Jason Tyler and Alex Moore of the band Halfcast showed up at the front door to my townhome in the fan at 11:01 for our 11:00 AM meeting; about as punctual as can be expected from musicians. Both were casually dressed in jeans and t-shirts, a “MOM” tattoo poking out from beneath Tyler’s right sleeve. We exchanged pleasantries as I gave them the tour of the house and showed them my basement studio where I often work and record my music. Ryan Dickerson showed up a few minutes later wearing a shirt emblazoned with the logo of what I can only assume to be his favorite hot sauce and smiled at me as I opened to the door, apologizing for his fashionable tardiness. I sat down on one couch in my living room to begin the interview, while they all sat shoulder to shoulder on a separate couch, despite the ample seating.
Tyler growing up in Alexandria begin teaching himself guitar from an early age. What started as a fantasy after playing a game of Guitar Hero turned into a reality as he got older and began working in music stores in order to be around the instruments he wanted to learn. Starting the project that would eventually be called Halfcast in 2012 with a friend, Jack Hubble, Tyler felt that they had a high-concept story to tell and they began work on what would eventually turn into Year of the Fox, Halfcast’s first studio album. Writing and recording in Hubble’s basement, playing almost every instrument himself, Tyler continued working on it over the course of the next four years.
When Tyler came to Virginia Commonwealth University to study classical guitar, he met Moore, a drummer from the Eastern Shore of Maryland who had been playing music since the age of seven and playing in bands since the age of eight. After moving to Richmond, Moore lived next door to a friend of Tyler’s who heard him playing drums and offered to introduce him to Tyler. After a jam session in which the two bonded, Tyler asked Moore to join the Halfcast project.
Dickerson, born in Nashville, was raised in Short Pump and moved downtown later in life to attend VCU. Playing trumpet throughout his youth, Dickerson was primarily a drummer when he first moved into the city. However, seeing a need for bass players around town, he decided to pick up the instrument and slid perfectly into the niche. Running into Tyler frequently on campus, Dickerson made his acquaintance through numerous mutual classes. As the release of Year of the Fox loomed, Tyler was looking for a bass player to help him play his songs live. Attending a rehearsal, Dickerson clicked with Tyler and Moore, and in this three-piece lineup, they decided to begin promoting the album created by Tyler.
Listing among their influences An Endless Sporadic, Failure, and Queens of the Stone Age, Halfcast also serve as a callback to progressive rock of the 70s and 80s, but with a taste of the heavy dirty guitar tones and screaming vocals that often flavor today’s prog-rock. Halfcast’s sound on their new album, Return, is marked by Tyler’s virtuosic guitar playing, which is not only technically proficient but versatile and dynamic as well. Seamlessly switching from atmospheric and dissonant arpeggios to riff-based shredding lead, all while singing, Tyler defines what it means to be a guitar-playing frontman. Moore’s drumming and Dickerson’s heavy bass playing form a rhythm section that offers strong support for the riffs Tyler plays, while also offering an excellent, rhythmically dense counterpoint to Tyler’s smooth vocal lines. They don’t just play a supporting role, though — for example, the song “O.S.I.T.C,” from Return, opens with a quick punching beat by Moore, accented by Dickerson’s flowing bass, which shows off his melodic chops.
Halfcast partnered with Hourglass Sessions and The Byrd Theatre to create a truly unique video for their song “Blue & Gold,” from their new album, Return — out now just about everywhere you get your music. You can watch their Hourglass Session above, or on RVA MAG TV on Tuesday July 19th at 1PM. Then continue reading for our interview, in which I talked to Halfcast about their music (the old and the new), their process for writing, house shows, and how to be successful in your field, even if it’s not in the way you might have expected.
Note: lightly edited for clarity and ease of conversation. Edited for length.
A few new and young artists I’ve spoken to are concerned about older established bands and cover bands that sell beer dominating venues that they would like to play and not leaving room for them to be able to break through and establish themselves. What are your thoughts on that? Is that a concern y’all share?
Alex Moore: That’s a great question, and we’ve been going back and forth a lot with that ourselves. We have a separate project that is and event band — a wedding band — and up until the last year, we were resolute to never do covers. We’ll do a cover a set maybe, but we are not a cover band. Knowing that we want to do this — music, that is — for a living, long term, it’s a necessary evil, so to speak. Not that it’s all bad. We still have a great time doing those gigs, people have a great time, but I think as long as you can leave space for that creative side and that original project, which we’re doing, and not lose sight of that… one can feed the other. You’ve got to have money to feed the other project, and that’s kind of what we’re doing. We’re making it work.
