'Total recharge moment': the reintroduction of the Halluci Nation
The electronic music duo opens up about their first new record in five years
Written by Waubgeshig Rice
Last summer, electronic music group the Halluci Nation dropped its fourth full-length album, One More Saturday Night. It's been five years since the group's last full-length record, and it's their first effort as a duo since Ian Campeau's departure in 2017. Members Ehren "Bear Witness" Thomas and Tim "2oolman" Hill have described One More Saturday Night as an homage to the Electric Pow Wow, the monthly Ottawa dance party the group created in 2007 when it was known as A Tribe Called Red. Author and journalist Waubgeshig Rice sat down with both members of the Halluci Nation over online video to talk about the new album, their evolution and name change, a return to touring, and the wider Indigenous community that inspires their music.
Waubgeshig Rice: One More Saturday Night has been out in the world for a couple months now. How does it feel?
Bear Witness: It feels amazing. We finished this album just before the first lockdowns happened, so we've been sitting on it for a while, just kind of trying to figure out what to do with it. How do you release an album when you're not touring, or you're unable to tour? It was such a big question. And we took the advice of our management and people around us, and kind of held off and waited on the album, and in the end it came out at a good moment.
Rice: It's a fun album, as usual. But you're obviously able to bring in some issues that are important to Indigenous communities, like land protection. How would you describe the spirit, or the intent, of this album?
Tim "2oolman" Hill: I guess we'd have to go right back to the beginning of it, to when we first came up with the concept of the record. We are the Halluci Nation, our last project, was a pretty mentally and spiritually draining album to make because it really dealt with a lot of hard things. And we went all the way in on it. I remember telling [Bear] that because of how taxing the last record was, I wanted to make a fun record. And Bear was like, that's cool, sounds like a really good idea to do, but we can't lose the message no matter what.
We've put a lot of effort and energy into just having a better friendship on top of everything else we're doing- Bear Witness
Rice: What was some of that key messaging, Bear, that you really wanted to convey?
Bear Witness: That sometimes just having something that you can enjoy and something that is light — that's just as much a part of it as everything else. We do have songs on it with a strong message like "The OG" or "Land Back," but then there's also songs like "Stay" where it's a love song. It's much more of a light-hearted affair. It's something that makes you smile. And I think, if anything, the message on this album is that those moments are just as important.
Rice: One More Saturday Night marks a new direction for you guys: it comes under a new name, the Halluci Nation. Can you explain the change from A Tribe Called Red?
Bear Witness: It's something that in a way was a long time coming, that we were sort of building to in the background for years now. When [Dakota author, musician and activist] John Trudell gave us the We are the Halluci Nation poem, it changed everything for us. We had been working through different ideas of storylines for [that] album because we knew we wanted it to be this conceptual album. It was stuff about superheroes and things about outlaws. And then John gave us a nation, and it was like "Oh, this is the thing we were searching for." This isn't just a name of an album, this is something we're much more dedicated to.
We started looking back at other stuff we had had of John, and one thing was the recording from the first night that we had met. It was him introducing us onstage. And when we listened to that recording…. it was like, oh my God, this is speaking to the moment we're in right now. It was this total recharge moment, and this moment of really realizing that John had left a roadmap for us, in a sense.
Rice: That's beautiful. In a lot of senses, art is not static at all. Our identities often shift. A name change is natural in many ways, in my opinion.
Bear Witness: The name more reflects who we are now, and the changes and the achievements we've made in our lives.
Hill: Definitely. It really honours the work that me and Bear have put forward over the past few years.
Rice: In listening to the music, and in hearing recent interviews with both of you guys, I get the sense that this is the most cohesive and most creative that the group has ever been. Would you agree with that?
Bear Witness: Without a doubt.
Hill: We brought in friends on this project. We brought in people that we respect, people that we got to check off our wish list that we want to work with, and people we might have known for a long time, but just never made anything together. This was a big album for us as far as not just paying homage to the night that started it all, but paying homage to all of the people that we have come across, we have shared meals with, we have shared talks with. It's really like a big family reunion in a lot of senses as well.
Bear Witness: What you were picking up on there isn't something that just happened. We've been working at it. Part of the reason it's taken so long — even before we paused bringing it out — was that so much of the process in this album was Tim and I talking everything out, and Tim and I just spending time together. There's a relationship that we've always had, and there's the relationship we have now, and we've put a lot of effort and energy into just having a better friendship on top of everything else we're doing. I love that that's coming through, because that's been a huge part of the process in this album.
These might be some of the best performances that we've had in a very long time.- Tim "2oolman" Hill
Rice: Tim, you mentioned the collaborations, and the effort that goes into an album like this, to me it seems a lot like community-building. You bring in a long list of special guests from musical and cultural backgrounds: from drum groups to singers to spoken word artists. How do you decide who to bring in and where?
Hill: Bear would suggest somebody, and I'd be like, OK, you trust and love those guys, so I'm definitely down to hear that. Or I'll bring somebody to the table, and Bear will be like, yeah, let's do that. And that's where we really start with things. Or there's people that we both met at the same time, or we both have a relationship with them, and it's just easy for us to work together. Someone like Tanya Tagaq. It does feel like just inviting a friend over to come hang out, really. Because we do spend half that time laughing and hanging out and joking on each other, or catching up on life. And then we record.
Rice: You're getting ready to return to regular touring this fall. How does that feel?
Hill: It's exciting, but at the same time we're also trying to be careful with everything.
Bear Witness: Playing music hasn't been this fun in years. This is the longest break that I've taken [from] performing in my adult life. When you take a break from something that you love, it's just so much better when you go back to it.
Hill: These might be some of the best performances that we've had in a very long time. On top of that, we have aspirations of taking this further.