Half Past Two
by Interviews

In two days Orange County-based ska band Half Past Two will be releasing their excellent new album Talk Is Killing Me. The album finds the band infusing more punk elements into their sound, leaning into their anger and redefining themselves in the process. Lyrically the band isn’t shying away from heavy topics as they discuss trauma, shine a light on ableism in our society, and talk about tumultuous times within the band with honest, imagery-filled lyrics. Talk Is Killing Me will be out everywhere on April 19 via Bad Time Records. Half Past Two will begin their tour of the US tomorrow (April 18) in Brooklyn.

Punknews editor Em Moore caught up with lead vocalist Tara Hahn to talk about the new album, finding catharsis through songwriting, the importance of advocating for the disability community, making sure shows are accessible for everybody, and so much more. Read the interview below!

This interview between Em Moore and Tara Hahn took place on April 11, 2024 over Zoom. This transcription documents their conversation and has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

You signed with Bad Time Records earlier this year and Talk Is Killing Me will be your first release with the label. What has working with them been like?

It’s so silly to say this, but it's really been like a dream for us to work with Bad Time Records. Whenever I say that Mike is like, “UGH!” He gets all weird because he’s like, “It’s just one person”. I’ve always seen Bad Time as this little community that is really inclusive of everybody and I wanted my band to be a part of that. It’s been great. We were already all friends with a lot of the other bands and people on the label but now it feels like we can all celebrate together and be like, “We’re all one little family now!” It really does feel like a community, like everybody’s cheering for you and stuff. We’ve always wanted to be a part of a label. We’ve been a band for a really long time without a lot of label support so it’s nice to have that extra support.

Reade Wolcott of We Are The Union produced and helped write this album. What was working with her like?

Reade has been a friend and a lot of us in the band are really big We Are The Union fans. It was on my checklist to work with a new producer because we’ve used the same producer, David Irish - he does Reel Big Fish and he’s front of house for Interrupters and stuff - for years. I really wanted to work with a new producer and my top choice was Reade. It was really cool when we asked her and she was like, “Yes!” She actually wanted to work with us. She had heard a cover we did of We Are The Union’s song “Your Way, Your Time”, and that’s when she was like, “Huh, I’d like to work with this band” and I didn’t know that until recently. It was really cool to get to work with a new producer and to get to work with a producer that we wanted to work with.

Reade really tested us and me a lot of the time because when you work with a new person you get a lot of feedback that maybe you’re not used to. [laughs] Reade would say things like, “I don’t like that” but she didn’t say, “I didn’t like that” and not give feedback. She would always ask us, “How can we make this better?” Maybe the idea was good but the execution wasn’t very good. It was fun getting to learn those things about our style and learning about the things that we’ve been doing in the past or the things that I’ve been doing in the past and having to change them. I’ve learned so much from working with Reade.

And it was just fun! Like I said, we were friends so being in the studio together and all the meals we’ve eaten together, and coming up with the material for all the songs was great. Reade really wanted us to write music that we weren’t used to writing. She was like, “I want you to write some dark, moody Half Past Two music!” I was like, “I don’t do that!” So that was really cool and different and fun.

What was the biggest thing you learned from working with Reade?

I learned how to write quickly and on the fly. I am used to coming to writing sessions with my lyrics already pretty much ready but it takes such a long time for me to do that. It’s sort of annoying to my band because they’ll be ready to write something and I’ll be like, “I need more time to write these lyrics” because I want them to be perfect. Then with Reade, I would come to sessions and I would just be sitting in the back of everybody writing music and she would say, “So what are you thinking? Do you have anything in mind?” or “Do you have anything written?” and I would be like, “I have five words and I sort of hate them so I’m not ready”. She’d be like, “Let’s just see them!” So we would come up with whole songs out of nothing. She taught me that my ideas are good and also it doesn’t need to be perfect because the whole process is a writing process, it’s not like, “Here’s your stuff” and it’s over with. It’s like, “We can write to this and if we don’t like it, we’re still figuring it out and we can change it later up until the time we’re recording it and we’re like, ‘This is the one!’” [laughs] I learned that a lot over the two years that we were writing the album together.

Everything is always a work in progress.

Yeah! Like I said, I’m really obsessed with things being perfect. Even after you write something and release something there’s almost always something where you’re like, “I don’t know, I could’ve changed that or I could’ve done it differently, or here’s what I would do differently now”. Just honouring that notion that even if you think it’s perfect right now, if you have that personality, you’re going to look back at it and be like, “I could’ve done it a little different or a little better”. So just go with the process, just go with the flow.

Was there anything in particular that helped you distance yourself from the perfectionist side of things?

It was that team mentality. We’ve never had a producer who was so hands-on and so involved in the entire process. Our last producer, David, was a huge cheerleader. He loved everything we did and that felt good too but when we were doing the writing it felt like I had to let that go if we were going to move forward. That was also a part of changing our sound and changing the way we’ve been operating as a band for 18 years now. [laughs] I think that’s sort of why I let go of the perfectionism. Also, a lot of the topics we were writing about were so emotional that I couldn’t be precious with it anymore. Part of me was thinking, “If I’m going to write about this, people are going to hear it and I’m going to have to talk about it”. I think those emotions outweighed the perfectionism and the, “Is it perfect?” feeling. It was more like, “Am I going to be able to go to sleep at night knowing that I’m going to have to hear these songs, these lyrics, these topics all the time and talk about them sometimes”.

What helped you to open up and write about your experiences?

Like I said, it was Reade who was pushing me to do that sort of thing. I feel like with Half Past Two I’m so used to writing a certain type of song which is more optimistic or a more positive song, that’s just me. Reade was like, “I think you have it in you to do something that’s a little more angry or emotional”. It was scary to think that I was going to dig that deep because I think that’s why I avoided it before. I write what I know, like most musicians, or I write about people or situations. Just thinking that I’m going to put myself out there in that way is scary because you can’t really hide anymore. But it’s also nice because music and writing music and performing is very cathartic. I have gotten to deal with or think about all the things that I decided to put on this album.

You’re doing it your way too.

That’s a good way to look at it. [laughs] I did get a lot of coaching and pushing from band members and our producer and stuff but you’re right, I got to say it my way at least.

