Justin Peroff of Broken Social Scene plus Dave Hamelin and Liam O’Neil of The Stills make up Eight and a Half

Eight And A Half is the new kid on the block in the Indiesphere — kind of. The trio isn’t exactly new to the whole “band” thing, with former Stills members Liam O’Neil and Dave Hamelin and Broken Social Scene drummer Justin Peroff. It all started one night, when the long-time friends played together just for fun. Fast-forward three years, and that jam has evolved into Eight and a Half’s debut album Scissors, slated for release on April 10. The trio is now getting ready to promote their brooding synth-rock record and The Varsity spoke to Liam O’Neil about being in a new band again.

 

THE VARSITY

I read in an interview that you’re already working on new stuff. Have you moved on from Scissors before it’s even come out?

LIAM O’NEIL

No no, it’s just that we always write, we’re always working. As the album starts to come out, we’re not going on the road right away. We thought the best use of our time was to seize that “downtime” we have and try to capture as much as possible, so once we do get really, really busy, we have some stuff in the bank for later.

THE VARSITY

You, Dave, and Justin started working together while you were all still busy with your previous bands. Can you tell me about that process? When did you say, “Alright, we’re doing this as a band?”

LIAM O’NEIL

The first time we jammed together, Justin had come to Montreal after BSS played Ottawa Blues Fest and we decided to go down to the Stills’ practice space where we had a small studio set up. We jammed and had some fun and had two song ideas that came out of the mix. And then we decided that it was so fun that we should go back the next day instead of, you know, going to the mountain and the park and drinking wine with all our friends in the sunshine. After two or three days of jamming and having fun, we were like “This is actually pretty good; this is something that could lead to something else.” And I think that was kind of the moment when we decided, “Let’s do this. Let’s try to make this work with our schedules.” BSS was making a record at the time. And The Stills, we had kind of retooled ourselves and gotten back to the original line-up and we were in an attempt to make our fourth album. We only got part of the way through and decided it wasn’t the right time. But amidst all that, whenever the three of us had time to get together and work on music, Justin would just fly in to Montreal and stay for anywhere between three days and two weeks and we worked on it. After that first session, we knew we wanted this to be something that was real and not some passive, fun side project.

THE VARSITY

I feel like “Go Ego” is an instant hit, because it’s so catchy, whereas the rest of the album is more atmospheric and works best in its entirety. Is that something you were going for?

LIAM O’NEIL

I think for this record more than any I’ve made before, we had no idea what it was going to be until it was finished. Every time we got together and made music, we added another little facet to whatever the shell of this band is. We were kind of just going with our instincts and we were all inspired by the fact that we weren’t constrained to any other moulds of what our previous bands were. The fact that we were recording and producing it ourselves was also liberating. I think we didn’t quite figure out what the sound of our band was until we collected all the songs that we thought were the right songs for the album, had it mixed and then listened back and said “Oh I guess that’s what our band sounds like.” A lot of it actually goes to Joe Mahoney who mixed the album. He was able to see all the connecting threads between the music that we had made and make the whole thing sound like one piece of art.

THE VARSITY

Were you surprised by how synth-heavy it turned out to be?

LIAM O’NEIL

No, that part of it we knew, that it was going that synthy route. What I think we didn’t know was how dark and atmospheric the record was. At different times, we thought different things, like “this sounds what you’d expect a collaboration between The Stills and BSS would sound like” or “this sounds like a more melancholic version of MGMT.” Once we were finished, we thought we made a pretty sombre, dark record with a few more upbeat numbers — as you mentioned, “Go Ego” being one of them.

THE VARSITY

 All three of you played in bigger bands previously, in terms of the number of people. Does it feel uncomfortable to perform with only two other people now?

LIAM O’NEIL

It’s actually quite the opposite; it feels totally liberating and it feels like there’s more room for each person to have their own personality on stage. I have a pretty good idea of what’s going through Dave and Justin’s head most of the time, a lot more so than I used to be able to be sure of what was going through four or five other people’s heads. And when you’re only three people, no matter where all three people are on stage, it’s just a triangle. You look up and see all people at all times.

THE VARSITY

Like you’re more in tune with everybody?

LIAM O’NEIL

Yeah, I think so. And then I just compare it to The Stills where there was always one guy on stage right with me. For the first little while it was Greg, and then Dave for a little while also, and I was like, “Alright, that’s my guy; that’s the guy I’m going to connect with, we’re gonna put on a show stage-right.” Versus now with this band, each one of us occupies a third of the entire space, and therefore we just play with each other, I think.

THE VARSITY

Why did you choose a Fellini film reference as your band name? Who came up with it?

LIAM O’NEIL

Dave had the idea years ago — we’re talking about like 5 years ago. But he wanted to have a band called Eight and a Half. He loved the film, and he felt like he connected with some of the characters in that film and the general vibe and aesthetic. He didn’t know what this band was going to be, but he knew he wanted to start something else, something outside of The Stills, where he could kind of create a new persona for himself. And when this band started making music, the idea popped back into his head and he was like “maybe this is Eight and a Half.” And so he proposed the name at some point and I was a little bit on the fence at first but came around to it.

THE VARSITY

How come?

LIAM O’NEIL

I don’t know, maybe I have weird associations with bands having numbers in their names. You know, like Blink-182… But ultimately, I thought it evoked a picture that I liked; I thought it was something that I could get behind.

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