by: Rachel Narozniak
Apr 30, 2021
Supernovas is a recurring Dancing Astronaut feature dedicated to vocalists in the dance space who, with their own idiosyncratic vocal signatures and unique lyrical perspectives, have played pivotal roles in bringing electronic records to life. Each installment in the monthly series spotlights one vocalist. The serial continues with Supernovas 004: HALIENE.
250 to 300 songs.
In 2011, HALIENE had written nearly as many songs as there are days in a year—in one year’s time. She would record just 12 of them, but most fans haven’t heard a single one.
The LP that they would land on—her second—would release in Japan in 2012 as Ashes of My Paradise. Decisively electro-pop in composition, Ashes of My Paradise followed her debut album We Are One, released in March 2007 when HALIENE, born Kelly Melissa Sweet, was 18 years old.
Ashes of My Paradise, however, would not trace the steps taken by We Are One; it never came out in the United States, a reality that HALIENE attributes to its stark difference from We Are One‘s jazz and classical makeup.
“My label at the time just didn’t get it. It was too much of a departure from my first album, and they didn’t know what to do with it,” HALIENE told Dancing Astronaut.
She left her label shortly thereafter. Nine years later, HALIENE “thinks of that album as growing pains.”
According to Cleveland Clinic, growing pains refers to a “condition [that] can be very painful, but fortunately, it isn’t dangerous.” The definition holds true for HALIENE—they weren’t dangerous for the American singer-songwriter, whose prominence in the dance space derives in part from these growing pains. Before a single one of those 250 to 300 songs would be written for Ashes of My Paradise‘s recording consideration, HALIENE would reassess the source of her artistic ardor. Although she was “raised on jazz and trained classically, those aspects…[weren’t] necessarily what my heart truly gravitated towards,” she said. She elaborated,
“After that full record cycle [We Are One] and at the age of 19, I sat down and said to myself, ‘I’m going to figure this out, because what I’m doing right now just isn’t it.’ I started asking myself what I truly loved about a song. Was it the bassline? Was it the drums? Was it just the lyrics? Basically, I started A&Ring myself. I realized the one major sonic thing in common was electronic sounds. I set out to make a second album with these ideas in my mind.”
Though Ashes of My Paradise might not have been as direct a launchpad to what was it, the album—of which HALIENE remains “very proud to this day”—drew her increasingly close to dance music. With raw talent that was readily recognizable but no ready fit for pop music, HALIENE developed an affinity for the electronic genre that can be traced back to the first music festival that she attended, Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival 2012.
HALIENE told Dancing Astronaut of her introduction to dance music,
“I’d never felt at home in pop; my voice didn’t seem to fit the molds required. My songwriting was too ethereal for them. But when I found dance music, I felt like I found home. I knew more than I’ve known anything in my career that I found where I belonged. The fans of dance music were just like me, and the culture lit up my heart in ways that can only be described as affirmation that I was in the right place. What stuck out to me was the bitter lack of live singers in the space, but it didn’t discourage me. I saw it as an opportunity to start something new, something I knew I was uniquely made for.”
And “start something new” she would. By March of 2015, HALIENE would stand shoulder to shoulder with Seven Lions for her very first feature, dance or otherwise, “The End.” One domino fell. Over the years, so would several more: “Rush Over Me,” “Horizon,” “Don’t Wanna Fall,” and “What’s Done Is Done.”
Looking back, HALIENE describes “The End”—her first original alongside Seven Lions—as a “dream come true”:
“I had been a huge fan of his production for a while, and when my publisher asked me if I’d like to write on some of his tracks, I jumped on the opportunity.”
Though “Rush Over Me,” released in October of 2016, would wait poignantly in the wings for a little over a year, that—rather than “The End”—is precisely where HALIENE and Seven Lions’ creative partnership began. HALIENE said,
“I actually wrote ‘Rush Over Me’ first, before ‘The End,’ but the latter came out first. Jeff [Seven Lions] really liked what I’d written for ‘Rush Over Me,’ so he drove down from Santa Barbara to work together on it. We finished it up, and he said he had another track for me, which ended up being ‘The End.’ I wrote it that day, and it came out on his Throes of Winter EP.”
One first would beget another, namely HALIENE’s first performance as HALIENE. When she stepped out onto the Webster Hall stage to live deliver “The End,” the liveliness and energy of the crowd assembled at the East Village hub of sonic activity inspired within HALIENE “something [she] had never felt before”:
“…[there was a] pulsing in me that was nothing short of truly coming alive. Performing for dance music fans is how I imagine performing at Woodstock must have felt, hearts that are as in love with the music as you are, living for every word, every beat and every moment. I thought to myself, THIS IS WHAT IT SHOULD FEEL LIKE, and I fell in love all over again.”
She wasn’t the only one to fall in love. Since her 2015 introduction to the dance context, HALIENE’s following has grown in step with her staggering, electronically facing catalog. From multiple musical go-rounds with the Ophelia Records owner to outings with Adventure Club and ARMNHMR, Tritonal, Gareth Emery, Excision and Wooli, Blasterjaxx, and Armin van Buuren, among many others, HALIENE’s vocals and singing-songwriting capacities have touched just about every crevice in this space, though she identifies trance and melodic dubstep as her wheelhouses.