Did you have a moment during the writing process that was the most cathartic?

The most cathartic was definitely writing “Talk Is Killing Me”. I had a therapy session that day and I had to talk about some stuff that I had never really had to talk about or acknowledge before about my childhood. My therapist was saying things to me that I didn’t even want to talk about, that’s how therapists are. I didn’t want to talk about what she was trying to talk to me about and I kept trying to tell her, “I’m not here to talk about this!” and she was like, “This is what therapy is, dude. You need to talk about this”. Basically, there was some physical abuse when I was a kid and I always told myself that I’m a good person now so I would say it was ok. It happened and it was one of those situations where I wasn’t allowed to talk about it. The person would tell me that nobody was going to believe me anyway and all this stuff so I hid it for a really long time. It made me really angry, secretly, as an adult.

Reade had given me an assignment that whenever something was making me sad or I was pissed off or something, I would write it down or write about it. When I went to a writing session that same day, I told everybody about it because basically what my therapist had said was, “That’s abuse”. I was always like, “It’s fine. It happened and it’s fine” and she was like, “No. That’s abuse”. I was telling everybody that I had heard for the first time somebody say, “That wasn’t ok. You shouldn’t make yourself small because of that”. Reade was like, “Ok, do you think you can write about it?” and I was like, “I don’t know, what if the person hears about it?” She was like, “So what? It’s not about them. It’s about you”. That was really tough. When I was writing about it with Reade, there were a lot of times where I would be like, “I think I wanna say this” and she would say, “Oh wow, that’s really good!”

I always have felt that when musicians share their experiences, even if they don’t exactly match another person’s experience, you can help somebody and that’s what Reade kept telling me. I believe that because a lot of the messages from the last WATU record are not specific to me but I took a lot away from it and it was really powerful. That’s what Reade kept telling me too, “You never know who’s going to hear this and feel seen or be touched by it”. I kinda rolled my eyes because I was still doing that thing in my head where I was like, “I don’t know… some people have it worse”. That’s what I’ve been telling myself for a really long time and Reade was like, “Well, this is part of it. This is the catharsis. Getting it out there will bring relief to you and in turn could help somebody else”. That was probably the most cathartic part of the writing process and the album.

You’re letting go of so much too.

Yeah! When you write about it it’s like it's facing you instead of being inside of you. I hear what I wrote all the time and I’m like, “Dang, I was hurting”. I guess it meant a lot more than I was letting myself realize or admitting to myself.

Does talking about it in interviews help? Or is it like, “Oh no, I have to revisit this”?

It’s so new to me because like I said, I had never really talked about it before, I wasn’t allowed to. My family members used to always tell me that I wasn’t supposed to bring it up, I wasn’t supposed to talk about it, so talking about it now is a very icky feeling. I’m terrible with icky feelings! I say this all the time, I’m a good time friend and I’m really bad with the sad, bad stuff. When I’ve had to talk about it in interviews or on podcasts, it’s really difficult because I still don’t want people to know this thing about me. I’m not ready to receive any sort of criticism which is what they would tell me before like, “No one’s gonna believe you”. I still hear that all the time and before it will leave my mouth on podcasts or interviews or whatever I get this knot in my stomach that keeps telling me, “Don’t say it. Don’t talk about it”. I do feel like I have to because I’m trying to honour myself or my inner child, whatever it is. For me, I think it’s helping me to tell the truth. I have really bad relationships with the people that are involved because they’re still there. So it’s like if I can’t talk to them about it, it’s really nice to be able to talk about it at all. I don’t want anyone to feel that way. I think about how I cannot be the only person going through something like that where someone feels like they can’t tell anybody - maybe it’s worse than what happened to me, maybe it’s not as bad as what happened to me, but I don’t think anybody should have to have the fear and guilt and that icky feeling inside. They should be able to talk about it and have a good life. I’m learning all the time. Every time it comes up I’m like, “[deep breath] I can do it! I can do hard things”.

Your song “Barrier For Entry” contains the line “When something can’t be fixed then the question is what can we build instead” which is a quote by disability rights activist Alice Wong. What does this quote mean to you?

It was actually not an Alice Wong quote but Alice has shared it multiple times. An abolitionist named Mariame Kaba wrote it in her book. I wrote the song as sort of an acknowledgment of my passion to be anti-ableist. My daughter is a person with a disability and over the years I have learned just how almost impossible society makes it to live in it with differences or disabilities or anything out of a social normality. I wanted to write a song about how I feel like our society could do better to help somebody trying to navigate life with a disability. I do follow Alice Wong because Alice has the same disability as my daughter and it just meant so much to me to think that we could as a community just do better. We can do that by listening to disabled people. We could listen to any minority group about what is going on with them, what they would like to see, and what they need, and as a society, as a community, build that up together. Everything would be more inclusive and better for everybody. It‘s important to me that a lot of people who aren’t seen feel seen.

Reade was telling me, “I want to hear a chant” and I was like, “Oh my gosh, I have this quote that I love!” I have it written in my journal and stuff like that. That’s why we ended up using it because I feel like it really went along with what I was trying to say in the song because it was really a song for my daughter and what I would like to see all of us do daily - listen to other people’s needs, their plights, and try and make it better in general.

That’s where the real change starts, with people listening and wanting to help.

Yeah! And helping can also be getting angry. I’m always like, “Be kind, be nice” but sometimes you have to get angry, you have to get passionate about those sorts of things. Kindness is cool, I’m all about kindness. I tell my daughter to be kind but I also tell her, “Run them over” because she uses a power chair. [laughs]

The “be kind but take no shit” approach.

Yes, exactly! You definitely don’t want people to walk all over you with your kindness. One of the ways to be seen is to stick out like a sore thumb and be loud and tell people what you need. She has no problem telling people what she needs, she’s got that down pretty pat. I just wish that more people would notice the things that we can’t avoid. That’s what “Barrier For Entry” was about. I even say, “Where some people see a puddle, we see a moat” because you can step over it and you can navigate things but for some people, the task at hand can be so huge. If we support each other and look out for each other, we can champion any of those sorts of things together, some people just need a little extra help.

