Hal’s Just Glad To Be Home
Three songs into his set and I’m looking on completely amazed, slightly bewildered; wondering What drug is Marvay on? Sandwiched between soulful covers of songs like Maxi Priest’s “Vice Verse Love,” were lengthy tangents – “conversations with the audience” he calls them – about the universe, studio sessions, and being paid as a musician. He’s standing on the furniture, covering the entire stage, using the crowd as his personal choir – conducting and commanding that they sing the ad-libs right. If they didn’t, they must do it over. You only get three tries, though. His moves are exaggerated, the veins from his neck are bulging, and his baldhead is drenched in sweat. He’s exhibiting behavior one would associate with a junkie. But in this moment, he is a junkie: completely addicted to the positive energy coming from this passionate performance, rather than an illicit substance.
The crowd in The Hilton’s Needham’s Point Ballroom – there for the sold out finale of Mahalia’s Corner – were eating out the palm of his hand. By the time he got to his summer smash “Survive The Weekend,” audience members were revelling in their contact high. The song’s hook echoed throughout the room as the horde danced and sang in unison – gladly wafting in the euphoric side screens. As he said his goodbyes, Marvay left the stage to a rapturous applause.
Moments later the second headliner of the night took to the stage. It was a stark contrast to what occurred minutes before. Hushed with expectation, you could hear the proverbial pin drop, or a Prime Minister speak, as Hal Linton – dressed in a black and white striped shirt, jeans cuffed right above his ankles – raised his hand to acknowledge the polite applause before taking his seat.
Two days prior, I interviewed Hal just a few feet away from the ballroom. It was the second day of his press run – promoting the show and answering, “What’s the latest?” questions. A late text the night before to Tracy Highland – PR for the show – and I was scheduled into his early morning downtime. When I met up with them, they were just returning from doing morning radio. Hal was dressed in a grey graphic tee, denim cut off shorts, and slippers – traditional island garb. A late night of partying was etched across his face and he had the wristbands to prove it. Still, in his slightly hung-over state, he was jovial; soaking up every moment in the land he hadn’t visited in two years – tickling himself pink at Barbadian-specific quirks.
“I’ve been laughing all morning at, like, mistress. I forgot people say that, “ He says before masking his California cadence to belt out in traditional Bajan parlance, “Mistress! Mistress!” followed by a wide grin. “I don’t know why it’s so funny to me, but mistress is one of the funniest things. I like that word. ”
These little quirks, along with the food and interacting with his people, are part of the reason he gets homesick from time to time. Now living in Los Angeles, California, the weather there reminds him of home (It gets hotter there, though), but it could never fill that hole in his heart that he has for Barbados. “It’s good to be back. For sure.”
In 2013, the last time he was “back,” he headlined Love, Poetry, & Song. Before that, in 2011, he was also the marquee act for the benefit concert. That year, unknown to most, was a major turning point of Linton’s career. He had left Universal Motown – the label he signed to in 2008. The partnership failed to materialize nothing more than a few singles for the shelved debut album Return From The Future, a mixtape (The Rock & Roll Experiment), tours, and being featured on the BET show “Grey Goose Rising Icons” along such acts as Wale, The Dream.
When the relationship dissolved, he signed a deal with BMG Music Publishing and began his journey as an independent artist with 2012’s Technicolor. After the release of this mixtape, Linton began to back away from the spotlight, shifting his focus from artistry to lending his talents to other acts.
“For the last four years, I’ve just been writing and producing for other artists in the [United States]; been doing stuff in Paris, Australia, and the [United Kingdom].” He says, naming the artists – Anthony Touma (“Pour le meilleur”), Ricki-Lee (“Dance In The Rain,””Happy Ever After”), Allen Stone (“Freezer Burn”), Spencer & Hill (“Dead or Alive”), Wolfgang Gartner (“Unholy”), and Way of the Eagle (“Sweet Addiction”) – that he has lent his pen and production to their singles and albums.
He has also ventured into scoring, talking proudly about receiving a placement, for a song entitled “Girls,” in an upcoming LEGO movie. “We wrote the song for fun, actually,“ he beams; talking up how easy it was for he and his writing partner in L.A., Morgan Brown, to create the track. “We we’re just like, let’s write a cheesy song. And we wrote this cheesy song and LEGO movie took it. And it’s in the movie, like, five times.”
This surreal experience fulfilled a passion that he always had. “I love the soundscape. With visuals, you know,” He says. “Think about it: We’re walking here, and we’re hearing the wind blowing, and we’re hearing like birds, people talking; there’s ambience. I always loved the idea of seeing, and hearing. I always wanted to be a part of that process, so it’s really cool to do that.”
(Even though this is his first official experience scoring a film, Hal scored a short in his BCC days called Villains Anonymous.)
This year he has also taken up a career in teaching, lecturing part-time at Icon Collective – a music production college in Burbank, California. “I’m now a professor,” he says. Hal teaches the courses Ear Training I, Music Business I, Arrangement, and Songwriting I to a class of about thirty students, two days a week. “It has been really interesting. It’s, like, a different experience,” he says. Even though his career has spanned a decade, this experience of teaching has been eye opening. “I’ve never had to look at stuff so macro and micro,” he says. “I’m like… How do you do this? And I’m like, ‘Oh, you just do this.’ So now I’m having to think about what’s happening… like, the process. Its very interesting, it’s making me sharp again about my craft. I like it. I love teaching there its been a good experience.”
As much as being involved in the creative process for other artists may be rewarding, the bug of creating something for you will always bite. Singing and performing your own songs will always trump writing them to be performed by someone else. Though songwriting is very lucrative, performing your work is more fulfilling – especially if you were on a platform like Hal once was.
