Lotti Benardout calls it her life-changing “eureka moment.” Two years ago, when the ethereal British vocalist arrived at a whirring, clanking exoskeleton of a song called “Dust” with her two brand-new bandmates in the trio HÆLOS, Dom Goldsmith and Arthur Delaney, something inexplicable, intangible clicked. “And within us, we all felt it,” she recollects of the magical track, which came together in roughly two hours during their first experimental recording session. “It felt like the sound of HÆLOS was formed, and it was a really electric, quite exciting thing. We suddenly were like, ”’Okay, this is working.’ And we were all really on board.”
Then again, could the musicians be wrong? “We thought we had something good, but you never really know,” Benardout admits. What if their dream composition was, in reality, a sonic dud? There was only one way to know for sure, she reasoned at the time – self-issue the questionable “Dust” via SoundCloud, and carefully gauge the public’s reaction. If indeed there was one. “And the decision to put it online literally happened like this,” she says. “We were sitting in Dom’s bedroom, working on another track, and we were all catching our breath. And I can’t remember who it was, but one of us said, ‘Should we just put that online? Well, why not?’
“We were waiting on someone that was maybe going to do some photos for us, and we were going to try to get that together before we released any music,” Benardout continues. “But this was another moment where we were all like, ‘Shit! Let’s just put it online, start a Facebook page, and get a few of our mates to ‘Like’ it and see what people think.’ And the next day, people were already blogging about it, and it was getting picked up all over. So it literally happened overnight. We didn’t have any expectations for it, so it really was an overwhelming thing for it to be so well-received.”
Almost immediately, “Dust” alone landed HÆLOS a coveted contract with Matador Records. And it’s included on the band’s gorgeous new debut album, Full Circle, along with other 4AD-textured soundscapes like “Pray,” the reverent “Oracle,” a clattering “Sacred,” and the funereal “Separate Lives” and “Earth Not Above.” Benardout’s cumulus-fluffy voice drifts lazily, hazily over the proceedings, often underscored by the earthier intonations of Delaney, who was working with production whiz Goldsmith on a separate musical project when he and his future co-vocalist first met (Goldsmith was simultaneously helming a solo EP from Benardout, who had been guest-crooning on singles from the dance artists Herve, Redlight, and Kidnap Kid).
“Individually, Arthur and I were both working with Dom on these separate projects, and Dom and I had been doing some writing together, on and off,” says Benardout, who comes from a talented family that includes a jingle-penning grandmother and a music-teaching aunt. “Then that became more frequent, and it felt like we were really scratching the surface of something exciting.” After leaving her native London for six weeks, she returned to find Delaney – who had moved next door to Goldsmith – hard at work on his own material, which sounded eerily evocative of her own. “There was an overriding feel and vibe to both projects, obviously through Dom’s production, so we thought, ‘Well, why don’t we have a crack at doing something, all together?’ And the first song that we really all collaborated on was “Dust”.”
HÆLOS did not rest on its laurels. As “Dust” was taking off, the members initially kept their identities secret, releasing only one photograph – a distorted Xerox with three ectoplasmic, unrecognizable faces. Their Internet profile grew accordingly. “We had that picture, and we had that one track, and we actually thought that they worked well,” Benardout chortles. “It’s almost like us in the womb, the very first conception of the whole thing, and people picked up on that. So it wasn’t intentional, but everybody thought that we were this super-mysterious, hidden-in-the-shadows project, when actually we just weren’t properly prepared for it – we just wanted to put the music out there and see what people thought, and we didn’t need a flashy press shot to do that.”
But the three were certain of one thing – they had songs. Lots more songs. And once the Matador ink was dry, they got serious, at first combining Benardout’s earlier solo material with that of Goldsmith and Delaney before working up new standalone originals. The mashups worked. But mainly, they essentially locked themselves away in a dark, windowless London studio for a full year, starting around the Yuletide in 2014, punching in daily at 10:00 a.m. and not leaving until 8:00 or 9:00 in the evening. And they did not emerge until they were fully satisfied with Full Circle.
“So this last Christmas was the first proper week that we’ve taken off,” sighs Benardout of the grueling self-inflicted sessions. “We were going six and a half days a week, including Sundays – even if we were just sending messages back and forth, we were still engaged in what was going on. But because we’d signed to matador so quickly, that allowed us to have a bit of money so we could actually work full-time on the record. We were like, ‘This is what we’ve been waiting for our whole lives – let’s just put our heads down and go for it, and not mess around’.”
Individually, they all sat down for heads-up talks with their significant others and closest friends, informing them that they would basically be disappearing for an entire year, and to not be offended that work was coming first. “But I live with my boyfriend, so that helped,” she says. “I’d be able to come home, get into bed, and have a little chat with him for an hour or so, then go to sleep and wake up and go. But when you work for hours on something like this? It’s not a chore. It’s enjoyable, and those hours were never a drag.”
How did the musicians (who initially christened themselves Halos, but added an artsy vowel to avoid confusion with a Christian American artist called Halo) know when Full Circle was finished? Again, something of a gut-level Eureka Moment, Benardut swears. “We wrote in such a way that we spent quite a lot of time on each song. We’d write a verse and then maybe scrap it and re-write it. So each song had quite a whole process of its own. So by the time we got to 13, 14 songs, it felt like each song was right, and should be on the album. We didn’t just keep writing and writing – it felt like we’d gotten a body of work that was complete. And I’m always keen to… to not hold on to these songs for too long.
“So in the same vein as “Dust,” it just feels right to put Full Circle out at this time, because these songs are relevant now. And if we keep writing and hold on to them for too long, they’re not going to be relevant anymore. So we’re quite ready for them to be heard.”