Fabricated by quarantine and isolation, songwriters David Hodges and Whakaio Taahi were happy to not need approval for their latest material. After casually writing a few songs together with frequent collaborator and friend Melissa Fuller, the pair were caught in the devastation that unfolded with lockdowns established by the spread of coronavirus. But it became an advantage and set what was a very lax collaboration between friends into motion as a full-on project and album that included sixteen tracks.
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Not knowing what they had at first, Grief quickly unraveled and aligned with everything was spiraling out of control in the world. The album became a chapter book outlining the five stages of grief.
Featuring narration by David Ryan Harris, guitarist for John Mayer, the record encapsulated each stage into the songs and guided the listener through the emotions with heavy production and widespread sound palettes.
Both Hodges and Taahi came from established industry backgrounds as songwriters in groups such as Evanescence and Tonight Alive, while also writing for other artists. Frequently having to write with other people in mind, the two were excited to have less hands in the pot. The pair wrote, recorded and produced Grief entirely on their own while together in five weeks during stay-home orders in Nashville.
“When we first got together for the project, we didn’t really know the full extent of covid and what the lockdown would look like,” Hodges told American Songwriter. “As things started to compound the salient of the songs started to stand out more. If we knew that we were going to have two months where we were locked away in the world, that may have affected our art in a different way. I felt like we were in some ways walking through grief in real time.”
“It became this concept that created itself really,” Taahi added. “We realized after writing a few songs that they all kind of talked about grief and we kind of had songs that talked about the five stages. Then we rounded it out with that in mind. It was a forced accident I guess.”
The pair were able to churn out the 16-track record so quickly primarily due to the isolation. No one was meeting up with session players or having writer rounds during lockdowns. So, it was a very minimalistic project that enabled the duo to focus on their vision, with zero resistance, which seemed like a new world compared to Taahi and Hodges.
“The first song we wrote and the first on the record is called ‘Nobody Fits Like You’ and story wise, melodically, the energy encapsulates the album,” Hodges explained. “Starting from that song was a great sense of what instruments wed be using and what the band would sound like.”
“Whakaio and I have become so used to facilitating an environment for other artists and I really love that,” Hodges continued. “But the moment it flipped and was like ‘let’s talk about our lives and our experiences’ instead of saying ‘hey this is cool? do you like it? does it fit?’ So, for us to have the final say, was like hell yea!”
With less hands to accompany the songwriting process, Hodges and Taahi wrote each song that made the cut in about an hour and a half. Any longer than that, they would trash it. The record was also recorded in Nashville at a studio Hodges uses nearby his home, so every aspect was met with ease.
Hodges and Taahi thrived doing everything themselves and the limitations near inspired the work to grow for the better. It was no longer about making songs that sell but more so about letting the work flourish out of the minimal approach they took.
“Once we realized what was coming out, we were very much enjoying doing everything ourselves, Taahi said. “We didn’t hit a wall. I don’t want to say we didn’t need anyone else but we had a lot with just us. It was enjoyable to push boundaries with production or writing and to just do it for us.”
“So often bands are faced with the ‘we can’t play to live’ thing, so we have to make something compelling that will pay rent,” Hodges said. “But we wrote all of these songs on acoustic because it just felt intuitive to have just us playing. It has its own sound because it doesn’t have all the best songwriters or best guitar players, it’s us and the limitations. Which was part of Tonight Alive, Evanescence and the band traditions we came from- these things were made specifically by hands rather than art by committee.”
The ability to create innocently, free of commercial intent was a big part of Hemiispheres vision. They never powered through anything or pushed something if it wasn’t right from the start. If something was taking too much effort or time, the two would just look at each other and they knew it was time to ditch it. Hodges and Taahi were in sync with each other the whole way and vulnerability played a big part in that.
“I would rather not talk at all than talk like strangers,” Hodges said about the songwriting between the two.
Taking hints from other concept records and the grunge influences Hodges grew up with, Hemiispheres wanted to be certain the record could be listened to all the way through. Perpetuating that idea was the narration sprinkled throughout the record, that not only guides the listener but also acts as a “palette cleanser”.
“David and I love listening to albums all the way through and that was a thing we wanted to create and guide through this piece of art,” Taahi said. “I think the arc is even different. Its very production heavy and then tapers off. It really feels like grief. It’s so much at the start then you accept it and it tables off at the end.”
“I’m really excited to hear the reaction from both of our fans and new fans,” Hodges said. “And I would love to have good reason for Whakaio and I to create music together again. Because this has been one of the most special projects, I’ve been a part of.”
Grief is out thanks to Sleepwalker Records and you can listen to each stage of Grief on all major digital platforms today, including Spotify.