Goth rock quintet Van Halst takes on feminism, body image and more with impressive debut

Tuesday 29th, March 2016 / 08:53
By Brittany Rudyck
Van Halst returns to Alberta after a mission out east. Photo: Renee Robyn

Van Halst returns to Alberta after a mission out east.
Photo: Renee Robyn

EDMONTON — Kami Van Halst knew she was passionate about singing from a very young age.

“My earliest memory of wanting to sing professionally was kindergarten when they couldn’t get me off the stage at a school performance. I was the loudest kid in the Christmas tree, that’s for sure,” she laughs. “I really liked being onstage and I have such a vivid memory of that. My mom has it on tape, and that’s when my parents started noticing my affinity for the stage.”

BeatRoute could easily hear the smile in her voice when we chatted on the phone about the debut album, World of Make Believe, an impressive effort from the goth rock quintet sharing her last name. What began as a solo project quickly evolved into a full band concept, loudly sharing their notion of social justice with the world.

As a collaborative creative, Van Halst has been working with guitarist Scott Greene in the music world from an early age. It was Greene who opened her eyes to this music.

“While I was in university I was in a couple of bands. Cover bands, bands that went nowhere and I was frustrated. I was taking guitar lessons from Scott at the time and he suggested we write some music. We started writing songs that were intended for me as a solo, hard rock, alternative rock project. The songs turned out to be really good, but we were missing something. After a few voice lessons in New York and Los Angeles, I began sprinkling screamo into our music. That’s when we felt this would be a better fit as a full band as opposed to a solo artist. It’s been a long journey.”

Growing up in Edmonton and experiencing prairie culture has no doubt served Van Halst well since her recent move to Toronto to help further the band. Especially when it comes to writing about social justice issues like mental health, religion, domestic abuse and more. She even partnered up with her sister, Brittney Grabills, to write two tracks on the new album.

“Questions” is one of the two co-written by Grabills and seeks to address the issue of victim blaming.

“A few years ago, there were a bunch of women who were getting assaulted in an alleyway on the south side. We got the idea for the song when a person in a prominent position (I can’t remember who it was in this moment) basically said, ‘Well, what were they doing there in the first place?’ They were, in my opinion, putting the onus on the women and that they shouldn’t have been there. We wanted to song to literally be questions to get people thinking about victim blaming. ‘What was she wearing?’ ‘Was she by herself?’”

The song is a haunting and pretty ballad, but darkly confronts the issue at hand with a husky whisper before crashing into heavier riffs and louder, angrier yelling. A beautiful exploration of an ugly subject.

The rest of the album stays on a similar track, with chaotic, yet articulate howls, and sombre, moody guitar. They seem to be compared to Evanescence a fair bit, but with an added layer of crispness with Ms. Van Halst’s screamo vocals and obvious stabs into social justice.

Van Halst are taking the album on the road across Canada beginning in April with an album release party in their hometown of Edmonton, which they haven’t visited since moving east last summer.

“I noticed once we stepped into the Edmonton metal scene, we were recognized right away. So, it’s small, but it’s a closer community.”

Don’t miss the album release party for World of Make Believe on April 2nd at Filthy McNasty’s in Edmonton. Canada’s Extreme Metal Radio has them headlining MetalFest at Overtime Sports Bar in Calgary on April 29th!

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