Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.
Kami Van Halst has integrity to spare. And, as will soon become obvious, she doesn’t lack for grit, either. When she recently applied for a vocal-instructor job, she forthrightly pointed out that a school looking for a classical or musical theatre teacher should not hire her. Which naturally invited a conversation about who should hire her, what she sings and, most important, why.
It turns out that Kami fronts the eponymous rock-metal band Van Halst, whose members are staunch social advocates. Their songs derive from current issues, particularly surrounding youth. They decry injustices, oppression and marginalization. The band is composed of Kami Van Halst (lead singer), Scott Greene and Strathon J. Bajowsky (guitars) Brendan McMillan (bass) and Brett Seaton (drums). A pan-Canadian endeavour, Van Halst’s members hail from eastern and western Canada, officially formed the band in Alberta, and are currently based in Toronto. And though together only since last year, they are starting to garner attention and acclaim. A band with style as well as substance, Van Halst’s live performances aren’t just concerts. They’re theatrical experiences – featuring costumes, make-up and stage props. Van Halst has several upcoming performances, including 2 during Indie Week and Pinktober (a concert to benefit breast cancer research). In the following interview, Kami, Scott and Brett chat about Van Halst’s music and their inspirations. They even give some advice to future rockers. (The interview has been shortened for brevity.)
Social advocacy requires a strong will and determination. Our music requires the same. In order to get something, like our message, heard you have to be loud. Hard rock and metal music are very aggressive genres, and we feel that our message is better heard this way.
Kami: When I was doing my Sociology degree, I took a couple courses on religion in society and religious cults. Many people have been killed in the name of religion and are continuing to be killed in the name of religion. I am an atheist, and throughout my life, I have come across people that judge me for the fact that I wasn’t baptized and never went to church. That’s where the idea of “Save Me” started. I wanted to talk about how judgemental religion can be….It’s just my opinion, but I think if you’re a good person, then you’re a good person, and we don’t necessarily need to go to a church to prove that.
Scott: It’s a polarizing subject to take on, but we both strongly feel that these archaic ideas have no place in a society that wishes to evolve… Religion in my opinion is the root of much of the world’s racism, bigotry and female oppression… It’s just that simple for us.
Brett: “Save Me” aims to address the negative aspects of religious extremists, and how extremists force their beliefs onto others without letting them think for themselves.
3. What can we expect from your Pinktober benefit concert, which is all-ages? What do you think young people will be talking about as they go home?
Note that the show is not all ages. For some reason I thought it was, but it is for audiences 19-years-plus. The Pinktober benefit concert is going to be an awesome night. It features women who rock, so that’s always fun. We’re very excited to play at the Hard Rock as well. I think people will be talking about all the amazing acts. In regards to Van Halst, I think people are going to be talking about our energy, and I’m pretty sure we’ll be the heaviest band on the bill.
Kami: My biggest influences are Shinedown and In This Moment. Brent Smith (Shinedown) is the most amazing vocalist and performer that I have ever come across. I was blown away by the band and the connection they have with the audience. Their music is so deep, and they’re very socially conscious.
I also draw a lot of influence from Maria Brink and In This Moment. When I decided to get into a heavier rock/metal sound, I really looked at who was the best of the best, and Maria Brink is the best. Her voice is like nothing that I’ve ever heard. In This Moment write about a variety of social justice issues and female empowerment. I’m not really inspired by artists that seem in-authentic. Musicians that don’t stand for something or (who) talk about nothing don’t really do anything for me.
Scott: So many…perhaps too many to list, but I will say I’m a big Opeth fan, Dream Theater, Steven Wilson and Black Sabbath. So I lean to the progressive metal side but also with an old school vibe….
Brett: I’m a complete prog-head when it comes to drums. Biggest influences being Dream Theater, Rush, Spocks Beard, and Tool.
I am a strong advocate for homeless youth. There should never be homeless youth. It just shouldn’t happen. While studying Sociology, my eyes were opened to a variety of systemic issues that people face every day. I wanted to talk about these issues and help remove the ignorance surrounding them. It’s something that more people can talk to their elected officials about. Our government has the power to help these kids, but not enough is done. Things like volunteering at a youth shelter makes a huge difference to these kids as well. If you’re looking for somewhere to donate your clothes, school supplies, dropping them off at a shelter is also very useful.
I am very particular about the causes we attach the band too. There are a lot of things that concern me in our society, but I am especially passionate about the youth homeless issue. And I feel that in order to do it justice, I have to just stick with that once cause and do my best to make a difference.
Ha ha, awesome question. Well, the project started as a solo project under my name “Kami Van Halst.” Once we decided to go for more of a metal vibe, we figured the project would work better as a band. Being that I had already built a brand around my solo project, we decided to keep the name. Besides, it’s a European name and just sounds “metal.”
Invest in the right teachers. Singing aggressive music can be very tough on your voice, so you need to ensure you’re taking good care of it. I worked for years and years on my voice and enlisted the help of some of the best vocal coaches I could find.
Secondly, rock and roll is not just a boys club anymore! Women have just as much a right to be in rock as men, but sometimes men forget that. Just stay true to what you love, and don’t play music you don’t like. When I was young, my manager wanted me to be a pop singer, so I did that for a while–and hated it! It wasn’t until I took my first album into the studio where my producer at the time told me that I had a rock voice… and I was like, “finally someone gets it!” Been a rock chick ever since.
The last word…
We’re very excited to have our messages out in the world now! Our new album World of Make Believe will be released on March 4, 2016.
News You Can Use
Who: Van Halst
What, When and Where: Toronto 2015 Show Dates
© 2015 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya