Halfway to Gone Interview with Lou Gorra: Blues for the King of the World and His Long Lost Soul

Late last Saturday night, New Jersey’s Halfway to Gone stood on the stage of an overheated Brighton Bar and positively destroyed the place. It wasn’t their first time doing so, but this show in particular (review here) will hopefully serve as the beginning of a new era for the band. Not a moment too soon.

It’s been eight long years since Halfway released their third album. Self-titled, it was a fitting culmination of what the trio of bassist/vocalist Lou Gorra, guitarist Lee Gollin, aka Stu, and drummer Danny Gollin had accomplished on their 2001 debut, High Five and its 2002 follow-up, Second Season. More melodically complex, it never quite let go of the Red Bank three-piece’s Southern rock fetish, and tracks like the landmark opening duo “Turnpike” and “Couldn’t Even Find a Fight” became part of the Halfway to Gone canon, no less heralded than, say, “Holiday in Altamont” from the first record or the anthemic “Great American Scumbag” from the second.

But eight years feels like forever. In rock and roll, that might as well be a generation, and despite sporadic appearances here and there, usually at the Brighton, Halfway to Gone‘s legacy seemed set. Like many before them — including Solarized, in which Lou played bass and Stu guitar — and many after, they seemed to be another Jersey heavy rock act who never quite got their due. On June 2, I got a text from Gorra that they were playing, and that Solarized guitarist Jim Hogan and drummer Reg Hogan‘s new band Electrikill would be sharing the bill, that a new album was in the works and they’d be playing new material at the gig. Well, that was all I needed to hear.

Electrikill didn’t wind up on that bill, but Halfway ruled and their triumph played out in heavy distortion and thunderous riffs. Prior to, I’d had the chance to get on the phone with Gorra and talk about some of the practicalities involved in getting Halfway to Gone moving again, writing new material, and what they might look to accomplish this time around with the band. Having already toured the US extensively in their initial run, Gorra was candid about his desire to get over to Europe, and I’m hard pressed to think of ambassadors as fitting for all that’s righteous in American heavy rock.

Complete Q&A with Lou Gorra of Halfway to Gone is after the jump. Thanks for reading.

First things first. What brought the band back together?

What brought us back from the dead? We’ve always been close friends, and we’ve always played together here and there throughout the last 10 years. I recently got a new job that allows me to take time off if I want to, so that kind of pushed me into gear to actually get a record done and see what we might do, you know, touring-wise, in the future. I’m not ruling anything out. I’ve been writing for the whole time that we haven’t really been playing much, so I have tons of material just waiting to go. Seems silly to just let it sit there and go to waste.

Stu’s in Philly now, right?

Stu’s in Philly, but he’s been in Philly for the last… since Second Season, he’s been in Philly. That’s never been a problem. He still comes up once a week to work in Red Bank. That’s never been a problem.

And you got hurt last winter. What happened there?

(Laughs) Yeah. That was me. I was in a car accident and broke my hand. That killed a couple opportunities I thought I might have, but I’m better now (laughs), and it fueled me a little bit to try and get some more stuff done. We’d been quiet for so long, and every once in a while, I’d come across an email asking what we were doing, if we were still alive, whatever. So what the heck? Do another one.

How did you finally decide, alright, it’s time to book a show?

We’ve been doing shows every year or so for the last three or four years, and really, this show that we’re doing in July came about because Greg [Macolino], the owner of the Brighton, called us and said that the other ex-members of Solarized had started another band, and they were playing, and did we want to do the show? I said of course. I thought that would be a really cool night. It turns out that they’re ending up not playing for some reason. I’m not gonna get into why. I don’t know why (laughs), but apparently  we got added to the bill and they couldn’t do it. I don’t know what the deal was, but at any rate, it’s gonna be The X-Men, instead of Reg and Jim’s other band, unfortunately. Not unfortunately for The X-Men, I love The X-Men, but I thought that would be a fun little reunion.

I didn’t know they weren’t on that bill.

Just came down the pipe, actually. I think yesterday I found that out. I was pretty bummed about it, but what can you do? We have our friends Jay Monday playing that show. They’re like our little brothers. They’re a lot of fun. Should be a good show. Should be a lot of fun, anyway.

Have you heard any of the ElectriKill stuff?

Now a single note. I didn’t even know it existed, to be honest, until I got the call from Greg. But I respect Jim Hogan a lot as a songwriter, so I was excited to hear what it was gonna be like. But I’ll have to wait (laughs).

Since you’ve been writing this whole time, do you have this glut of material?

I wouldn’t call it a “glut” (laughs). We have a cache of parts (laughs). I don’t know how many completed songs we have yet, but we have tons and tons of material, it’s just not all really worked out into songs yet. We’ll definitely get there over the summer. I own a studio, so we’ll probably be in there end of August. Start getting things going in there. We’re going to do one new song at the show, at least, so that should be fun.

And you’ll record yourselves, obviously.

This time. It’s the first time I will have done that, actually. I wasn’t up and running for the other albums. Obviously I had input, but…

It’s different though when you’re helming the process.

