Bands in the Bubble – The Better Half
By Brian Gallagher
PHOTO COURTESY THE BETTER HALF
John Murray and Sandra Giguere at their home studio in Hudson. Insert is their ‘No side is wrong’ album cover.
As a musician, I am one of hundreds feeling the sting (financially and emotionally) of not being able to play live anymore or even get together with musical friends to jam, hang out, create, etc. So I have started reaching out to local musicians to see what they are up to during the COVID era and how, in their own way, they are keeping the music alive.
This week I am showcasing the local Hudson duo ‘The Better Half’ and their brand new release ‘No side is wrong.’ ‘The Better Half’ is comprised of Sandra Giguere and John Murray and their latest album sees them blend their influences and experiences into a tapestry of heartfelt ballads and acoustic-flavoured rockers that, when put together, make for an excellent album that hearkens back to the days when you sat down to play a record from start to finish immersing yourself into the words and music of each song. There are eight tracks on this album and showcase some real special moments, including the title track ‘No side is wrong’ and ‘Can’t cry anymore.’ Make sure to stick around for the last song on the album – ‘Simple as that’ which is a fantastic 70’s-era type rocker where John’s Santana influence really shines on guitar. This is a record that is definitely worth a couple of listens and might even keep you coming back for more.
I sat down (not really, it was through the magic of the world wide interweb) to chat with Sandra and John to talk about their musical journey and their new album.
TJ: How did ‘The Better Half’ come to be? Was this the first musical project for the two of you or were you in a cover or original band before?
TBH: Both of us have been involved in many musical projects over the years. Amongst many, John was the lead guitarist in Persuasion, the well-known tribute to Carlos Santana, from 2012 to 2019, and Sandra was lead singer of all-female alternative rock group Safire in the 1990s. Together we still perform in the five-piece rock and blues band Karma. We were both part of an earlier group and after it disbanded we continued our collaboration. This wasn’t only musical… (We got married last year!)
TJ: Who writes the songs and how do the two of you approach the writing/recording process?
TBH: Most songs are co-written. Generally, the songs start with one of us having a lyrical or musical idea, and then bringing it to the table (literally the kitchen table) to develop together over a drink (perhaps a martini). John then moves to the studio to work on an arrangement and recording of the initial tracks. Usually our great drummer, Sylvain Chamberland, is then brought in to help build the drums and other rhythm tracks before we complete the vocals, guitars, bass, and all other instruments. Then John gets to work on the lengthy process of mixing, producing, and mastering the final song.
TJ: Do you and John perform more as an acoustic duo or as a full band? Which do you prefer?
TBH: The Better Half is built around the songs written and sung by the two of us, and then performed live in several different line-ups – as a duo, as a trio with (drummer) Sylvain, and also as a full band of up to six people. On our albums we arrange the songs using as many or as few instruments as needed to get the sound we are looking for. Then, arranging the live performance of the songs differently depending on the size and instrumentation of the group is a lot of fun, and a good challenge!
TJ: How do you feel this new release is different from the debut album? Were there lessons taken from ‘Alibis’ which helped you with ‘No side is wrong?’
TBH: We definitely don’t like to constrain our song-writing to a particular sound or genre. The first album went from acoustic to rock, to jazz-blues, to a touch of country – in fact there’s even a kind of rock-cabaret. We both really admire artists who have not been afraid to colour outside the lines. For this new album, there’s definitely more of a focus on a rock sound, but still with plenty of acoustic guitar in the mix. ‘Alibis’ was the first album that John had produced in our own studio from A to Z, so many lessons were learned in the recording and mixing, and then for ‘No Side is Wrong,’ he also did the mastering.
TJ: Do you feel you are more rock than acoustic? What would your comparisons be? On a couple of tracks I hear and feel a ‘Jefferson Airplane’ kind of vibe with maybe a touch of Cranberries, Heart, and of course the Santana vibe in the guitar playing – the whole album seems to have more of a throwback classic rock sound with even a touch of soul thrown in for flavour here or there. Is this from your influences? Who would those be?
TBH: Some bands we compare with might be Fleetwood Mac, REM, Wallflowers, and City and Colour. Actually, we have a hard time labeling our music. Both of us have influences ranging across many types of music and naturally this shows up in our own compositions. For example, Sandra grew up in a household where big band music was heard frequently – her father Gérard Giguère was baritone saxophonist for the Hudson Big Swing Band for decades. As for John, well at age 10 his biggest influence was the Beatles, at age 13 Led Zeppelin, and at age16 Miles Davis… We both love alternative rock bands from the 1990s and 2000s. We both enjoy the classic sound of 1960s and 1970s Motown, and this showed up in the track ‘No Compromise’ on the new album. Overall, ‘indie-rock’ is as good a label as any!
TJ: How has the COVID pandemic affected the band’s plans? Has it changed the way you approach music? Do you plan to support the album through shows when we open up again?
TBH: We definitely are itching to play our new music in a live setting. We would like to book a series of shows next summer, taking the chance that this will be permitted again. Of course, we had to cancel most of our bookings in 2020 and, as unfortunate as that was, it gave us the time to dedicate to the new album. As a result of the lockdowns we produced a video last spring for the new album’s lead song, ‘Alone,’ which seemed appropriate to the situation many of us faced. Throughout the coming winter we will continue to release videos, studio performances, and livestream events.
TJ: What’s next for The Better Half?
TBH: In addition to continuing work on other new material and recording, we will push forward every way we can to get the word out in support of ‘No Side Is Wrong.’ All we really want is for people to hear the songs! We are in discussions with some other local songwriters and performers to team up for special events and we are, like everyone else, hoping that 2021 looks a lot different than 2020 with live shows back in full swing.
Follow The Better Half on social media to keep up with all the news about upcoming livestreams and events. Sandra and John’s new album ‘No side is wrong’ (as well as their first album ‘Alibis’) are available on all streaming services as well as on their Bandcamp page: thebetterhalf1.bandcamp.com