And, the producers aren’t the only ones to embrace HALIENE, her celestial vocals, and her singing-songwriting ability, which infallibly stirs something within her streamers, no matter the dance subgenre. At mere mention of the name HALIENE, listeners at large—and certainly, the readers of this Supernovas feature—have a personal favorite penned by the Los Angeles-based creative that comes to mind. In recent years especially, HALIENE has objectively arisen as one of dance music’s most highly regarded voices, whether with a pen or a microphone in hand.
“I am so very grateful that once I found the right path, the world of dance music responded in turn and opened its arms to me,” HALIENE told Dancing Astronaut. “I think coming out of the gate with such a legendary collaborator was a true blessing.”
In the six years that have ensued, HALIENE has found that “there is a maturing process for a songwriter, just like there is for a human being going through the process of life.” As a younger songwriter, she says she was compelled to translate her own life experiences—what she’d seen, felt, and thought—into lyrics, though the urge to do so would diminish over time.
“Once you’ve written all that, purely out of the need to say something, that ‘need’ dissipates,” HALIENE said. “You find yourself then learning method—rhythms, rules of songwriting, concepts that are trending, styles or genres that are in, messages and lyrics that you think people want to hear, etc. [It’s] necessary learning, but in the logicalness of it, after a while it begins to feel hollow, and you start to miss the innocence of not knowing any of the rules, just creating out of the need to create.”
This feeling can be a stumbling block for some writers, HALIENE acknowledges. Though it’s natural to trip over it, by now, her “time, work, and perseverance” has elevated her to a stage where she has “learned how to listen to a track and tell [her] what it wants to say.” With this literacy comes an acute sense of when to indulge instinct, when to follow form, and when to eschew it, she says:
“It’s when you begin to break those rules intentionally, keeping them when you want to, using method when you need it, but writing out of pure instinct only when vulnerability is what the song requires. Then, all that you’ve learned begins to mesh together into a true songwriter. Now, all of the things I’ve learned have become second nature to me, like breathing. But that is something I have spent 10,000 hours creating.”
This reflexivity also extends to her collaborative process. Her work with producers typically proceeds as a synergistic collision of creative energies during which she “can usually see [the] theme or world” that her partner is trying to create. “I walk into that world and it is my job to write a story within it. I combine it with my own world, so something truly unique is born,” she says.
Though HALIENE has been a consistent collaborator in the electronic space, in 2021, her listeners can anticipate a leveling of co- and solo projects. “Having done so many collaborations though, the time comes to balance that out. I’m definitely at the stage where I feel ready for an album of my own, which is what we’ve been working on for the past year,” she says.
She’ll pepper the year not only with some “huge collaborations” and some of her own originals, but also with strings of live shows—when it’s safe to return to stage. Her roster currently includes festival and club bookings, as well as several socially distanced acoustic performances, three of which have HALIENE stationed in Orange County from April 29 – May 1 for an acoustic dinner series, a format she’d dreamt about adopting “for years.” 2021 in sum is “the year of building something new, of breaking the molds, of far off dreams becoming reality,” according to HALIENE. “I can’t say much more than that, but as the year unfolds, you will see,” she promises.
Not all of the molds to be broken, however, are singularly hers. In a theoretical bridge between Supernovas 003: Jonathan Mendelsohn and this present Supernovas installment, HALIENE underscores the industry’s historical treatment of singer-songwriters as secondary to the producer as a paradigm on the precipice of a very necessary shift. In 2021, as an increasing number of vocalists and lyricists—the lifeblood of so many of the records that we know and records that we will collectively come to know—advocate for their equivalence, the lopsided mold of creative accreditation awaits its own shattering. And, though some systematic change comes later than it should, its delay does not render it any less important or less impactful.
“I am thrilled to finally see a huge movement in the dance space that singer-songwriters are not just samples or features to be exploited. People are starting to recognize that the words the crowd sings back to you, we wrote and sang. Writing a song is just as valuable a contribution as making the track, and these singers and writers can be performers too,” HALIENE said.
“It is time to break the mold, because people are ready for it. It doesn’t mean the producer role is less than, but that there is room for all. I’ve had to push hard to be booked on for festivals and shows, despite having more fans, releases, and streams than many of the people on the lineups.
I’m grateful to finally be getting my own set time though. I know if I had just compromised my vision and become a DJ, it would have been much quicker and easier. Lord knows I had many very established DJs tell me I should just because that was the mold. But I wanted to do something bigger than that. I wanted to make a path for singers in the future. I wanted to make a stand that singers can have live shows in dance music too. We don’t all have to be behind the decks, we can be out in front of them, singing our hearts out, singing the words we wrote with you. It’s time, and it’s happening now! I’m so grateful.”
The “bitter lack of live singers” that HALIENE observed when she made her acquaintance with dance music in 2012 has been sweetened by her presence in the time since, such that the singer-songwriters to follow in her step might not ever look upon the space and see that paucity again. By so vocally—no pun intended—and inspiritingly existing in and contributing to the electronic culture, HALIENE has not only answered this “bitter lack”; she’s also been a catalyst for the metamorphosis surrounding the singer-songwriter’s stature in the electronic sector of the music industry.
Our interview ends with a particularly powerful profession from HALIENE: “Music is my purpose, [it is] why I believe I was put on this earth.” We, along with the vocalists and songwriters who will walk the trail she’s blazed, would wholeheartedly agree.
Stream HALIENE’s hand-curated Supernovas playlist featuring 10 of her songs below.
Featured image: Rukes