Article by: Blake Boldt | Photos courtesy of Luca Venter | Posted: 06/20/2012
"I feel most at home, and in my realm of comfort, when I'm singing and playing drums," says Adam Halferty, leader of indie-pop outfit American Tomahawk. "I just naturally cling to that more than anything else." That devotion to his craft has expressed itself in a number of different formats. He’s performed with Chain Gang of 1974 and Axe That Chopped the Cherry Tree, as well as scoring a gig for 3OH!3, who collaborated with Ke$ha on their 2010 hit, "My First Kiss." Halferty describes these stints as an "important part of his musical development," but he feels creatively unfulfilled and focused on breaking out of the narrow parameters of being a road musician.
Last year Halferty, a Colorado native who now resides in Los Angeles, formed American Tomahawk with friends and fellow musicians Matthew Wilcox and Mikel Spear. That artistic decision has paid dividends. Their first EP, Contradictions, Generalities, and Future Plans, includes seven bracing tracks that detail Halferty's bouts with depression and substance abuse while also showing flashes of his youthful exuberance. The album was recorded in an old Catholic church with Wilcox and completed in one extended session. "Like anybody, I wanted to have a basic idea of what I wanted, or what I hoped, it would sound like," he says. "You'd be foolish to say that you have everything planned when you go into the studio. It was just a really comfortable process."
Much like with the recording approach, Halferty doesn’t expect to always have the luxury of careful planning when it comes to every aspect of his music, which has proven useful during his continuous search for good hooks. When he feels a burst of inspiration, technology has proven to be his most trusted friend. "I'm kind of all over the map and very stream-of-consciousness," he says. "The handheld recorder is one of the best devices known to man, and then the iPhone came along and I take that with me wherever I go. The songs tend to happen very quickly, although there are times they've had to be built and the ingredients aren't quite there." Not that the task has always been easy given his antsy nature. "I'm very impatient and patience is something I'm trying to learn," he admits.
Halferty’s self-proclaimed impatience is surprising though, especially after listening to Contradictions. The EP begins with a quiet meditation: the opener, “Our Song Knife,” is a gently percolating number that busts wide open into a percussion-led coda. And through the next six songs, the album blends reflective, philosophical tunes with more upbeat and uptempo material, all filtered through Halferty's tough-minded sensibility. At times, Halferty has found it difficult to share those flaws with the audience. "There's something unsatisfying in that," he says. "It's like reading a diary entry from two to three years ago. The immaturity shows, and hopefully you've grown from that. It can be a challenge to think about the past.”
Halferty asserts his individuality with carefully crafted lyrics that reflect his personal journey. The making of Contradictions allowed him to rebound from past mistakes by digging deeper into his roots. Its centerpiece, "1993," is a harrowing tale of family turmoil and sexual abuse that explores a series of troubling events in Halferty’s childhood. "When I first put the songs out, I had my insecurities because the songs are so personal," he says. "Honesty isn't always a great feeling, and it presents plenty of problems. There's an interesting freedom and a liberating feeling in sharing them in such a public way. The good thing is that when I'm performing those songs, they still have the ability to be interpreted by the audience, and maybe in a different way."
American Tomahawk just completed their debut US tour as opening act for Fitz & The Tantrums and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. Halferty hopes that Contradictions is just the first benchmark in a long and successful career. "What I hope to do in the future is to keep making money through music," he says, "but I don't want it to be too much of a strain or feel too much pressure. I want to have an atmosphere that's conducive for creating."
American Tomahawk - "Our Song Knife"