is a song that basically is a letter that my bandmate Brian wrote to his father.
The line goes ”Half Moon Light over your shoulder in the canyon that you made” which is a beautiful line about Brian’s dad’s struggles with just being a human being. The song also refers to a lot of the turmoil surrounding the relationship between Brian and his father and how they found peace with each other a couple of years before he passed away. So basically its a song about the struggles we all face in this life and in relationships and in that sense that is what the entire album is about.
AH: On the album, you include, in three different sections,a recording of your grandmother playing piano and singing at your grandfather’s funeral. What do you think that track lends to the album?
ZW: Because this record sounds so different from our earlier work, we weren’t sure how our fans were going to take to it, so we wanted to make sure we included something that served as an homage to the tradition of where we are from and where we are going. This recording does just that.
I think it was also just a celebration of life that I felt I needed to shine some light on, not specifically for my grandpa, but for all of us as human beings. It’s just so easy for us as human beings to dodge the full story of life by avoiding talking about death. But death is a part of that story and being able to listen to my grandmother celebrate my grandfather’s life at his funeral by singing and playing the piano was a great reminder of this fact.
AH: What was it like working with Aaron Dessner (of The National) as a producer on the record ?
ZW: You know,this is the first time that we actually went back and worked with a producer that we had worked with before. For all of our other records, we would go and meet the guy that was interested in working with us and we would be like “Alright, let’s do it”. This time, we didn’t want to do that. We are at a place in our career where we wanted to work with someone that had become a friend and we had done Then Came The Morning back in 2015 with Aaron, so I just reached out to him and he was totally down for it.
But, I will tell you, from the very get-go,he told us that with this record he was going to push us out of our comfort zone and he did that by showing us another way of delivering our songs.He had us do the songs in a way that made it so that the vocals and the lyrics were what was steering the ship emotionally for the music instead of the other way around, which was the way we were used to doing it. So working with Aaron on this record, was both very exciting and very daunting and in the end we were grateful that he pushed us to do things differently.
AH: Half Moon Light was released on February 7th of this year and so many of the songs on the album are about hope and optimism in hard times and about us reconnecting with each other. Do you sometimes feel like you guys were being prophetic with the release of this album?
ZW: I can’t say that we were being prophetic because the things that we talk about on the album were already here when this pandemic started. I think that we were already becoming more alone or isolated as individuals, in one sense, because of the way of life that we had fallen into with everything on social media, with people being their own avatars, and with us losing the ability to connect or converse with each other on a one on one or face to face basis.
I do, however, believe that the pandemic and its consequences have shaken us up and given us some clarity as a society and I believe our record is maybe a part of that new conversation.
I, for one, am excited to see what kind of beauty rises out of the ashes and out of humanity after all of this is done. I think it’s going to be scary and brutal but I am also optimistic about our world. I’m looking forward to seeing just what kind of wonders are going to be out there once we get through this thing.
It’s kind of crazy how some of the lines from some of the songs on the album speak to this phenomenon. There’s the line “ How are we going to find each other when the dust settles” from the song “Dust Settles”, there’s “If yesterdays’ too heavy, lay it down” from the song “Martingales”, and there’s the line “You can count on me if I can count on you” from “Count On Me”.
We intentionally tried to put ourselves in other people’s shoes and tell other people’s stories with a lot of songs on this album and I believe it shows because the songs are so timely it’s almost like the album is being emotionally rereleased right now
AH: What does the future hold for The Lone Bellow?
ZW: I don’t know. I have no idea. The only future that I have to hold onto right now is that I think that we are going to keep connecting with our people, our fans, more than we have in the past.
I do know this – I am grateful for the time that we have right now. I’m grateful for the work that we’ve been able to do and I don’t expect anything more. I’m just grateful to be alive and to be able to do what I do with my band and I’m grateful for having been able to meet all the wonderful people I have met doing it over the years.
I also know I can’t wait for the opportunity to play shows again.
Oh my God, I can’t wait for the moment, I don’t care if its 15 people, I don’t care if its 8 people, I don’t care if its 2,000 people, I can’t wait to sing those words “If yesterday is too heavy, put it down, put it down”. I can’t wait for that moment when we’re allowed to do that again.
I guess to finish answering your question, I’ve never been so unsure of the future in my entire life. But we’re all in this thing together, so I don’t feel anxiety over the future. In fact, because of that, it makes me feels a little more hopeful.
Half Moon Light by The Lone Bellow is available on their website.