The solo project of singer-songwriter Jesse Carsten, Half Shadow is a kaleidoscopic piece of artistry flowing down an avant-garde soundscape. Proving he is not one to be pigeon-holed, Half Shadow shares intricate and eclectic music with his audience. We speak with Half Shadow about his latest album At Home With My Candles, what he does in his spare time, future plans and much more.
OSR: What drew you to music?
Half Shadow: Sonic atmospheres and the way that sound can swell into one’s consciousness, filling and changing you. The ineffable, transformational quality of songs. When I was a kid it also helped me to fall asleep. So music felt like a mother, enveloping, a safe space; precious. I was held by it and always wanted to be.
OSR: Is there a backstory to your album At Home With My Candles?
Half Shadow: I wanted to make an album exploring home and as the pandemic hit, it seemed all the more important to investigate this space that I, and everyone else, was being forced to endure in a way that we never had been challenged to before. So I wrote songs for the different parts of the house – the attic, the bedroom, the garden – some of these songs are on there, some not. And I wrote songs about the portals that let us in and out of the house, in and out of ourselves. The mysticism of home, the ghosts that haunt its space. The age of home, its mystery, its longing, its fire, its food, its windows and doors, and children and lovers. The laundry. It all inspired me. And as I dug deeper, explored different aspects of a house’s terrain spurred on by interior/exterior paintings, films, and poems by Leonora Carrington, Maya Deren, Dorothea Tanning, Alejandra Pizarnik, and the Tao Te Ching, I found a deep, deep aura of being that feels ancient. The whole historical-psychic zone of home. That is to say, it’s archetypal nature and I found the album. I was at home with my candles, which to me means to be in the place of mysterious union, a gravity that home can sometimes afford.
OSR: If you could change one thing about the album, what would it be and why?
Half Shadow: I wouldn’t change it. I feel like I finally made the music that was in my head, in my heart. That’s such an achievement to me. But if you twisted my arm I might make a different album cover that wasn’t so black metal. When the image came to me, it felt fitting. But I think people don’t know what to expect from the cover. Especially if they put it on and hear these psychedelic folk songs and weird Sade-esque rhythmic incantations. But then again, the cover came from surrealism – it’s based on a Man Ray collage, so maybe it’s all perfect.
OSR: What inspires you to make music?
Half Shadow: Art, music, the ocean, pain, togetherness, separateness, films, poetry, things people say and things they do not say. Everything to me is the impetus for a song. I write songs about my cat, about the sky, a lamp, just waking up. Whatever, really. I think we simultaneously expect too much and too little from music. Capitalism is to blame. We expect it to transform our lives and to be easy and enjoyable while it’s doing this work. We want it to inflame and heal our most intense emotions and make us feel as calm as a summer’s day. Of course, it does these things, but sometimes we push it too hard and then it turns into Top 40 pop music, which is cathartic and also too easy. The bar is too high and too low at once.
I’m inspired to make music that functions on a subliminal level, not to sell you a sense of ease or catharsis or a simple story about love and loss or sell you anything really. But to provide genuine depth and actual healing. To induce a zone that is good for you. A healthy, nourishing space which is also a dream. Dreams heal. I’m in the dreaming business.
OSR: What do you hope people take from your music?
Half Shadow: I hope people take the vibe. The words. That there’s something interesting in it that they can’t explain. I hope people can realise how much the uncanny surrounds them, the deepest, strangest, most ordinary parts of the psyche and how they need that influence to keep their lives interesting – to keep it feeling alive. I hope this music makes people feel more connected, more inspired, and more alive. I hope it gives people agency too to be their weird mystical selves. Yeah.
OSR: Do you believe At Home With My Candles differs from your previous releases? If so, how?
Half Shadow: Definitely. It’s the most ambitious music I’ve made yet. And, in contrast to past albums and EPs I’ve made which were intentionally sort of sparse, with this one I indulged every idea I had. Every sound I heard on the wind. I put it into the music. Sometimes I’d dial it back during the mixing process, but with many songs – ‘Song for the Garden’, for instance – I just kept all the layers in. That song is completely stacked with the normal “rock” instrumentation- guitar, drums, bass, vocals – but then has many layers of synth, flugelhorn, distorted metal guitars, weird, nearly-invisible electronics, and all sorts of backing vocals and such. It’s really a construction, a diorama, a dollhouse. Which is how I wanted it to be – a constructed place, full of ghosts and emotion.
OSR: What is one thing you wish you knew more about – it doesn’t have to be musical?
Half Shadow: Hmm, good question. There’s a lot of things I’d like to learn. I’m a Sagittarius – the “forever student” – so my list is a mile long. One thing I’d really like to learn is to play a variety of instruments. Primarily piano and violin (or cello). I am obsessed with the sound of these instruments and hope to find some time over the next couple of years to get some basics down.
OSR: What is your favourite thing to do in your spare time?
Half Shadow: I’m a parent, so there really is no such thing as spare time to me. Either I’m working on art, trying to make money, resting or parenting. When I give myself a rare moment of “you don’t have to work on anything right now”, I usually like to walk around, go in shops, talk to people, smell flowers and drink tea. Spend a full day between the worlds. Open myself to synchronicities and nature, sunshine.
OSR: Describe Half Shadow in one word.
Half Shadow: Silver.
OSR: What are your future plans as Half Shadow?
Half Shadow: I hope to make as many albums as I can in my lifetime. I can’t stop writing songs – they just happen to me. I hope to find more support and be able to travel with the music and get paid more often. Mostly, I just want to help the music live. I’m its vessel, so in a spiritual sense, it’s my responsibility to give it space in the real world – on stage, on record.
OSR: Do you have a message for our readers?
Half Shadow: Hello everyone! I want to let you know that music and art are not “products” but life-giving manifestations of the soul and the unknown. They are the living, breathing expressions of the great mystery of being. As such, they nourish us, remind us of our purpose, and inspire us to the great feats of our own lives. We need these things, even though their value has been degraded to less than nothing in our ailing, capitalist society. Music is the work of the muses, and the voice of the angels and devils speaking. If you truly listen, you might hear something unfathomably profound. Existence is so much more than how hard we work or the specific products we consume. It’s a swirling vibration from beyond. You have meaning, and music can remind you of this. The next time you hear your favourite song, remember that it is the outcome of an incredible amount of painful and deep work on the part of the musician and that they are trying, in their own way, to heal you. Give thanks and take notice of how your life sparkles while the sound is moving through you, and afterwards as well. This is the magic of connectivity and the ineffable majesty of life with music in it.
At Home With My Candles tries to induce an atmosphere in which the listener can pause and hear and feel all of this that I’m describing. I hope you can give yourself a moment to dig into it.