Jason Tyler: And I would also like to add to that: I think these younger artists have nothing to worry about. The thing that made me fall in love with the Richmond scene, the thing that made me join the first band that asked me — The Alberts, way back in 2014 — was the fact that the house show scene was ALWAYS moving; it was fluid. I could go anywhere on Marshall Street, or Clay [Street], and just find a random house show that [I] could play at. 300-plus people would show up. And the cops would be called, and it was chaos, but it was wonderful. It’s like every old head would say: “Those were the days! Those were real shows.” But it fluctuates. It goes away for a year, and then it comes back. But then COVID hit, and I feel like we’re on a rise now. With the rise of social media, I’ve been seeing a lot of these new venues in all these different areas come out with these shows. They only have original bands that sound like nothing I’ve ever heard. Now, if you’re trying to argue that you want a show at River City Roll or something like that, yeah, you might need to play some covers for that. But if you’re worried about the gigs, and older bands playing covers, then I feel like you have nothing to worry about, because there’s always gonna be someone to open their house.
AM: The same people at those house shows like to go to venues and see shows too, and I think that the house show scene, that DIY scene, helps feed into [the club scene]. If there’s a buzz about you, then a venue’s gonna hear about it, more than likely. Especially if it’s through social media, then you’re going get to picked up in that way, or seen eventually, and probably gonna get an opportunity. If not, then other bands are gonna want to pull you onto bills. But yeah, it’s tough. It’s something that’s not going away.
Ryan Dickerson: People talk about the “Richmond house show scene,” and there’s never been one scene, at least as long as I’ve been here. I’ve been trying to find the hardcore scene. [Laughs] But you’re talking about worry… the only thing I’m worried about is if I can’t find any house show venues around. Cause I miss those chaos days of… maybe they’re still out there and I’m just not 18 or 19 anymore, but I miss those living rooms filled with people.
It is such an underground scene. The news doesn’t report about house shows and they’re not advertised, you either see a poster on a wall somewhere or someone sends you a message on Instagram.
JT: It’s either you were there, or you weren’t, and the people will talk about it for years to come. You just have to find those places. I get worried about it sometimes too, [but] they’re out there — you just have to keep on searching. You’ve just got to have faith in Richmond that you’ll find it, and that you’ll be a part of it.
Your first album, Year of the Fox, from 2016, is monstrous at over an hour long, and you didn’t release anything save for a single here and there up until now with your new album, Return. Why keep the name if the lineup completely changed between the two albums?
JT: The name was something that was very important to me. I think back then I was just a young kid who wanted to release music and didn’t care how I did it. With this new album, we’ve all looked a lot into the business side and marketing strategy; how people react on social media. Back then it was like, “I want to make music. That’s it, and that’s all that matters.” That’s all that should matter, and there’s a little bit of naivete that comes along with that, but I think now it’s just the thing that has lasted. It’s always been Halfcast. I wouldn’t say these are concept albums, but they definitely have a theme to them, and they definitely connect to each other. So me changing the name, even though I didn’t release music, just kind of seems like a cop out.
AM: [The name] Halfcast kind of marks the formation of this group as it is, because that name was really put on it when we started playing. We had another name, but it happened at or around the same time that we all started playing together.
That first album does vary a lot sonically, but there’s something unspoken that holds it together: there’s choral arrangements, acoustic guitar, and it goes all over the place. You mentioned it’s mostly you [Tyler]; what holds that album together?
JT: I think it’s kind of the mood. It’s what I was going through at the time. The whole thing is based upon the story of a boy. The character, he’s out of high school, and he doesn’t really know what he’s doing. All he knows is he’s going to get out of what he’s doing; he wants to get out of this place that he’s in, because he doesn’t like it, and he’s going through trials and tribulations in order to escape. At the end with “The Aberration,” that 11-minute-long song, he realized there’s no way out other than death; not a physical death, but death of himself. He has to change from a boy to a man, and that’s the whole journey.
Then there’s that bonus track, “Dawn,” which we released later, and that’s the hopeful part. That’s him leaving. I think the thing that holds it together is that it’s a story, and I don’t think people do this with albums anymore. They just have a collection of songs, and that’s fine, they’re good and they stand on their own, but when we write now, and when I wrote back then… I want [an album] to tell a story. I want it to convey a message, and I think that’s what holds it together. The music is very different, and it’s written at different points: there’s different drummers and there’s different instruments, and they sound different from track to track. They’re mastered differently. The story is what holds all of it together.
Moving from Year of the Fox, which is all Jason, into this new album Return that is coming out, what has been y’all’s process for writing music?