Building the bridge across the moat takes more than one person.

For sure! I mean one person could do it but it would take a lot less time with more people, that’s for sure. [laughs] You need a community first. Relying on things like the government, which is something we have to do for services and stuff like that, is such a pain because you just look like this little, tiny ant. But in your own community, you look at people who are right next to you, and if you can help them you’re going to make such a meaningful and lasting impact on the people’s lives that are so close to you. There’s a ripple effect to that. That was the purpose for using that quote.

“Isolated Days” ends with someone saying, “That’s what I wanted”. What was going on in the studio at this time?

[laughs] The person that’s saying that is Ryland Steen who was the drummer for Reel Big Fish. When we were recording the album our band was still recovering from a mass exodus which is kinda why we wrote the album. I was trying to quit the band and I was really depressed and everyone was like, “What can we do to get you to stay?” One of the things I wanted to do was to write a new album and I wanted to be proud of it. So the band was sort of scrambling to make sure I didn’t quit and we didn’t have a drummer at the time and Ryland was a studio mate of David - our last producer who also co-produced this album but he didn’t have as much input as he did before. Ryland was in the studio all the time because he’s the studio mate where we were recording and he’s an excellent drummer so we were like, “Hey, would you like to drum on this?” and he was like, “Sure, I’d love to!” We would show him demos and he would go in the room and he would just rap it out. He did this stuff and we were like, “Wow, that’s so good!”

I actually wasn’t in the studio that day but I do know that part of the story was he had gone through it so many times but in his head he was hearing something different. I think Ryland was just trying to make sure he got exactly what he was thinking out for that song. It made it into the demo because it was kinda funny and I just didn’t want it to leave! It’s in my brain now so it just stayed. On a lot of our demos, there's lots of little weird things that we’ll leave, like somebody will swear or say something silly and we’ll leave it.

On this album, for the first time ever, we did a new thing that Reade was really passionate about getting us to do called talk tracks. After the songs were done, Reade put the three of us who were there that day in different rooms in the studio and while the song was playing we would just talk - not to each other, just talk in the rooms. Reade was like, “You can literally talk about anything. If nothing comes to mind you could read a book, you could do whatever”. I was reading Stardew Valley tips into the microphone because there were a couple songs where I just could not think of anything. Then Reade took the recordings and would find things that she thought were funny or sounded the best, shrunk them down, and put them underneath the music. Sometimes when you hear a song you’ll hear somebody saying something. We did that for all the songs. Ryland’s wasn’t actually a talk track, it was just him playing and out loud in the studio being like, “That’s what I wanted!” That’s the take. We have a lot of weird little things sprinkled throughout this record. We had never done that before but it was fun.

There’s so many Easter eggs now in the album.

Yeah, there’s all these little Easter eggs! Sometimes when I’m listening to it, I’ll hear something and bring it up at band practice like, “Who was that? Who said that? What are you saying?” Then somebody will be like, “That was me. I was saying this”. You just hear it at different times because music sounds different when you listen to it on headphones or when you listen to it in the car. In the car, you can crank it all the way up and with headphones, you can tune into everything because it’s going straight into your ears. I like the talk track thing because I hear things all the time where I’m like, “I’ve never heard that before! I didn’t know that was there!” Reade was telling us that Weezer does it a lot when we started doing it. She was like, “Weezer does talk tracks all the time. Do you guys want to try that?” and we were like, “We don’t know what that is”. [laughs] But it was great, it was fun. I think that’s why I was excited to leave all those funny little things, especially Ryland’s little signoff at the end of that song.

It gives everything that much more character too.

It does feel a little more special and it makes me laugh, it’s funny. Even when we play “Isolated Days” at practice somebody will yell, “That’s what I wanted!” at the end of the song. I like it because I’m used to hearing that there. I’m like, “Yeah, that’s what I wanted!” [laughs]

Do you have a favourite talk track moment that made it onto the album?

There was a lot of stuff I got to say in “Barrier” actually. I was just talking about how people deserve to be seen and how it’s our responsibility as human beings to adjust how language is evolving and stuff like that. I know that other people have their battles with language and stuff but I have this thing - and everybody hates me for it [laughs] - when I’m out at shows, this happens a lot, people will say, “That’s so lame” and I’m like, “Uh uh uh!” I have to step up onto my soapbox. I read a lot of disability advocacy literature and one of the things is that a lot of our vernacular when it comes to saying things are bad is basically just things that are ableist today. So if someone is saying something is lame, I’m always like, “Please don’t say that. That’s ableist!” People are like, “I’m not going to stop saying that! I like saying it!” Then I’m like, “Wow, ok. You’re only as good as your vocabulary I guess. There are millions of other words you could say!” That’s one of the things that I remember because it’s something that I talk to so many people about until I force them to change their minds. I’m like, “Just use a different word!!!”

In my talk tracks I was like, “It’s our responsibility to keep up with the human language” because to me it’s a similar thing to when people are like, “I am not going to use gender pronouns”. I’m like, “WHY? Why not? Why can’t you acknowledge that somebody wants you to use something else? If I called you by the wrong name you’d be like, ‘That’s not my name’ and then I would fix that”. That’s one of the things that I liked that Reade kept in there under the quote that we talked about. I got to say a bunch of little things that I echo to people constantly and now I get to echo it at them in my song over and over again! I think that was my favourite talk track thing, getting to repeat all my favourite maybe-annoying-to-other-people-but-important-to-me disability advocacy anti-ableism stuff. Now it’s there forever! It’s in my song that means all those things. I felt like everything fit so nicely together in this little package. [laughs]

Of course, there’s lots of other silly things. I opened my phone and I was playing Stardew Valley so there were all these people’s birthdays and what their favourite things were and I was reading recipes and stuff like that. So there’s lots of silliness there.

When I was listening to the song I was like, “What else are you saying?”

If anybody is with me long enough, they’ll end up hearing it anyway. [laughs] I love to talk about that sort of stuff with people.

And it’s really important! People might not know about it.