In March this year, I stumbled across Hal’s SoundCloud account. On it were two songs from the Technicolor tape, a single (“The Same Time“) that flew under the radar, some toplines, and an EP, entitled Next Page. It was traditional Hal: wailing ballads and emotional songwriting, over Rock and R&B fusions.
When I bring this up to him, he looks up with a blank expression. “I don’t even know what you’re talking about,” he says. Seeming genuinely curious, he encouraged me to tell him more about it. After I explained the project to him, he bluntly responded, “I probably put up that shit years ago. That’s been on there.” (The upload date was March). He continued, “But I’m glad you experienced that. Now I gotta go back and look and see what’s there.”
He then asked, “You digged it? You liked it?” I said yes, mainly because we hadn’t heard anything from him in a while. Still a bit dumbfounded, and dazed at what I asked, seeming to get his bearings, he replies, “Yo that’s really deep right there, bro. You’re trolling.”
After telling him I don’t troll, I trawl, Hal starts laughing again at the question. “Wow that is so deep, I was like ‘Woaahhh, Dude’… I had to get, like, sober real quick when you said that… What kind of question was that? That is the best question I got since I’ve been here. That was really deep. Wow. You make me want to go check it out and see what I did. What’s on there? I don’t even know. I don’t know what you’re talking about. I gotta check it now.”
Coming across an unmixed and unmastered EP he knew nothing about wouldn’t be the last time we would be hearing Hal this year, though. His deserted social media accounts became active again in late July, promising new music and videos in August. The first song out of the stable was “’69 Camaro,” Penthouse Penthouse’s Space Dandy-sampled, 80’s-inspired cut. When I brought this up to Hal, he again called me a troll.
As I mentioned before, since he has arrived in the island he has been on a press run to major media outlets. But, based on his blunt response, it seemed that no one bothered to do any research. “No one has asked me about that song,” he says. “No one knows that exists.”
“’69 Camaro” came about after Hal met the group – Preston Walker and Mike Parvizi – at the behest of a mutual friend, Danish producer, Carsten “Soulshock” Schack.
“He want to a Penthouse show and he was like, Hal has to meet these guys,” he says. Preston’s name, he said, sounded familiar. This was because he is also a teacher at Icon Collective.
When the guys got around to working in the studio, Hal came across an accapella that he had written and recorded five years ago after having a strange dream. “I had this weird Rick James dream, I don’t know why, “ he says of the song’s inspiration. He sung a bit of “’69 Camaro,” and then James’ “Give It To Me Baby” to show the minimal similarity in their funk elements.
That accapella, he says, was “the same tempo, the same key, the same arrangement” to the production Preston had already done. “He just put it on it and it was done. It was the fastest song I’ve ever written in my life.”
The 80’s feel of the song transpired to the video, in which he starred. After shooting it in high-definition, they ran the video through a VHS program for that nostalgic feel. “Those dudes are next level. I like their aesthetic… They’re very strong about their aesthetic. I like those guys. That’s why we work a lot. They’re, like, trying to put art out.” Penthouse Penthouse and Hal just finished up an EP together called 69, because, as he says, “Every song has 69 in it.”
What stood out the most with his re-emergence as an artist, was that he was now going by a different moniker: Bobby Saint – his porn name. “The porn name is, like, your first pet and the street you grew up on… That’s how you get your porn name,” he says, breaking any notion that he is moonlighting as an adult film star. “We were just joking around about it in the studio and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll do that. I’m just going to change it. Let’s just make it Bobby Saint. (His first performance under Bobby Saint was on Wolfgang Gartner’s “Unholy” in 2014, his first Billboard Top 10.)
You don’t have to call him Bobby, though. Especially when he is back home. “In Barbados I’m always Hal, man.”
After I had run out of questions and the interview was over, we sat and talked about current events, his life in Barbados before leaving, and how stupid those scooter boards are. He also caught up with some old friends who were in the area. In the lobby, he reminisced with Rhaj Paul of Evolve about their days growing up as Seventh-days Adventists. Sitting in his room drinking Hennessey in the middle of the day (It was five o’clock somewhere), moments before going to further promote the show, he was laughing loudly with wordsmith Sunrokk as they recounted hilarious moments from their days as design students on the “white bench.” (Hal gave Rokk his sobriquet after he rapped about a Sunroc-branded water cooler)
Hal was brimming with excitement about the show and was very confident that he was going to bring his best.
It’s a little after 11:30pm, after Hal takes his seat. After his greetings, he took some time to pay respects to his father – who passed away last year – after seeing Marvay embrace his dad after leaving the stage. The last time he performed in Barbados, his dad was in the crowd watching him, he says. Hal quickly broke the somber mood by kicking off the set with a high energy untitled song (It consisted of him singing “You’re so sexy” several times in the hook) – making good on his promise of only performing new music. “Big Shoes,” his new single, only released here, “Fire & Gold,” a cover of Allen Stone’s “Freezer Burn” (which he produced), and his first single, “Cardiac Arrest,” were part of a set filled with a bevy of shrills, and dizzying runs.
Speaking to the now thinning crowd, Hal said, “We’re working, and we’re just trying to represent Barbados; and be proud of where we come from. This is where it started” – referring to artists like himself who did not have much success with a label, but, though you may not see them, they are still out there working and grinding – as independent artists, or songwriters and producers – trying to create the best art that they can; putting on for, and always embodying the principles taught from, the place they call home.
Carlos Brathwaite is the Founder of 246Mixtapes. Follow him on Twitter.
[Images via Facebook]