The Seasonal Struggles of The Sun Harmonic
Photo credit: Sun Harmonic
Sometimes making something you love requires pain, and for Kaleb Hikele of The Sun Harmonic, this meant working through personal injuries. With their mix of classical and folk roots, Hikele creates music with a romantic and often magical feeling to it. We caught up with Hikele ahead of their myriad of shows in Ottawa to talk about seasonal writing sessions and powering through the pain.
Ottawa Life Magazine: What was the influence behind your latest single "A Heart So Heavy”, and how did it come together?
Kaleb Hikele: I had come home one day to an empty house and just started playing on my piano not particularly to write. The intro riff started coming out, and it was at this odd time where I found immediately I had a song there. I ended up continuing for two-three hours and wrote the song in this one night. And lyrically it was just a way to reach my girlfriends since she was away at the time, so it was a way to reach her without having a phone call. A couple days after writing it, the universe lent me some recording time. A week after I wrote it I was already recordings things, and I don't usually do that, it usually takes me years to properly record anything.
To this effect, I understand your album Winter was made over the course of about eight years, so what extended the process that far?
It's eight years, but the winter seasons of those years. I really did start writing on the first day of winter, until about March 20 something every year. It was an intense process, the first four winters from 2010 I was focused on writing songs on piano. When winter would finish I would immediately stop and walk away. It was a strange process and I wanted to keep following it even if my friends thought I was a weirdo. I recorded it in 2014, and then the next several winters were spent finishing that and mastering it. The last was spent releasing it in all its forms and going through crowdfunding.
Looking at your recent singles this year, how have you been able to speed up the writing process since then?
There's a lot of boring life stuff to explain that, but essentially even when the Winter album was done it still took half-a-year to release it. I had so many personalized packages to make for orders that I was still finishing them in the summer. It was a year before I hit the studio again because I was catching up on life things. I was also dealing with a repetitive strain injury that side-tracked me for three years as a musician and human being. I hadn't performed during those three years, and it slowed down the pace of recording. So when this short option to record came up I realized it would be good to focus on singles so I could get something new out. Ironically, later in the year I got grant money and recorded a full album that had been in the works. That album is still sitting on my hard drive though because it feels like the step after those singles, especially since Winter is essentially my entire 20s. I'm also touring for the first time since 2015, so after that I'm taking the summer off to finish that record. Once the tour and album is out, I want to get into a more regular schedule, especially with the music I've written in my downtime from performing.
It's not too common for bands to cite classical composers in their influences, so how do you find artists like Debussy and Mozart coming out in your music whether it be melodically or the way your write?
My material is really just influenced from that romantic period of classical piano. I was trained classically on the piano from 5 to 15, when I traded that in for a cooler guitar in a punk band. It wasn't cool to play that classical stuff, and because I was a songwriter my friend told me I should try playing guitar. That set me off on years of playing and writing on guitar, where I was barely playing piano at all. It took me until 19/20 to reconcile the punk side of that didn't think classical was cool, and finally fall in love with my roots. I bought up classical records, watched biopics on composers and took it all in like a sponge. There are times on my albums where I'm doing fairly literal nods to composers, while reconfiguring the way I see songs around classical music.
What's it been like running Moon Melody as a label, and what's one of the most interesting challenges you've faced so far?
Moon Melody was my life for almost three years, while I was working a desk job for a major label. I had a recording studio during that time, and I wanted to work there more. I had musician friends who wanted to record records. So rather than trying to fit that into my already full-time schedule, I quit my job and worked part time as a teacher and at a restaurant. This was to free me up try and record, produce and release records from my studio. For those three years I was doing it as this grass-roots label that was just me. Almost all of the releases were my friends, and having released a lot of records of my own, I had sent records and press releases around. So I was offering this to my friends to just be able to get music out that I loved. It was fun, but it was part of my life that I needed to stop in 2015. I had come back from tour and got that strain injury diagnosis, it was hard to do dishes or brush my teeth even. I was told I had to stop playing guitar or piano for the time being, and that turned into months. I had to put aside a lot of personal work in that time, and the Winter album probably would've been released three years earlier if I hadn't been faced with an unexpected sideline from this. The injury became my priority not my music, but then I realized that the most important thing to me was getting the Winter album out there. I worked on it through the pain afterwards, and taken on a few projects here and there. But now I'm really just trying to focus on The Sun Harmonic again. So it's basically taken me ten years to birth the Sun Harmonic from starting, almost losing track and finding it again.
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