Yeah, exactly! I’m not trying to be rude, I’m trying to show people when I say stuff like that to them. Especially when people say lame and I’m like, “What are you trying to say? Because what you’re trying to say is that something sucks. But what does ‘lame’ mean? It literally means that you’re not able to walk. Can you see how that could affect somebody who is unable to use their legs?” For non-disabled people to be walking around saying things like, “Wow, that’s so lame!”, shut up!! It’s not. There’s nothing wrong with not being able to walk. Walking is just one aspect of life and it’s not even a shared experience for everybody. My daughter has never walked. What’s so wrong with being unable to walk? That’s what I’m always trying to tell people. You could always use a different word. There’s different words, there’s funnier, more stabbing sorts of words out there for what you’re trying to say and you don’t have to be a jerk - I mean you’re trying to be a jerk but you don’t need to rub it in the face of the disability community. That’s how I see it.

You can be a jerk and not offend anyone.

Just the person you’re trying to offend! [laughs] I always tell people, “I know what you’re trying to say but there’s probably an even cooler way to say it”. A lot of older people especially are like, “But I’ve been saying it since the ‘70s or the ‘80s!” I’m like, “Cool, maybe you should update your vocabulary! Why don’t you call me a dingleberry or say something like, ‘That’s a drag’? There’s other words from the ‘70s and ‘80s that I swear you can use”.

The other thing that I learned when I was on my journey is that I still do it. It’s so hard for me to change. So many people I know use the word ‘moron’ and stuff like that but to certain people in the disability community, that’s just as offensive as the r-word. That was just society’s way of telling somebody they were not fit to be with all these other people who were maybe more intellectually typical or whatever. That’s one of those things where I’m like, “Oh man, it’s so hard to change”. But that’s what I’m always trying to tell people when the lame thing comes up, I’m just like, “We’re better than this. We could do better. There’s so many other words we can use to accomplish the same thing, to say something is not desirable”. You could just say it’s not cool! Just be like, “This is not cool” or whatever. [laughs] Make up a new word! It’s something that’s important to me.

We don’t use that word in my house because I don’t want my daughter to grow up and think I am so out of touch that I’m like, “Yeah, that word is fine. That’s totally cool to use”. It’s basically a slur to people who can’t walk. Like I said, it’s just one aspect of life and there’s really nothing wrong with that. Some people can throw rocks and that’s hurtful but you can say things and it can be hurtful to somebody’s psyche. My daughter is super confident. Basically, middle school is where I think it’s all going to break down because she thinks that the world is as it is here and everybody is - I wouldn’t even say accepting because she’s always been there so everybody around her just knows her for her. I know it’s coming, fricking society. I’m covering her, I’m just blocking it like a shield like, “Nope! Nope! Not getting in here!” That’s another reason I wrote “Barrier” because I want her to know that I’m here. I will shut the fuck up when I need to like if she tells me, “No, Mom. Please just shut the fuck up”. But I will also rage when I need to. [laughs]

Totally! Go into full mom-protective mode.

I’ll do that for anybody. I do that for my friends because it’s exhausting. When the battle is yours, like just yours solely, you’re already defending yourself so I’m like, “Even if it’s not my battle to fight, if this is all in good fairness, I will fight for you”. It’s exhausting to be both - to be the one that’s being discriminated against and also the one doing the heavy lifting and fighting too. I think that’s what being an ally is about. You need to do a lot of the work because other people are just trying to live.

One of the other things that I do that I think other people like but venues hate is before any show we have, I quiz venues on their accessibility. I call and I’m like, “Hi! Is your venue accessible?” If it doesn’t say it on their website, I will make them put it on their website because we have that problem all the time! We go places and we can’t even get in the door. They’re like, “Oh yeah we’re accessible, but we have a little step that’s this high” and I’m like, “No, then you’re not accessible”. Or they’re like, “Oh we’re accessible but you have to go around the back by the dumpster to get into the venue” - no, then you’re not accessible. I’ll be like, “Is your bathroom accessible? Can a wheelchair get into the bathroom?” and they’re like, “I think so”. Then I’m like, “No. You need to walk over there, you need to go in there and take a chair. I want you to put it into the stall with the toilet and tell me if we’re fitting in there”.

I love live music but it doesn’t include everybody right now. There have been so many venues where I’ll tell our booking agent, “No. We will not play there because not everybody can go. There’s stairs but no elevator. They don’t offer ADA stuff or whatever”. I really think that it’s an experience that needs to be shared by all. If a venue offers a sign language interpreter I’m always like, “Get that!!” Some venues do but they just need notice and I’m like, “Ok, I want it. Get it!” I wish that was everywhere. Every time we have an interpreter I’m just like, “Yes!” It’s so cool. I need to learn it myself so I can just be up there doing it. I will call out venues. I make little slides and stuff before the shows telling people where to park, where to eat, the accessibility of the venue, and all this stuff. I know it drives some venues absolutely bonkers.

It’s good to hold them accountable!

That’s what I’m saying, everybody needs to think about these things. Especially in the ska community we’re always like, “Yes! Everyone’s included! We love everybody! Let’s stick up for this person and this person! Let’s raise money for this group! Let’s do this! Let’s do that!” and I’m like, “Some people can’t even see their favourite bands play”. It’s so important to us to be able to play for people. I just wish that live streams would come back. But be the change, right? That’s what we gotta do! [laughs]

You want good ska? This is what you’ve gotta do!

Yes! Make sure that everybody can come to the shows and see their favourite bands do their thing. Or just be able to watch music in general. I love playing at the Gilman in San Francisco because they’re all about that stuff too. They still tell people to mask and stuff. I’m like, “Hell yeah! Let’s do this!” [laughs]

There are a lot of references to Alice In Wonderland in the art and videos for this album - which were all created by Rae Mystic - and you reference “The Walrus and The Carpenter” poem in “I Don’t Dream Anymore”. What does Alice In Wonderland mean to you?

[laughs] I told Rae that if I got this question I was going to scream at them because I did not want to get too Alice In Wonderland with it - only because we’re a ska band with a female lead singer from Orange County and Gwen Stefani already did that. Rae was really passionate about this vision. Rae is my best friend and I was going with the flow because I really believe in their artistic vision. When we did the album cover, we went to thrift stores to buy things to put in it and once we laid it out I was like, “If this is going to do the Alice In Wonderland thing….” and they were like, “No, it’s not! It won’t. I promise it’s not going to”. I kept seeing it and I totally understand it because I’ve heard this already. But it was not intentional on my part and while I do love Disney and Alice In Wonderland and all that stuff, if I have to break it down, there’s a lot of reflection in the mirror sort of thing which is what I did for this album so maybe that’s where the mirror imagery came from.

“The Walrus and The Carpenter” funny enough was Reade because Reade and Rae were watching Alice In Wonderland together before we wrote “I Don’t Dream Anymore”. When we went to go write it, I told Reade, “I really want a lot of dream imagery” and Reade was like, “I wanna use the ‘cabbages and kings’ thing from ‘The Walrus and The Carpenter’” and I was like, “Ok, you want me to sing ‘cabbages’?? I’m going to be stuck singing ‘cabbages’ for the next I don’t know how many years!” [laughs] All of that came together and had very little to do with me. However, I do love “I Don’t Dream Anymore”. I don’t mind singing about cabbages now, at the time I was like, “Penguins? Cabbages? What are we doing here? What is happening? We went too dreamy! We’re in some Yellow Submarine crazy dream”. It wasn’t a nightmare but it was a very fanciful dream. [laughs]

Speaking of No Doubt, I wanted a Return Of Saturn vibe on the cover. In the Return Of Saturn art everybody’s doing their own thing in the foreground on different levels. That’s what I wanted to see and I don’t know how it got away from us the way that it did but I love the colours and I love the composition. The back of the album was actually supposed to be the cover. The cover was an accidental picture and I was like, “I want that to be the cover instead”. There was a backdrop behind me and I was goofing with it and Rae was like, “Keep doing that!” So I kept doing that and I was like, “I like that photo better!” I think that because with the music videos, we did this thing where they all kinda go together you get that sort of Alice In Wonderland falling down the tunnel craziness sort of vibe. We didn’t mean to per se, maybe Rae really meant to and they were just stringing me along the entire time, who knows? [laughs] But yeah, thanks for pointing that out, Em!!


I do like Alice In Wonderland. I was really trying to get away from that thing that’s been following me for 18 years, “Oh you’re in a ska band? Are you trying to be like Gwen Stefani?” I’m like, “NO! I’m not! I’m myself! There can be more than one femme in ska, ok? Please”. Gwen did it great and that’s why I was like, “I don’t want to go there”. But we did and we made it our own.

It looks cool and it fits well.

I think it does fit, you’re right. [laughs]

You’ve mentioned that the “Curse The Universe” video references the TV show Dark and there is also a reference to The Exorcist. Why did you choose to reference these things specifically?

We reference a lot of things in the video. There’s a tube crawling scene that’s supposed to be like it is in Coraline and we have the crystal ball thing with the head inside which is supposed to be like The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland. We’re big Disney people, we’re from Orange County so we love Disneyland! We have The Exorcist in there and we have references to Dark because we’re obsessed with Dark. We knew the video would be a performance-shot video because we hadn’t really done that with the first two videos. We wanted it to mainly be performance shots but we wanted to sprinkle in something else just in case we needed to break away from the performance stuff so we were trying to think of cursed things or things that would be considered cursed or bad luck. So we used imagery like that like when I’m opening an umbrella indoors. We used Tarot cards because they’re sort of mystical.

With Dark, Rae and I are completely obsessed with it and if we can get anybody to bring up that they’ve seen it or reference it we will do it. Rae cut the video sort of like the intro to the show where it’s mirrored to itself. We also thought that was kinda cool because there were lots of mirrors in the imagery and artistry for the entire album. For the exorcism part, I was a little nervous to do it because I was like, “Are some people going to be offended?” but at the same time, I didn’t really care. I can’t think of a more cursed image than the scene from The Exorcist where the little girl is being exorcized by the priest, it’s so cursed! So cursed that you see it once and it lives in your brain. It’s not even scary in terms of movies these days - there are way scarier, gorier things but it's in there and Rae is a huge horror nerd. All the music videos have Easter eggs and little things that make them go together. So the girl in the red dress is in every video and on the album cover and for the exorcism part I was like, “This is what I want. I want the exorcism to be happening and the thing we are exorcizing is the girl in the red dress. The girl in the red dress is the demon”. That’s what put the nail in the coffin, so to speak, like, “We are going to do this because this is going to be the Easter egg to help it all make sense”.

Then we did the Sleeping Beauty touching the spindle wheel thing because that’s also so cursed! It’s such a cursed thing. I can hear the clarinet in my head from that part of the movie. It’s all green and spooky and Rae loves lighting. We actually had a spinning wheel at the studio so I was like, “We have to do this!” We used all those things because we wanted to bring in some cursed objects and stuff like that into the video. We thought it would really lend to the vibe of the video. In the end, it was so funny because the live footage was so good that Rae had edited a whole video without any of the cursed imagery in it. It was so awesome we were almost like, “No, we’re not going to put that stuff in there”. But then we were like, “We already filmed all of it and they are cursed things” so we ended up sprinkling all that stuff in there.

It’s a good balance.

Yeah! Rae was afraid that we were going to want more of it so in the first edit there was a lot of that imagery instead of the live performance shots. But when we saw the performance stuff we were like, “No, it needs to stay mainly performance stuff”. I think this balance was the good balance.

You have some US tour dates coming up, including your first Northeastern US tour and performances at This Is Not Croydon Fest, MIG Fest, and Supernova Ska Fest. What are you looking forward to the most about these shows?

Half Past Two is not a band that leaves Orange County. We played at Supernova in 2021 and that was the first time we had left the West Coast ever. We sort of caught the touring bug then basically, we were like, “We wanna do this!” Even though it was just that one show. [laughs] Then last year, Mustard Plug took us through the Midwest with them for their album release shows and that’s when we were like, “Ok, we gotta try this!” Our friend Brent Friedman at Exponential Booking is our booking agent now. He’s our really good friend so it’s really funny to have him on the payroll, so to speak. We told him, “Yeah, we wanna do it. We want to take Half Past Two on the road. We want to promote this record”. Everywhere we’re going, with the exception of our album release shows and Supernova, are the first time we’ve ever been there. The Northeast, we’ve never been there, we’ve never been to the Southwest, never been to the Pacific Northwest. We’re doing all of that!

