Half Stack Consider Leaving California on Their Eerily Timed (But Feel-Good) “Wings of Love”
The Bay Area (for now) five-piece offer up an early stream of their new LP, out tomorrow on Forged Artifacts.
With an apocalyptic wildfire season across California, state politicians defaulting to “go vote” sloganeering over attempting meaningful change, and the continuous influx of vulturous developers, tech bros, and influencers displacing locals, Bay Area five-piece Half Stack’s odes to leaving the Golden State would be eerily timely if they weren’t so evergreen.
“I have conflicted feelings about California and the Bay Area especially,” singer/guitarist Peter Kegler says. “It’s a place I love, full of the people I love, but for most of my adulthood, it has been doing its best to push a lot of people out. I fantasize about leaving all the time; I’m not sure if it’ll happen.”
The tug of war between staying close to home and finding somewhere that actually feels like home sprawls across Half Stack’s upcoming record Wings of Love, but it’ll likely take a few listens to catch any anxiety amidst the band’s feel-good country rock revival.
Formed as undergrads in the beach town of Santa Cruz, Kegler, bassist Callum Beals, drummer Digger Barret, and guitarists Marley Lix-Jones and Oliver Pinnell were quickly pinned as the lone country band in town, their closest sonic cousin locally being the lovably eccentric Dick Stusso. Even with Melina Duterte of Jay Som (who Pinnell also played with at the time) on production duties for their 2018 debut Quitting Time, and Young Jesus producer Greg Hartunian for Wings, local publications still have to clarify the band is, in fact, an Oakland band, not some Texan or Tennessean transplants rolling through.
“I would say that the country label was thrust on us more than self-branded,” Kegler recalls. “Originally, we were just people who liked country music and the Grateful Dead and made rock songs that had a little of that influence. It was more like country-influenced music…this record tries to embrace that brand a little more.”
While Kegler insists the goal was not to pull anything like “John Fogerty singing like he’s from the bayou,” Wings of Love clearly graduated with honors from the Creedence school of slice-of-life songwriting powered by chooglin’ riffs and visions of the open road. Opener “Pit Boss” makes a car breaking down in El Paso sound exultant, while the title track finds a Flying Burrito Brothers–worthy singalong out of leaving California for good. Kegler’s rasping drawl on “Tommy Sweet” and “Morning Rain” will likely keep up any mysteries around the band’s origins, but Half Stack understands that a great country rock record requires a healthy dose of theatrics and locational confusion.
To get in a headspace to write Wings, Kegler temporarily relocated to a 200-acre ranch in Montara where his chief activities in isolation were writing songs and taking baths. Even as each song became focused on either abandoning the Bay or witnessing quarter-life crises amongst friends back home, Kegler believes Wings is happy music that just happens to be outfitted with sad lyrics.
“I don’t think this is an isolation record,” Kegler adds. “A lot of the record explores a desire to break free and cut ties with everything…isolation is tricky right now, because I want nothing more than to see all my friends and go to gigs, but before this, I definitely romanticized isolated living and always wanted it.”
If anything, Half Stack’s lust for desertion unintentionally comes off as nostalgic since isolation became a required state mid-pandemic, but Kegler’s ultimate hopes for Wings are essentially a statement of intent for the band. “I hope people don’t think we’re totally full of shit,” he concludes. “We aren’t cowboys…still gotta write a good ballad though.”