By: Allison Lapinski
Ian Ruhala, known onstage as Hala, is one of the many artists putting out their work into the world amid the Coronavirus. You might recognize Hala from such jangle-pop songs as “Sorry,” or “What Is Love? Tell Me, Is It Easy?” The lo-fi and intimate production on these songs has helped the multi-instrumentalist build quite an audience for himself, growing from the DIY Michigan scenes into sharing the stage with both indie staples The Regrettes and HelloGoodbye last year.
From his teenage-soaked Bandcamp releases, to his first LP with Cinematic Music Group this year, Hala has consistently made music that has been creatively manned by himself. In fact, in his COVID-19 era Instagramtv series, the Mid-Day show, Hala shows his followers his at-home studio engineering chops and the chords to one of his new songs, “Somehow.”
In an interview with WLUW, the 22-year-old talked a bit more about the process of recording his new record Red Herring, as well as his thoughts on livestreams and how he’s working through the quarantine:
WLUW: What’s your quarantine been like, creative-wise? Have you been making any music?
Hala: I have been making music. I’ve been writing and recording from home. I mean it comes in waves, you know, and we’ve been kind of in the quarantining process for, for a minute now. So it’s been here and there, but I’ve been trying to keep my brain active. I’m working on stuff.
WLUW: You also launched your Instagram series, the Mid-Day show, which is I think a fun way to keep it light and happy for people who are watching. Have you done any live streams in with that?
Hala: I have done a few livestreams, one with Schubas and Lincoln Hall. Another one with Songbird which is a venue in DC and yeah, I’m planning on doing some more. I did one with Bandsintown, which was really cool. That was the first one. It’s interesting, because with the Instagram live stream, you’re using your phone and you only have the audio from that. But with some of the other ones you do on Twitch, you can actually hook up an audio interface and all your microphones. It’s been interesting because I don’t think I’m all that tech savvy, but I’m also learning a new way of doing things.
WLUW: Do you think that it’s a good way for performers to use Instagram or whatever platform just to reconcile for the fact that a lot of tours are being canceled?
Hala: I totally think it is. I mean music will always persevere and musicians want to play live, and to have that kind of connection. It’s important, especially in uncertain times like we’re living in right now. I think it’s a great platform.
WLUW: What about Red Herring? You’ve worked with a label on this, Cinematic Music Group. Do you think that being in the studio transformed the way that you saw your music compared to working on it by yourself?
Hala: Well with the label, I wanted to sign with someplace where I knew I was going to have pretty much complete creative control, because that’s the thing that’s most important to me. Especially when before all of this, it was just me writing and recording at home. So it was important for me to still keep that as the important message and thing I wanted to do within the music. But yeah, the label was extremely supportive. They wanted to get me in a studio, and they wanted me to work with someone who I would have worked well with and we found Ryan Hadlock, which was a great match.
WLUW: Was it different being in Seattle too? Did you find your creative juices a little bit different or were you in the same mindset as you would have been in back home?
Hala: It was a little different just because the whole experience was so brand new to me. And I’ve been in a couple of studios, but I’ve never really done my own projects there. It was also cool because I had never been to Seattle before, and just spending the weekends in Seattle and becoming accustomed to that city, I don’t know, it kind of felt like a home away from home for a second. The studio was in Woodinville, which was about like 45 minutes north of Seattle. They were total opposites of each other. Just within the scenery; because Woodinville as you can imagine, is in the woods and it’s pretty rural. I think that just knowing that we were there to make something, and it was all riding on me, and to record everything there for the most part—I felt like it made me more focused and I just really wanted to make something special.
WLUW: When you were recording the album, did you have a collection of songs that you were planning on using for this album or how did your writing process go?