It’s going to be exciting to do the festivals. Croydon is going to be cool, we’ve never been to the Philly area before. People are always telling us to go there. That’s where Catbite’s from so there are a lot of ska fans over there. We’re going with We Are The Union and The Pomps and Devon Kay so it’s our first sort of Bad Time Records tour because all the bands are on Bad Time. That’s going to be cool! All the way back in the beginning where we were saying it’s a little family, it’s a little community, I’m feeling it like, “Yes, we’re going to get to be all together!” So that’s going to be fun. Croydon’s our first festival thing in a while so I’m just excited to be there. We’re not going to be able to stay the entire time because we’re going to be playing other shows but I like that vibe where everyone’s hanging out the entire day and you get to do that too. We’re playing Supernova again and that is the place where it sort of started for us so that’s nice. I understand the vibe since we did it a couple years ago so that will be exciting. I like that it’s also very loose and people just hang out in the grass. You get to just walk around and talk to fans, other bands, and stuff like that.

MIG Fest is cool because it’s on a farm. It’s a small fest and it’s on a farm so I’m excited to see what that’s like! We’re playing with Bad Cop/Bad Cop which has always been on my list. They’re from Southern California and so are we so I’ve seen them so many times. I’ve always been like, “It would make so much sense for us to play together! Fem power”. I love their music so I’m really excited for MIG Fest and the other bands too! A few of them I’ve been listening to or following for a few years now so it’s going to be cool to get to play with those people. In general, it’s just going to be really awesome to be out there.

I think that social media is a double-edged sword. We’ve been able to reach a lot of new listeners. We’ve been a band for so long that we were around before the boom of social media, we had a MySpace but it wasn’t like what social media is now. I grew up in a time when you flyered and you were part of a street team for your favourite bands to get the word out. You had to follow labels because that’s where you’d hear new music and you’d learn about new music on their websites and stuff like that. [laughs] You’d have their websites bookmarked on your desktop so you just got the news right there. With social media, we are reaching a new audience but it’s also being controlled by this algorithm that nobody knows or understands so getting out there and playing music for people is so important because you actually get to see that this person is a real person and we’re real people. It goes back to the community thing. You get to form these real connections - not that online you can’t have meaningful connections - but it’s a different experience in person. I feel like I just get to hear about these people, these venues, and then to get to experience it and meet the stars of their own scenes is incredible. Every scene has these people that everybody knows. I might know them from online or something like that but I’m going to go to their town and see them in their element. I’m all about that like the vibes and stuff like that. I’m excited!

It’s so cool and you get to try all the regional food too.

YES! The food! Oh my gosh, I just hope they have Diet Coke wherever we go because that’s all I drink. No, I do drink water - I don’t want anyone to think I don’t drink water - but I do drink a lot of Diet Coke. A lot of people are like, “Ooh this isn’t really a Diet Coke area” and I’m like, “Then I’m not going there, sorry”. [laughs]

That’s how you plot out where you’re going to play.

We’ve joked about doing stuff like that. We wanna do a Rainforest Cafe tour where we go to all the towns that still have a Rainforest Cafe and play shows just for that. I could do that for Diet Coke too.


The Diet Coke tour.

Yes! The Diet Coke tour. A lot of people are like, “This is a Pepsi city” and I’m like, “[retches] Don’t make me go!” I have to bring my own supply. [laughs] A separate trailer of Diet Coke. That’s literally all that’s on our rider too. It just says, “Diet Coke. Has to be Diet Coke and cannot be expired”. At a lot of venues we go to, the Diet Coke is expired and it tastes like death. I don’t even know where they get this stuff. Diet Coke expires by the way. The date’s on the bottom, you have to look on the bottom. [Lifts up her can of Diet Coke] This one says 06/24/24. It has to be June 24, 2024, because it definitely does not last until 2424. [laughs] Wall-E will be picking this up from the dirt if that’s true.

I didn’t know it expired!

I’ve gone to venues and I’ll drink it and it’s so bad! It’ll be expired three years. I’m like, “Where did you find this? Where did you get this 3-year-old Diet Coke? It’s older than some of my children!” Never fails though, there’s always a venue and it’s always Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco, actually. It’s always three years expired. I feel like they save it just for me. [laughs]

It’s there in a wine aging room or something.

Yeah, exactly! It does not do that. It doesn’t work like that. It gets way worse.

How would you describe the ska scene in Orange County?

Wow, that’s a really tough question. It used to be really popping and I feel like in the past few years it’s just not as popping. In general, everyone has this image of Orange County being sort of a volcano of ska because there was a huge popularity for ska music here in the ’90s and stuff. When Half Past Two started in 2006, it was like the dark ages of ska and ska was a dirty word even here. But there was always ska to be heard because Reel Big Fish came from here, Save Ferris came from here, No Doubt came from here, and Sublime - who are not ska but you know, there were a lot of adjacent bands. You can still hear a lot of ska and reggae. Up until around when the pandemic happened, we had a lot of shows. There was a lot happening. Actually, my ex-band member, Cameron, ran a production company and he was a promoter and he booked so many ska shows, like all the ska shows. There was at least one or two happening a month because of Cameron and when Cameron quit and said he wasn’t going to do it anymore, nobody really was doing it. There might be one or two ska shows, meaningful ones, here and there a year but there’s nothing that’s regular. So recently, me and my other bandmate were like, “How hard could it be? Let’s do it! Let’s start booking shows”. It’s hard!! It’s so hard! We’ve only had two and it’s been a difficult thing. I wanna see more ska shows, there’s a handful of new bands but it’s nothing like it used to be where they were just popping up pretty regularly. It’s kinda rough out there in Orange County as far as ska bands go.

