High hopes for debut
Singer Halsey reveals to James Croot why creating Hopeless Fountain Kingdom nearly broke her.
Halsey admits to being excited about her upcoming Kiwi concert debut. The 23-year-old American singer, dubbed ‘‘the voice of her generation’’ by no-less than Billboard magazine, Forbes and MTV, is bringing her Hopeless Fountain Kingdom World Tour to Auckland’s Spark Arena later this month. While the New Jersey native did visit our shores for a promotional tour last year, she says she hopes the schedule this time will allow her to explore her surroundings a little more. ‘‘I didn’t get to see much of the terrain last time, but I know it’s what everyone talks about. I definitely want to take a couple of days to look around, because you go so many places you never thought you would and all you see is a hotel room.’’
Born Ashley Nicolette Frangipane (her stage name is both an anagram of her given name and allegedly inspired by a Brooklyn subway stop and street), the singer-songwriter has had a relatively rapid rise to fame, going from putting songs on SoundCloud to playing sold-out arenas in last a few years.
Essentially halfway through her current 12-month long tour, Halsey says she learned a lot from her first global excursions in 2015-16. ‘‘It was a great time in my life and I was selling out every single show. But I was also getting my footing as a performer and finding out what I liked about performing and being onstage. This time around, I’m a bit more seasoned.’’
She says those experiences also fed into the creation of her second album, 2017’s Hopeless Fountain Kingdom.
‘‘Yeah, when I wrote it, I was thinking about what it would be like to perform it. I wanted to put a lot of attention into making sure the show was really interesting and creative and a kind sensory experience.’’
A self-confessed ‘‘album artist’’, Halsey says that although her formative years were during a time when the initial rise of streaming had seemingly destroyed albums, she sought out artists like Kings of Leon, Coldplay, Gwen Stefani, The Killers and Green Day.
‘‘They were people who created a universe and they are the ones who still make the cut for me now I’m an adult – the ones I still care about. Study the cover of any of their albums and you can see a bunch of images, a colour, a font – something entirely representative of that era. I want to give my fans that experience.
‘‘I remember when American Idiot came out, I was watching their [Green Day’s] transition from one song to the next and all the music videos they made had cohesive characters and this same dystopian universe. I lived for that, felt like I lived in it and was part of this community and storyline that a non-Green Day fan wouldn’t understand.’’
For Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, Halsey’s inspiration was William’s Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (the play’s prologue even features on the opening track) with the focus on two families (the Angelus and the Aureums) living in a futuristic land. When heir to the throne Solis Angelus falls in love with Luna Aureum, chaos ensues.
Describing making an album as a really exhausting and emotional experience (‘‘because I write all my own music and songs’’), Halsey says she begins her process by ‘‘taking a couple of weeks to figure out what the album looks like’’. ‘‘What colour is it? What images represent my state of mind? Then it becomes like writing a movie script focusing on rising action, a climax and hopefully some sort of catharsis, then I go in and make all the music. It took me about five or six weeks from start to finish for this one.’’
But, she admits, Hopeless Fountain Kingdom left her somewhat creatively drained.
‘‘I felt like I’d used up all my juice. So when it came to trying to think of an inspiration for the tour’s stage design, it was the first time I’ve ever thought, ‘OK, maybe I’ll let somebody else think of it for me’. But then I was two weeks from deadline and I was in the kitchen when I suddenly started crying. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, but I think I was just overwhelmed and had a moment where I felt like an imposter because I couldn’t think of anything.’’
Fortunately, at her lowest point, she remembered being at a Kanye West concert a couple of years back.
‘‘He had an all-white spiral staircase like something out of a massive modern art museum. Then I remembered the first time I saw him play at a Made in America Festival and he was wearing this fake mask. Remembering all these shows I really liked, helped me bring my ideas together of dividing the stage into two – one side showing a macro perspective and the other a micro one – both of which could be both overwhelming and unsettling. I also decided to make all my visuals very non-literal, like Disney’s Fantasia – all images and colours.
‘‘Maybe next time, I’ll do nothing – have a completely white stage,’’ she laughs.
But although she’s eager to get back into the recording studio, Halsey admits she’s deliberately blocking herself from getting too excited about her next move because she wants to focus on giving her audiences the ‘‘best experience possible’’.
‘‘I’m not one of those people who, every night when they go off stage, get on the bus and write. I do jot down little notes, little things I want to look back on and touch on when I’m writing the album. But when I’m on tour, I put my all on the stage physically and emotionally. All I do off-stage is go to sleep and call my grandma.’’
Halsey says she has a good feeling about the Auckland concert, hoping it might be as memorable as her first Australian performance at the 2015/2016 Falls Festival in Lorne, Victoria.
‘‘I remember coming off-stage, so far away from home and the crowd had been so loud and so amazing, that I was walking back to my dressing room with my heart in my ears, feeling like I was having an anxiety attack. I just threw myself down onto the dirty ground and just started screaming, ‘that was f...ing awesome’. I was just so beside myself.’’
‘ When I’m on tour, I put my all on the stage physically and emotionally. All I do offstage is go to sleep and call my grandma.’ HALSEY
● Halsey will bring her Hopeless Fountain Kingdom World Tour to Auckland’s Spark Arena on Thursday. For more information, see livenation.co.nz
Singer-songwriter Halsey has had a relatively rapid rise to fame.