RD: There’s not really a lot of organization to it [Laughs].
AM: Strictly speaking, and in general, when it comes to everything going into this album, let alone writing, Jason definitely does the heavy lifting — there’s no question. Jason will usually come in with a riff or an idea, and we usually just do our thing with it, and it evolves from there. We’ve grown together, we’ve learned a lot, we fight really well, and we write really well together; we do all of that really cohesively. It ends up being something that we’re all proud of. I think we’ve grown throughout the process.
RD: There’s two things that are nice about this band: one is that our weaknesses and strengths as writers all kind of overlap in very helpful ways. We tend to check each other’s better impulses. Like if this is getting kind of long in the tooth, the person who’s all about cutting things down will step in, but then if this is a little bit underdeveloped, then person A will step in and say, “Here’s all the stuff we can add to this.” It’s also nice having a drummer who knows how to write. I can’t overstate how much of an arranging role Alex has. He steps in very early and very quickly to…
AM: Sometimes forcefully, let’s be honest.
RD: But he very quickly steps up to really push the song in a direction that we might not have been expecting it.
JT: The way it typically goes is I have an idea or a riff, and then Alex goes, “Well, we’ve used that rhythm before, so let’s try this rhythm,” or something that I would have never thought of. And then Ryan, being the great bassist that he is, comes up with a bass part, almost like a rhythm guitar part, that is a counterpoint to my melody and my lyrics. Or does the same thing that I do and jumps out when he needs to, which is the progressive element that our music inspires. So, that’s typically what happens, but now we’re trying to go in different directions to keep it the same but different.
You must. Ego is going to get in the way when you’re writing, but you have to try and not let it. Most of the music that you’ve released so far has been on streaming services or Bandcamp, but a lot of other artists are doing vinyl releases. I see you’re doing the Direct-To-Vinyl thing. Have you found streaming revenue and Bandcamp sales to be sufficient? Your new album is coming out on CD and USB, but have you done this in the past, or are you just getting around to it?
AM: It’s something that we’ve gone back and forth on. We have physical copies of things — not as many as we might have bought five years ago. For this album we might have [previously] gotten 500 or 1000 copies — we have a fraction of that. Just because we’re trying to adapt; we know most people tend to download anyway. We’re also trying to be somewhat innovative and doing USBs now. Most cars if it’s after 2016 don’t have CD players, so it’s tough. It’s nice to have a physical CD, though. I think we’re just trying to adapt and make it easier for people to listen to our music, but we want to have all forms if possible.
JT: And we’re all in agreement here: vinyl is on the way. We are going to do vinyl.
AM: It’s just expensive.
JT: Right. Exactly. Like I said, when I first released Year of the Fox it was all about the music, and then I ran into problems about release, the media, the social aspect of it, and obviously the cost. Whenever we do something, we want to make sure that we can turn a profit. Not because we’re money-grubbing capitalists, but because we want to be able to do this longterm.
AM: It all goes back into the band. We’ve never paid ourselves for anything.
JT: Everything we’ve ever made as Halfcast goes into a band fund that goes right back into the band. Hence the Party Favors [their wedding band], and that will hopefully give us more income. So, I think the whole reason is that this is our job, this is our passion, this is our career. In order to do that, you have to make it worth your while. You can’t just do things because it’s nice and it feels good; you have to make money off of it so that you can continue to do it. So vinyl is definitely on the way, we just need to figure out a way to make it worth our while.
AM: The one thing we have invested heavily in, and it has paid us back every time — it has helped us pay for this album, for example — is just merch. Shirts, and things like that. It’s probably what we make the most on. Even vs. what we get paid at the gig. If nothing else, [if we] sell a few shirts, it was a good night. If nothing else, you sell one shirt, and that’s support. That feels good.
RD: That’s where Direct-To-Vinyl comes in. They reached out to us and a few other Richmond bands, and that was just the first cost-effective way we’ve come across to record vinyl. Leesta Vall is the name of the studio, and they do a unique live take of a song, and they press that directly to a 45. So, everyone who gets one of those 45s is the only copy of that.
Speaking of earning money: this wedding band. It is essentially just you all, but you’ve also hired two other singers and a keyboardist. A lot of bands are unwilling to play anything they don’t want to, but then I see y’all playing top 40 hits at weddings. Obliviously it’s more lucrative, but what else spurred the creation of it?
AM: Back to what I said earlier: we want to do this as a living. We all have day jobs — well, Jason in the last year has kind of transitioned into only music. He does lessons and the band; that’s how he makes his living. Which is cool. Ryan and I are trying to hopefully, eventually, be on that same team, so to speak. But looking for a day job in music, to be sure. I want music to be the job. That’s one way to get there, but it’s also that we need to pay for things. We want to tour with Halfcast, we want to do other things. How can we fund that without having to come out of pocket? Eventually we came to the idea that this can be good for us individually, for a career, but also this can fuel our passion project.