Sure. Yeah, it’s gonna be a lot different. I think it’ll be a little more relaxed, but by some measures a little crazier too, because I’ll be wearing more than one hat. But I’m definitely looking forward to it, because I’ve always had a vision of what I thought we should sound like, and I don’t know if we ever exactly got it. So maybe we will this time. I hope.

How do you mean?

I’m not sure. I don’t necessarily think that the Halfway records sound like we sound live, and I don’t know that I have the skills to do that either, but I’m gonna try for sure. I wanna strip it down, basically. I want to basically have on record what you hear live, is what I’d like to go. We certainly try to emulate our records when we play, but it’s not always easy to do that when you have a million guitars and a million hours at your disposal.

Would you record live? Do you have any idea what the recording process will be yet? Have you started to think about that?

Sure. In my facility, as you well know, it’s too small to really do a full live recording. But we would definitely do the rhythm section all at once. I’m in my house. It’s considerably bigger [than the last location], but it’s still a residential house, so it’s hard to get everybody playing at once. But we’ll build it with the rhythm section live, and then we’ll fill it out with overdubs and stuff. I still want to keep it really bare-bones, because those are the records that I’ve always loved. Back in Black and stuff like that. It’s simple. It’s guitars, a drum and a bass, and that’s it.

The last Halfway especially almost sounded bigger than a three-piece.

I can understand that. Like I said, we always tried to emulate those records live, but it’s hard when you’re doing it with three people and there’s obviously more than one guitar here, one guitar there. But I would definitely like to capture our live show on record, if possible. We’ll have to see if I can do it or not (laughs). I don’t know.

In terms of writing, is it weird to start putting songs together with Stu and Danny again, or is it satisfying to see these parts get put to use?

It’s both. It’s not weird at all. Those guys, I’ve been with them for so long. We tend to finish each other’s thoughts musically a lot. I’m super-excited that that’s the lineup we have right now. I wouldn’t want to do it with anybody else. We’re the original guys, and since we’re gonna do it on our own terms, that’s the guys who should be doing it, rather than hired guns or anything like that. I think it’s great that it’s the three of us.

Has the process changed at all for the time since the last record?

Definitely the writing process has changed, because we have so much more time. If you remember, we did a record and a million tours every single year when we were going strong there, and there’s just not that much time to write. I remember writing all the lyrics for the last album in the parking lot, or the driveway, of the house we were staying in in Detroit the night before I recorded them. That’s obviously not gonna be the case on this record. It’s a double-edged sword though, because you have all this time, you try to polish stuff more than it needs to be polished. So it can hurt you, too. But I think the stuff is definitely gonna sound like us. There’s no way it’s not gonna.

What’s the song you’re playing at the Brighton show?

As of yet untitled (laughs). If it gets a title before this goes to print, I’ll get back to you (laughs).

Once you get the record going, how much are you guys going to play out? Will you tour again?

I’d love to. I’d really like… the big black hole in my career is not having gone to Europe, so that’s really my real goal, is to get over there. I’d love to do the States again, we’ve just done it so many times that it’s – I don’t wanna say not as exciting, but it’s really not as exciting as something that we’ve never done before. Going to Europe would definitely be a big goal of mine, to get that done. And if by doing that we either have to or are able to do another US tour, that would be great too. I don’t know if that’s the feeling of the label or the rest of the band. Like I said, I’d love doing the States, but really, I would like to do things that we’ve never done before. I guess my priority would be trying to get Europe going for sure.

Will you put the record out through Small Stone?

Yes. They’ve been great to us, so no reason not to. They pretty much gave us eight years to think about what we wanted to do (laughs), and I called them up after eight years, and they said, “Yeah, let’s do it,” so absolutely no reason to look elsewhere. Scott’s been great to us, and you know, I think we’ve been great to him too, so there’s no reason in the world to look somewhere else. We were booked more than three or four times [for Europe] and they just always feel apart for some reason. That’s the major regret in my career, that we haven’t been able to go there. Because I think there’s a lot of fans there that’ll really like it and that really want to see it. So we’ll see.

You’ve got time yet.

For sure. I’m not even 40 years old yet. Plenty of time.

What do you think is the timeframe on the record being out if you’re going to start recording in August?

I think realistically, we would record till… I would say I’d be looking for a Christmastime release, or first of the year. That would give us the right amount of time to track and mix and get it off to master and stuff. I would say hopefully we’ll have a fourth quarter or first quarter release.

That seems awfully quick, but I guess it’s been eight years.

It has been eight years, and we’ve always done it quick. We really have always done it that fast. Barring any crazy setbacks, of course. Broken bones, or… (laughs). It always seems to happen with us. Once we actually get in the studio, it’ll go real quick, I’m sure.

Any other recording projects in the works?

Yeah. I’m doing the Jay Monday record. That’s the band I told you was opening for us. Really good guys from Ocean Township. They have like a Guns ‘N’ Roses kind of aesthetic, but great band, great guys. I’m doing their record. I just did a band called Old Wounds. I think you would dig them for sure. Little noisy, little punky, little crazy. I just did a two-song for them, and they’re also right from my town. Those are the two I just recently have been doing, but I get a lot of guys in and out.

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