With his new album, Ange Halliwell exquisitely articulates the emotional concepts linked to loss and death. Inspired by his studies of mediumship and psychic sciences in London, the French musician deploys his best talents to create impressive pieces that lead to reflection on grief and the difficulty of relating to the loss of our loved ones in modern society. In Lullaby for the Dead, his harp is an extension of the feelings and observations he conveys by placing his fingers and captivating with an album that stands out as one of the best pieces released this year.
Ange Halliwell is a French musician who has been creating beautiful and heartfelt music with his harp and computers for years, and whose universe is rare and truly special. One in a million. After several EPs and singles, he released The Wheel Of Time, a magnificent collection of musical pieces that shaped his debut album in 2020: “It's about the seasons, the passage of time and all the emotions you can go through, day and night, and those moments in between, a moment of reconnection.” He first played the harp at the age of 12. From the green countryside of southwest France, he composes music that combines hypnotic arpeggios, layers of sound and voices sometimes sung, spoken or shouted. Halliwell belongs to a new international group of artists who are rethinking harp music in the contemporary field, among them Joanna Newson, Active Child and Nala Sinephro.

His history and, therefore, his work are intimately linked to nature. His music is a product of both classical and contemporary manifestations, a unique scope and an uncomplicated sensibility. Halliwell's latest album, Lullaby For The Dead, is marked by the reiteration of a type of song, the lullaby. Typical of a song to literally lull a child to sleep, Halliwell directs her lullabies to the infinite sleepers. Leaning less towards the genre impulses into which the harp slips, each of the songs provides a distinct and contemplative soundtrack for different stages of hope and grief. Ange calls each piece “a prayer,” they are “a tribute to these invisible worlds and these emotions that overwhelm us all at some point in our lives.” And she sings: “Fly, fly beautiful soul! The beyond awaits you...”

“You can't take a picture of this, it's already gone,” Nate says to his sister Claire as she is about to leave Los Angeles for a new life. Well, it was Nate's ghost or whatever you want to call it. It's a scene from the latest episode of the series Six Feet Under, possibly the best fictional approach we've witnessed in the last 20 years. We are so far away and yet so close to death, it's a sign of our modern civilisation. But then again, art is one of the most powerful tools we have to understand that our path in life will end the same way for everyone. And to help us ease the pain of losing our loved ones Lullaby For The Dead certainly creates a space for a ritual for oneself, in which to honour our feelings of loss driven by the power of music. We speak to Halliwell about his new album, living in the countryside, collaborating with other artists and his first steps as a musician.
Hi Ange, how are you doing? First of all, I wanted to ask you about your recent gigs at the Palais de Tokyo supporting the incredible Sorour Darabi.
It was so good! It felt nice to work in a different way than what I'm used to. The team was so kind and respectful, and the show went well! Thanks again to Sorour.
It’s been 4 months since you released your second album, Lullaby For The Dead. It’s, again, a beautiful tale full of precious musical pieces. As mentioned in the PR, each song “provide a distinct and contemplative soundtrack for the various stages of hope and grief.” I wonder how you came up with the idea of composing for this matter.
I didn’t think of a ‘ligne directrice’ during the composition of the album. It was more about creating melodies, without a specific link between each of them. It was when the album was done that I realised I was unconsciously following something precise. This year was truly magical – I went to this school of mediumship and psychic sciences near London, and I was surrounded by people who lost their beloved ones; we spoke a lot with each other, and also a lot with dead people. Often very troubling stories, but absolutely inspiring to see how people were dealing with death and grief, and I guess this album is a kind of tribute to these special feelings.
Grief is strange; struggling with getting estranged from a (former) best friend, or having to accept your love not being reciprocated for instance. Time can heal though, slowly… I think love is a feeling that scares me the most, and also tempts me a lot. I guess the tracks are all inspired by all of this in a different way, each time.
Given the release date, I assume it was created during the pandemic. It has been a tough thing to face for us all, and I wanted to ask you if it has had any influence on the album. I was thinking about this when I heard My Secret Grief. It sounds ritualistic and ghostly, but also kind of works as a goodbye song.