JT: And furthermore, after just a few months of doing this, we have gotten tighter as a band — with Halfcast. We practice for these event shows with the Party Favors, and we’re like, “Oh, we have that Halfcast show! We’ve got to get back to our old music. All right, we’re gonna have to have about two weeks of practice just to get our chops back.” And then we do it in one night, because we’re on the same level of tightness — we can bounce off each other. There are things that you don’t see, or you don’t think about, when you’re doing this, and obviously, there’s these bands who don’t want to do this stuff. Then you don’t have to do it. But the thing is that we wanted to do it, and this helps out. We like doing music. We prefer our own music, we love writing — that’s the big passion. But playing other people’s songs has never been this big ugly thing. Even if it’s top 40, you can make it your own.
RD: And it’s dance tunes, so that’s what teaches you to lock in as a band. When you’re trying to make other people dance… you’re not allowed to show off at that point. You just have to listen to the kick drum and lock in.
AM: And this goes back to your original question and point. I think for anyone who is considering doing that, or [thinking] if it’s worth doing a cover band to try and make more money, put the money aside and all that. When you’re a musician and a live performer, the reason we do this is how we feel up on stage. And when you have a crowd of people, regardless of the genre you’re playing, when everyone’s kind of moving, and everyone’s into the music, that is payment in itself. And with these kinds of bands, to be fair, you’re at a wedding, you’re at a bar, you’re at a corporate event, people are probably dancing, man, and they’re having a great time, and that just feels good. You can still be creative with it.
Even if it’s a worse version of the thing you love, it is still the thing you love. So, tell me about the day jobs, and what you do otherwise to keep the money flowing in.
AM: I’m the general manager of a clothing store. I basically sell suits for a living. I’ve been doing that for about nine years. I love doing that, it’s something [I] can kind of do in my sleep, it comes second nature. But I really want to make music the job.
RD: I’ve been in restaurants for about six years now, and currently I’m an assistant kitchen manager. So, I’ve just been cooking for a little bit.
JT: I’ve been doing music lessons, mostly guitar, but also piano and ukulele, and all that good stuff.
Do these jobs give you the freedom you need to pursue not only Halfcast, but also the Party Favors?
AM: At the moment, for me, yes. I’m able to create my own schedule, while still trying to adhere to what my store needs. But it’s worked out to where I can make sure I’m always at practice. We practice twice a week with both bands, so it’s been nice to make sure I can be available. Weekends can be a little tough. That’s part of the reason I know that eventually I’ll have to get out of that altogether, so that we can do events on the weekends.
JT: Mine’s pretty cool. The places that I work at are very supportive of what I do, and they know my band, and I have private lessons to so obviously I’m in control of that. I used to work in kitchens before this, so comparatively this is the perfect scenario. I’m always playing music, I’m always playing my guitar, I’m always thinking about music, and my life is wrapped in it. So, yes. 100% yes.
RD: Restaurants are kind of a double-edged sword. You can ask off whenever you want if you give proper notice, as long as it’s not during busy season. So, I have plenty of freedom in that sense, but also the amount of energy you put into a full-time kitchen job can sap you a little bit. I can always get the time off that I need to make this work, but I’m hoping the Party Favors can pick up a little bit of that.
And I hear you’re starting to book gigs, so that’s great, but I want to hear some endgame stuff and get a little bit more abstract: when will you have succeeded?
JT: I’m quoting somebody else here, but it’s difficult to put a finger on it, and I go back and forth on how I feel about it. Personally, success is not a destination, it’s a journey, and we have gone through a lot of trials and tribulations. We’ve been around — this incarnation has been around for five years; the whole thing has been around since 2012. It took four years to do the first album, but it was for free. We survived COVID, not playing shows, and a lot of bands fell through the cracks, unfortunately, in Richmond. I think success is a lot of failures. Obviously, it’s a little cliché, and I could go on, but success is failure, [and] getting up from failure. Going back to one of the previous questions you asked, “What’s the writing process?” Everybody is happy, 100%, with whatever we have ever done, period. I can say that across the board for every single song, for every single record, for everything we have ever done. We have been completely and utterly happy with it, and this album took a little longer because of that. We had to spend a little bit more money because of that. But we are 100% proud of this album, and with everything we’ve ever done at the time. So, that’s what I would consider success, is that I am completely content and happy with this, and I am proud to put it up. We’ve already been successful, in my opinion.
