Over several decades, Berlin has quietly established itself as the go-to city for experimental electronic music. Underground techno, industrial, and noise-based genres are flourishing in its centre, drawing producers to the European hub. For left-field Vancouver musician Lief Hall, it proved the perfect place to explore her solo project.
“I played in bands with people locally for many years, in groups like Myths and Mutators,” she tells the Straight on the line from her home. “But I wanted to move to Berlin and my bandmates decided to stay here.
“When I first began making music as a solo artist,” she continues, “I was doing a lot of extended-voice stuff. The first album I created was a piece that was all vocal, called Voices, which put together different textures and layers of sound. I wanted to flesh those ideas out with electronic music, and engage with the thriving experimental pop electronic scene in Berlin.”
The result was her second full-length record—an atmospheric, brooding collection named Roses for Ruins. Joining forces with a Vancouver harpist, drummer, cellist, and guitarist, Hall set out to mix her electronic production with acoustic sounds, playing with different timbres and textures to knit a blend of digital noise and warm tones. The musician made a point of embracing more melodic sounds on her new album.
“It was a challenge to myself to see whether I could make more poplike songs, and be comfortable with that,” she says. “It’s the opposite of most people, but I come from a different musical background, and so for me pop music is an experimental process to dabble in. I still wanted to keep it really true to where my origins in music are, though, so songs like ‘Snakes’ which devolve into this big cacophony of noise and voices are nice to have as well. I don’t think I could release an album and just have it be pop music, but also I don’t want to just be entirely experimental either.”
Lyrically, too, Hall takes elements of pop music and stretches them in new directions. Taking inspiration from the classic love narrative, the musician weaves mentions of technology, identity, and feminism into her discussions, drawing on contexts and lectures borrowed from her grad-school research.
“In pop music, we have this love song that we’re always hearing, and we can break it down to the interactions between two people,” she says. “And that’s important to all of us, that kind of human attraction, but it’s also influenced by the larger context of our society and our culture, and our fears about the future environment and economy—everything plays into those relationships.”
Now having returned from Berlin and settled back in Vancouver, Hall—a seasoned traveller—is raring to depart on her North American tour.
“The hardest transition is from being in a band to a solo artist playing live, because you have to be really comfortable with playing on-stage,” she says. “I think that was one of the biggest adjustments for me. You can always play off the energy of other people on-stage, but when you’re solo you have to create that energy for yourself, and make your own little feedback loop. It’s hard at first but I’m feeling better about it now, and I’m ready to show off the new songs from the album.”
Lief Hall plays the Biltmore Cabaret on Friday (May 25).
Follow Kate Wilson on Twitter @KateWilsonSays