Hala: Well, I had been writing this record for two or three years before I actually went to the studio to record it. And I originally had a bunch of demos of the songs and I just kept on trying to rerecord that and I wasn’t satisfied with it because I thought the songs were special and they really needed something special in the recording-end to really elevate them to the next level. And I just was struggling to do it at home. So I was like, ‘well, what if I did go to a studio to do this?’ And I think it was the best decision I could’ve made with the music because at home, you have all this time, and this is probably the reason why it took so long for the record to come out, just because I had so much time at home. I kept on redoing things, rethinking about things, and you find yourself in this loop when you do stuff like that. And getting in the studio, it was like, we’re here to do this. It was such a relief when it was all over because it was like I didn’t have to worry about these songs anymore. I knew that they were taken care of.
WLUW: I recently saw that you were in a music video for the new song from Zilched, which I thought was really amazing. Have you been connecting with the Detroit community through this? There are so many amazing bands and a lot of shows have been canceled.
Hala: Yeah, it’s been hard with the social distancing thing to get together with people. But I’ve been really good friends with Chloe from Zilched for a long time and I’m dating her sister, so that maybe helped in getting the video spot. There are people in the scene right now that are doing similar things with the live stream stuff. Anna Burch is doing a ton because she just put out a record and she’s really changed her press approach into being really into the social media thing. Which I think she’s making the best of the situation. Stef Chura has been doing a lot of live stream stuff too. And yeah, everybody’s still working.
WLUW: Do you have anything that you’re dying to do once all of this hopefully subsides or maybe gets better?
Hala: That’s a tough question. I’ve been thinking about it. Maybe bowling, but I don’t know how long that’s going to be until we can do something like that. The last time I went bowling was for the “Somehow” video pretty much right when I got back from Seattle. That was when things started happening, and I haven’t been able to go since. I’d also like to go see a baseball game. I’d like to see the Tigers play, but I don’t even know if they’re going to play this year, which is such a bummer.
WLUW: It really is. Plus, both of those places are petri dishes for disease.
Hala: Oh yeah. Nothing like rented bowling alley shoes to really like put the fear in you. And then you’re eating French fries and you gotta be careful not to eat with your bowling hand. Yeah, it’s disgusting. But I still love it and I miss it.
WLUW: And where did you film the “Somehow” video?
Hala: That was at Timberland’s. They don’t have any of the scoreboards, so it’s you write out your own scores, like you used to do 30 years ago. That was really neat. And it was a small alley, and the owner was really psyched about the whole thing and he’s in the video briefly. But yeah, he was like super excited, shook my hand afterwards and was just like telling me about how videos like, like movies, like Kingpin and The Big Lebowski, really helped the sport of bowling as a whole. I don’t know how big of a reach he thought we were going to have with the video, but it was still really nice in the sense that it was there.
WLUW: Have you ever played on a bowling league before? What prompted that to go with the song?
Hala: I did when I was a little kid, like bumper style in my hometown. But I was just me and my roommate who also plays bass for me, we were going like three to four times a week for a couple of months and we were just like scouting out places in the Metro Detroit area of where we wanted to start a league. This was all before the quarantine stuff happened so maybe it just wasn’t meant to be right now.
WLUW: I went to a show at uh, Bowlero in Royal Oak once, I think they have a lot of shows there. There are so many cool and retro bowling alleys in Michigan.
Hala: That place is really cool. Their lanes are so pro, I don’t really know how to describe it any better than that. It’s so professional, and then architecturally the whole look of it is so cool and old school.
WLUW: It’s like a time machine in there. When will you be putting out your next Mid Day show on Instagram?
Hala: Hopefully Friday. I kind of slipped up two weeks ago. I didn’t post one, so I had to post it on Wednesday or something last week. I still haven’t filmed the next one or written out what the idea was going to be for it. It’s just something good to look forward to and do. I feel like it’s fun for me too. It’s just like gets me active and gets my brain going and thinking.
Unfortunately, Hala’s first ever US headline tour planned for this spring has been canceled in light of recent events. Red Herring is available wherever you get your music starting May 1. If you’d like to hear the full interview on-air, be sure to tune into “Lakeshore Lady Relocated” on May 15, as a part of our new summer programming!