AM: Personally speaking, I think success for me would be getting to the point where… [I’ve] kind of failed and learned enough to where I don’t sweat the small stuff. Getting to a point where I can be content and okay with what I have going on. It’s okay to eventually pivot and just make do with what’s going on, but to have that happen a little more instantly.
RD: I can’t add a whole lot more besides that I think we all feel a certain amount of success just out of the fact that… I think I can speak for everyone when I say this is the best band that any of us have been in. That feels good in and of itself.
JT: Can I change my answer to money?
JT: Last little tidbit: someone asked us recently, “Where do you want this band to go?” And my answer was, “As far as it possibly can.” So, I’m happy with the success we have, and I would consider it very successful. More success than I’ve ever had before, so I’m thankful for that. But that doesn’t mean that we’re content; we’re going to continue pushing as hard as we can to get whatever we can.
Now I’m gonna give you to chance to tell me what is next for y’all. What can people expect?
JT: The biggest thing we have on our plate right now is that Halfcast is releasing its sophomore album Return on June 24th, and that’s the thing that’s been on our mind for the last year. It was recorded at Elephant Ear recording studios with the wonderful and illustrious Jeremy D. Simmons. He helped us create this. He was basically the fourth member, and that was a great process. It was mixed in analog, which is fun.
AM: And expensive.
JT: And expensive. Prices were good at Elephant Ear. Mastered by Dan Millice, the guy who actually did Riverless for Night Idea. We didn’t know that at the time, which is great, because I love that album. Artwork done by Nathan Tersteeg, and we’ve worked with him for a while. It’s what we actually sound like, I would say. Because Year of the Fox was great, but that was just songs I wrote, and it was a different part of my life. Now this is the new and improved form, and we’re super proud of it.
RD: That’s the biggest thing, is putting out a record that sounds like you. Because bands at our level, you can watch them and they put on a great show, and then they put out a record that’s either way sloppier and doesn’t sound anything like them live, or it’s way too pristine and doesn’t sound anything like that band. So, I really appreciate when smaller bands can put out a record that just sounds like them.
AM: That and the Direct-To-Vinyl. We’re going to be doing preorders for that soon, and that’s the next thing coming up that we’re gonna be promoting. But the album is here. It took over two years, but it’s here. It’s finally here.
So, what was the experience of making your Hourglass Session like? Has it helped you along the way in promoting your new music?
JT: It all started when Hourglass Sessions hosted a competition to see which artist could best make a cover song sound like their own. The winner would get to direct their own live video shoot with the company. We’ve seen some of Hourglass’s work before, and we knew if we had a chance to collaborate with them, we should take it. We submitted a cover of us playing our psychedelic-rock version of Radiohead’s “National Anthem,” and by some miracle managed to win.
We picked the Byrd for the location of the session due to its huge influence on us and the Richmond community. Seeing how the Byrd is almost one hundred years old, we wanted to give the video an old-timey vibe. Fortunately for us, the clothing shop Bygones was right next door. We purchased some 1920’s garb, wrote up a script that allowed for multiple shots of the theater to be seen, and got some of our friends to dress up and act. We even hired Bob Gulledge to play an intro of our song in the beginning of the video on the Mighty Wurlitzer. Not going to lie, hearing your own music being played on a 70-year-old instrument that can shake a literal building was one of the top five experiences of our lives.
The actual shoot was a blast, everyone was having a great time. Though we had a script, a lot of the shots were improvised by the actors, who seemed to be encouraged by the creative energy in the room. We had to do a couple retakes because of the actors making us crack up on stage when they played their roles. The videographer/audio engineers, Tyler and Dillon from Hourglass, were professional as hell and brought our vision to life without compromise. The power only went out once, so we would say it was smooth sailing.
The video has helped us the most with connections in our industry. We’ve been getting a lot of great gigs lately from amazing places, and amazing lineups from all around Richmond, ever since the session came out. We’ve made friends with Tyler and Dillon at Hourglass Studios, who have worked on other video projects with us. This whole process has also made us realize that we don’t need to stop at music as a creative medium. We are more than capable of including other areas of artistry into our work, and we have plans to do so in the very near future.
Halfcast will be playing on Sunday, July 31st at The Camel, along with Asylum 213, Ugli, and David & The Subdivision. Tickets and additional info available at The Camel’s website. Halfcast’s new album, Return, is available now as a digital download on their Bandcamp, and is streaming in most places that you get your music. You can preorder their upcoming Direct-To-Vinyl lathe-cut vinyl release at Leesta Vall’s website.