I can’t believe I’m saying this because usually I’m a person who would say only good things, but I would say our scene in Orange County is not very unified anymore. I would normally just put a bandaid over it and tell somebody that it’s all great but it’s not. We don’t have that sense of community that I feel in the ska scene at large in Orange County currently. But I would love to see it and I would love to see a lot of new bands forming and stuff like that. The new bands that are out there are great but really the scene is happening in LA. The LA scene is really good. I would say LA has a way better scene than Orange County, sorry Orange County! Like I said, we’re trying but nothing’s really come back since people started playing shows again. It makes me sad because we did have a really good thing going for a little while there. Somebody needs to come through and start booking shows regularly. I thought it could be me but it can’t. I’m so busy! When we started this little production jam we were like, “We can do this!” and now we’re releasing an album and going on tour and we’re like, “What were we thinking?” We thought it was easy, we were just being a little jaded about it like, “Oh yeah, how hard could it be?” No, it’s hard.

I wish the Orange County scene was a little better. It just doesn’t feel good. But LA is where it’s at. I love going to LA, watching all the LA bands, and people go to those shows - there’s always a ton of people at LA shows. There’s a lot of Mexi-ska happening up there. They have shows in backyards, it’s crazy up there! It’s awesome! There’s a really strong traditional ska scene up there too which is really cool. I went to see Catbite last weekend up in LA. They played with Western Standard Time and the Steady 45s. Steady 45s is a pretty big band around here and they were like, “We should play together!” and I was like, “Us? Yeah!” They play more traditional ska and I was like, “You wanna play with us? Let’s do it!”

That’ll happen in the future!

I think it will. I’m manifesting it right now, it’s gonna happen. There’s definitely interest there on both sides so I wanna see it happen. It might be a kind of eclectic ska show but that would be really cool! [laughs]

You’d get a bit of everything.

Yeah, you get a little bit of everything! That’s what ska has always been about. A lot of ska shows aren’t even all ska bands playing. I think that’s important too to sort of mix things. It’s cool to go to a ska show if you love ska and see all these ska bands but other bands are out there too and that’s how people get exposed to ska music because it’s not a popular genre by any means. I know all the ska purists out there are like, “What are you talking about, Tara? Ska is popular!” I’ve been around the block, ok? I’ve been listening to ska since I was ten/eleven years old, I’ll tell you there was a time when it was not very popular. [laughs] Like I said, it was the ska dark ages when we started, that was a dark time to be a ska band.

More people are finding out about it. Ska is having a resurgence.

That’s what I feel like! I really love the new influx of ska fans. Everyone’s just young and ska’s become a lot more queer which I think is so cool! Like I said, I’ve been a part of the scene for so long that, especially in Orange County, it’s just a bunch of white dudes of a certain age and it was not awesome, especially being a female in the scene because it didn’t necessarily even feel safe. But now, I love going to shows because there’s so many different kinds of people and everybody is in the mentality that it’s a safe space for a lot of groups. It’s a beautiful thing.

It’s so nice to be able to go to a show and not have to worry about the people around you.

Everybody’s looking out for each other and if anything funny does happen, you always see people who are going to stand up for you or make sure that the space gets safe again. I’ve seen so many people get kicked out of things. I mean, ska has always sort of had a reputation for doing that but I think specifically for the area I grew up in, Orange County does not have a very good reputation in general in the worldwide view for a lot of things. There’s a lot of conservatism here, there’s a lot of straight-up Nazis and stuff in Orange County. It’s a really scary weird place especially in 2020 and 2021 when people weren’t afraid to say that anymore. You’d go to Orange County and people really don’t like different races or LGBTQ+ people and are rude about it and scary mean.

But at large, I feel like the ska community has become such a beautiful and inclusive place and I think that might be a reason why we don’t have a very strong community here. I don’t see a lot of the new ska fans until I go to shows for newer bands. A lot of the Bad Time bands will come through and the audience will be the same people that I see online, but I don’t see them at local ska shows. I think it’s just like what you were saying, people want to go someplace where they feel safe and I feel like maybe our local bands have not done a very good job of making sure people know that this is a place where you’re safe. I don’t like that about what we’re doing around here and I hope we can change that because I love when I go to shows and see all these new people. It makes me so excited because it’s been so dead around here for so long. I’m like, “There are people out there that really like this kind of music! We should all be going to shows together!” We could rebuild our little community and we could make it the way we wanna see it with the people we wanna see there. I think it’s on the horizon.

Kick all the Nazis out!

Yeah! I just cannot believe I go to shows and I still see Nazi shit. There are certain venues I won’t even play anymore because that’s where they go, that’s where they live. It’s gross! Maybe you don’t see it as often anymore but there were definitely so many in Orange County that I was like, “I wanna throw up. It’s sad that you think this is a place for you”. I hate it.

Orange County has a lot of affluent white people and it’s always been that way. I grew up here. I’m Filipino American so I used to get that a lot in high school. I didn’t realize it until I was older and I was like, “OH that’s what people mean about Orange County”. I went to a mostly white, affluent school and people would always say things to me like I wasn’t passing and stuff like that. My dad is white so I just didn’t get it, I was like, “Oh, ok”. But when I got older and I went to college, people would say, “I can’t believe that happened to you” or “I can’t believe people would say that to you”. I was like, “What? I’m not passing” and they’re like, “Yeah, but they were saying it to you in a negative way” and I was like, “Oh. Yeah, you’re right. I don’t know why people would say that to my face and be so rude about it”. I was also basically the token Asian girl where people would be like, “Can you help me with my homework? Are you good at math?” [laughs] When you’re growing up, that’s all you know. I never even thought about it, especially since my dad was white. I just didn’t think about it that hard. My mom, who is Filipino, always will tell me, “Yup, sucks huh? It sucks to be different sometimes”. Now I celebrate it, I love it. But I didn’t grow up that way. Orange County is a weird place. I like to think it’s getting better but I don’t have a lot of faith in it, I guess.

They call it the Orange Curtain where Orange County starts and that’s basically where I grew up. I lived just on the inside of the Orange Curtain. Once you cross into Orange County, it’s a completely different place from LA County just because of how the people are. I moved just across the Orange Curtain into Long Beach which is the very edge of Los Angeles basically. Long Beach is so different. I grew up sort of in between so I knew that Long Beach was 100% a better place where someone like me with my mindset belongs. But it’s just so weird because Orange County is literally right there and it’s so bad.

