Surf’s up for Neil Halstead

The British songwriting force behind fabled bands Slowdive and Mojave 3 to ply his trade in Tel Aviv.

British musician Neil Halstead (photo credit: SARA SMITH)
British musician Neil Halstead
(photo credit: SARA SMITH)
For someone who’s been touted “one of Britain’s greatest songwriters” by more than one rock music bible, Neil Halstead still enjoys a fairly anonymous existence.
The driving force behind two revered bands – the 1990s slowgaze hypnotists Slowdive and later the jangly dream-pop revivalists Mojave 3 – Halstead has settled into a primarily acoustic troubadour career over the last decade while continuing to release critically acclaimed masterpieces like 2008’s Oh! Mighty Engine and 2012’s Palindrome Hunches for his large cult following.
The 45-old Halstead said he has no problem receiving praise instead of popstar big bucks, adding that it’s not always an either-or situation.
“I’m not sure anyone really makes money out of music these days. We’re all glorified buskers in the digital age and part of me thinks that perhaps that is the way music should be... a live experience,” said Halstead in an email interview with The Jerusalem Post ahead of his show on November 6 at the Barby Club in Tel Aviv.
“But I love to make records. That’s where the art is and I enjoy that process. And I’ve had some bad press in my career also – it’s something you develop a fairly thick skin about. But at the end of the day I feel lucky to do what I do and make a living from it.”
Halstead has also found the time to revisit his band days. Last year, Spain’s Primavera Festival approached him about reforming Slowdive, and after an almost 20-year hiatus, the group has returned to active duty with tours and a new album on the way. According to Halstead, the members had already been in touch before the Primavera offer emerged.
“I’d done a solo show in London and Rachel [Goswell, both a Slowdive and Mojave 3 member] and the chaps had come along, Rachel sang a few songs with me and I think we just realized that we always had quite a lot of fun together and it might be a bit of a laugh to do some shows and make another record,” he said.
“It’s been great to revisit those songs... and those sounds. We tended to be more about sounds than songs. Mojave haven’t played in a while but I would love to do some shows at some point.”
Perhaps most surprising for Halstead from the Slowdive reunion has been that the band’s popularity has blossomed during the two-decade gap as legend grew and more people heard their albums.
“I think the biggest revelation for us was that not only was there an audience for the music, but that it was a much, much larger audience than there had been at the time. That was a shock to us all,” said Halstead.
A resident of the picturesque coastal county of Cornwall, Halstead has been a surfing enthusiast for years and often works surf music and themes into his song. He credits a stay in California for turning him into a beach bum.
“I got ‘kidnapped’ after Slowdive’s first show in LA and taken to Huntington Beach by a bunch of shoegaze-loving surf rats. I ended up staying for eight months,” he said. “When I returned to the UK, I tried to live back in but soon moved down to Cornwall where there is a very lovely surf scene and I’ve been here ever since.”
It must make it difficult to leave that environment to go on tour, but Halstead insisted that neither wild horses – nor terrorist attacks – would keep him away from his upcoming show in Tel Aviv.
When told that contemporaries like Sebadoh and Sonic Boom’s Peter Kember canceled their Israel concerts due to security concerns, he expressed surprise.
“Well frankly if never occurred to me. A commitment’s a commitment and I’m happy to come and play some music. That’s what I do,” he said. “I don’t like people throwing bombs at each other any more than the next man and I sincerely hope a solution can be found for the problems you have in this part of the world.”
This week, for at least one night, Halstead will bring his whimsical part of the world to ours.