An Evening with HALA in the Heart of Queens: An Interview and Artist Spotlight
Interview by Erin Christie
HALA, the pride and joy of Detroit-local Ian Ruhala, is composed of the 21-year-old alongside Jake LeMond on bass, guitarist Austin Blicher, and John Kick tying everything together on the drums. Recently signed to Biker Gang Booking and just off touring with label-mates, BOYO, Ian noted how surreal it felt to be part of a label alongside acts such as Bane’s World and Innerwave: “Working with Biker Gang, booking shows has been really cool! Hopefully one day Hala will get the chance to play with some of our other roster-mates. Playing with BOYO was incredibly fun, each and every night we were with them.” Based on the atmosphere within the small café turned music venue on the night that they played, I can safely say that the audience, myself included, had just as much of a good time!
No stranger to the ups and downs of being an independent artist and having to fend for oneself before the music industry’s gaping jaws, Ian Ruhala is far from new to the scene, though this past tour was his first headliner. Starting out when he was still in high school, Ian began with visions of (specifically 2014) Mac Demarco, Paul McCartney, Emmitt Rhodes, Tobias Jesso Jr., and, of course, Lou Reed, dancing in his head like sugarplum fairies. His music emits a certain warmth that makes it impossible not to become entranced, combining elements from his predecessors with his ability to make your hips sway with a single chord.
Still uncertain of the exact “sound” his music fits under, he wonders whether he’ll ever be able to exactly define it: “It is somewhat of a chase, if you will,” he remarks. One thing’s for sure though, his music is something to pay attention to (if you consider my biased opinion trustworthy). When thinking about the future, he noted that his primary goal is to “genre hop,” for lack of a better descriptor. “[For] my next record, I want to be extremely incoherent in style, but still blend together in some way! I just don’t know how yet!” he described with a laugh.
Regardless of style, background, or even place of origin, an artist’s ability to reach fans and touch them with their lyrical ability is something unparalleled, and such rings especially true for Hala. In a lot of ways, songs read very similarly to journal entries, as if an artist is putting their deepest fears, truest loves, and most inner thoughts on the line for almost complete strangers to listen to. When asked about the thought, Ian said he didn’t really think about it that way: “I guess it is a little strange, but that is also the magic of the Internet. I would say it is most definitely a positive thing, and I don’t really feel emotionally invaded!”
HALA’s most recent LP, 2016’s Spoonfed, is a love-letter to just that, love. It’s heartfelt and gooey on the inside, chock full of dreamy guitar-heavy interludes and sometimes melancholy, sometimes joyful anecdotes. “A lot of songs hold a special place in my heart,” he continued, “usually because of the topic they are attached to, story, or life experience.” Having started dabbling in music during the prime of adolescence, in the peak of teenage years where everything seems uncertain, yet you’re expected to make life-changing decisions and sell your soul away to student loan debt, it seems natural that so many of his tracks are heart-wrenchingly real.
One of his earliest releases, “SENIORS,” features a mish-mash of unlikely fellows, such as the honestly wonderful “Jorts Are Cool” (which speaks nothing but absolute facts) and “Sonar Girl,” which features the stylings of Thomas McLean (aka Modern Nomad). “We were raised in the strangest of ways,/ caught up in the fiction that’s printed each day,/ as our parents they dread,/ for they all like to say we look like Vampire Weekend,” he croons, giving way to his lyrical prowess even prior to graduating high school.
Even now, Ian has continued to take his musical career, as well as his education, very seriously, and whether it was because his parents threatened that he “had to stay in school,” or because of his pure willpower, he’s doing just that. Whilst juggling music and the demands of being a rising “up-and-comer,” he’s continuing to attend classes at Wayne State University in his hometown of Detroit.
For Ian, his primary goal can be summed up as such: “I want to write a song the whole world can sing; once that happens I think I might be able to say I have ‘made it.’”
Regardless of whether or not he personally believes he’s gotten there, I can safely say that he’s absolutely on the right track, and that’s only solidified by the further traction that his music has been gaining as of late. Despite it having been released nearly two years ago, by the power of Spotify’s Discover Weekly feature, his sugary sweet track, “What is Love? Tell Me, Is It Easy?” has begun to make hearts beat faster globally, and that’s a beautiful thing.
When asked about this timeline, Ian said he didn’t really know how to feel about it: “I am really happy that the song has been doing well, I just find it comical kind of that it took about two years for it to really start getting traction, but, better late than never! I guess going forward, I just need to remember that patience is key, and it might take a minute before you are satisfied with the direction your music is going.”
Regardless of your profession, it’s normal to be hyper-critical of your own work, and even to sometimes doubt whether or not you even feel as though you’re putting content out into the world that you’re proud of. But even so, in time, even lesser-known icons get their time in the spotlight and their chance to claim the crown, and I’m certain that HALA’s time is nearing, if not already upon us.