There’s this guy I met at Gay Pride and I was talking to him about this because he moved from San Francisco down to Southern California for work. The first place he lived was Huntington Beach which is literally one of the worst places in Orange County! [laughs] It’s a very nice place to live if you have money but that’s where all the white pride craziness happens over at the pier. He was like, “I moved down here from San Francisco and it was so weird! I moved to this really nice place right on the beach in Huntington Beach. I lived there for two years. They don’t have a pride parade”. I was like, “Oh they have a pride parade but it’s their own kind of pride parade” and he was like, “Yes, exactly! Everyone kept telling me, ‘You need to move to Long Beach, you just need to move up the street’ and I was like, ‘How different could it be?’”. So he moved and he’s like, “Long Beach is definitely the place for me! It’s so different” and I was like, “Yep, that’s the difference! That’s how bad it can be. You lived in one of the worst places and now you live in one of the greatest in Southern California”. Long Beach is super gay. It’s super duper everything they’re like, “We’re dog friendly. We’re bike friendly”. Long Beach is the greatest, I love Long Beach.

How can there be such a difference within a couple minutes?

I feel like it can be like that in so many places. I’m not a very worldly person but just talking to other people, everybody knows that area. You’re in Canada though, right?

Yeah, there’s a lot of places like that around here.

Places where you’re like, “A certain type of person lives there”. The part of Long Beach I live in is still a pretty affluent neighbourhood but people give a fuck, they care. They want to see everybody winning, basically, and not just because they have money or whatever. I feel like Orange County is definitely more wealth-focused. They’re very into traditions and trying to stay “traditional” which is just a fancy way of saying, “I like the way things are and I don’t want them to change” and all that bullshit. It’s everywhere.

It’s so icky.

It’s very icky.

There’s always that hope to change it somehow.

Yeah, of course! It’s gotta be someone stronger than me. I was like, “I gotta get out of here! I have to leave!” [laughs]

That’s good too because you don’t wanna be in situations like that all the time.

I’ll do what I can from here. I’d much rather live in a community where people are not so focused on just themselves.

People who actually care, like you just said.

Yeah, they care. Some people don’t care, there’s a lot of people in Southern California especially that don’t care but they also are not going to be a dick or be rude about it. We have a lot of older people here in Southern California. I feel like in certain areas you have the old people who if you tell them, “Oh, these are my pronouns” they get all mean. A lot of older people here in Long Beach are like, “I don’t understand it but ok, cool. I can do that for you. I don’t understand it but if that’s what you like then that’s what I’m gonna do”. I feel bad I’m totally shitting on Orange County! I still am involved in Orange County because that’s where my band is based and everything.

You mentioned earlier how important it was for you to put out something that you were really proud of with Talk Is Killing Me. What are you most proud of with this album?

I’m really proud that we did it and it exists. Like I said earlier, I was in such a bad place. We had over half the band quit and that’s never happened before. There was a lot of blame placed on me personally so I was like, “You know what? I think I’m done”. I’ve been doing this a long time and I thought I was doing such a good job but I guess I wasn’t so I got super depressed. I was like, “I’m gonna quit” and the few guys that stayed were like, “What can we do to make you stay?” I was like, “Well, if I’m gonna stay here is my list. I want to write a new album that I’m proud of, I want to work with a new producer - namely Reade Wolcott, I want to tour, and I wanna be on Bad Time Records”. And where I’m standing today, all of those things have been checked off. It wasn’t me alone, it was the combined effort of my friends. They didn’t need to but they totally proved their friendship to me by going down this list and basically doing everything in their power to see these things happen.

Just seeing all that stuff happen is the greatest and proudest thing to come out of this experience. I can say that I don’t want to quit anymore. I’m excited to keep going and doing all this stuff and see where it can take us. I feel like it sort of got stale for us. We’d been doing this for such a long time and like I said, I thought we had a good thing going, and then when everybody left it was sort of a wake-up call where I was like, “If I had a bucket list for being a musician, what would be on it? What can I check off?” It can be over at any second - I could wanna quit or someone else who’s key to the entire project, something could happen to them. I’m so happy and proud of us that we actually accomplished all the things on that list to such an extreme degree. We’re going on tour but we’re playing a lot of places, especially for us. And did we make an album we’re proud of? Sure, we’re super proud of every part of this album. We put so much thought and time into everything. We hired people, we hired Rae for the artistic direction, and we hired Reade to do the producing and stuff. We have a label behind us and a booking agent because we wanted to see what we could do and take it to the next level. That’s just really special and exciting.

Apr 18St. VitusBrooklyn, NYsupporting We Are The Union
Apr 19Union StageWashington, DCsupporting We Are The Union, Suicide Machines
Apr 20This Is Not Croydon FestBensalem, PAw/We Are The Union, Suicide Machines
Apr 21Crystal BallroomSomerville, MAsupporting We Are The Union
May 03Bottom of The HillSan Francisco, CAw/Flying Raccoon Suit, Omnigone
May 04Constellation RoomSanta Ana, CAw/Flying Raccoon Suit, Omnigone
Jun 14House of Blues (Voodoo Room)San Diego, CAw/Eichlers
Jun 15Trunk SpacePheonix, AZw/Eichlers
Jun 17The StarlighterSan Antonio, TXw/Eichlers
Jun 18Mohawk (Indoors)Austin, TXw/Eichlers
Jun 19Three LinksDallas, TXw/Eichlers
Jun 21Cosmic Eyed BreweryLincoln, NEw/Eichlers
Jun 22Moe’sDenver, COw/Eichlers
Jun 23Black Lung SocietyOgden, UTw/Eichlers
Jul 19FunhouseSeattle, WAw/Simple Minded Symphony
Jul 20MIG FestSalem, ORw/Bad Cop/Bad Cop, Sad Snack, Simple Minded Symphony, The Wild Jumps
Jul 21Cafe ColonialSacramento, CAw/Simple Minded Symphony
Sep 14Supernova Ska FestFort Monroe, VAw/Inspector Skavoovie and the Epitones, Laura Jane Grace w/Catbite, The Pioneers w/Steady 45s, The Kilograms, Catbite, Mutiny, The Bandulus, Los Mal Hablados, The Prizefighters