I released an EP during the pandemic Kiss Me (but in my dreams to not be seen) which was really anchored in that period of time. Then Lullaby For The Dead is a post-pandemic album. My secret grief is about mourning a part of me which still means a lot to me, but from which I had to get away. This piece is a way to remember, but also to accept this crucial break. Playing it live is surely a way for me not to forget and remember this very strange period of my life.
Dace is one of the most beautiful songs in the album. At some point, we hear fireworks and what seems to be the sound of guns. Was that intentional? There are some other similar sound effects throughout the album.
It's funny that you tell me it looks like gunshots because Paula had already pointed it out to me. Dace is a very special track – I composed it for the mum of my friend Paula, who passed 2 years ago now; Dace allows me to go through the grieving process with my friend. I am absolutely convinced that music has a very powerful healing power, and accompaniment (for the living, as for the dead). Anyway, fireworks here can be seen as a celebration of her mother and her journey in the afterlife!
It makes sense to call these lullabies as it all sounds like a dream. How did you approach the songs production-wise?
As I said, I didn’t really follow one specific process of making the album. I rather saw its construction as a collection of several small compositions, each different. It is lullabies for us, but also for them in the beyond.
Your video Lands Of My Dream is mesmerising. It’s a beautiful journey that two friends take through the woods. It seems like you worked with some dear friends on it. How did you come up with the idea for this visualiser as a representation of the whole record?
Thank you! I am very happy with this clip/short film! I will never thank Lilian enough for his unique vision and his way of working which touches me a lot. It’s very emotional, palpable, and organic. Lilian came to my hometown for several days and we shot every day, all day – we definitely had way more than 14 minutes of video! It's a testimony of precious memories shared with friends who love life and celebrate it at each moment. I was very happy to film with my friend Paula, it totally made sense in the continuity of the album, and in truth, it'll be fun to rewatch when we are older!
There is a very special character that we might have seen before in other videos of yourself, your dog Pastor, who seems to be a great friend. How important was it for you to have it in your work?
Ah, Pastor… What can I say about this incredible being? I can't help but bring him into my images; I find that there is nothing more beautiful and precious than these human-animal relationships. They grow with us and we experience our sorrows and our joys together. I’ve always been surrounded by a lot of animals since I’m a child. I also remember that I always loved birds, we used to adopt crow, magpie, and parrot with my parents.
Animals are pure love, pure innocence and magical. There is no bullshit with them. They make our existence lighter! Oh and, why still eating animals? It’s something I can’t understand very well for our generation…
Malibu, Sarahsson, Odete, Avril23, Oklou… They seem to be friends but also collaborators to your work. Do you feel part of a generation of underground and independent artists? If so, what do you think are the main things you all share in common?
Yes, I think so? We obviously all come from a computer generation and all the freedom that these tools have given us; freedom and easy accessibility to create, compose and share.
I wanted to ask you about your experience with the labels High Heal and Slagwerk. They work with amazing artists such as JenysPablo Altar, Joa Joys and other European underground artists.
I'm not working with High Heal anymore because I decided that I wanted new things, but I'll never thank them enough for helping my music get visibility and for supporting my work so much still today (big up to Fetva). Finding a label that respects you, your work and your time, and reciprocatively, is quite difficult when you're independent like I am! But I am hoping to find a great fit for my future work. If I have one piece of advice: sometimes it's better to do things alone, your own way.
You started playing the harp when you were 12 years old. What draw you into it in the first place? Who are your favourite harpists you look up to?
I will always remember that evening: I was accompanying my parents to their friends' house, a very beautiful house (it looked like a house of fairies and elves). Suddenly, this lady started to play the harp in front of the fireplace. It was love at first sight for me and I told my parents that's what I wanted to do! Their friend, who was not a harp teacher at the time, started giving me lessons (I didn't want to go to a conservatory). She gave me so much freedom in the practice which I really appreciated (big kisses to you Vero). I don't know a lot of harpists, but I love the work of Joanna Newsom, and also Dove's Return by Áine Minogue.
How difficult is it for a musician of your age with a musical proposal that sits out of the norm to develop a sustainable career? What are the main obstacles you’ve had to face?
There are times when I may not play the harp for several weeks, and others when I will play every day. I do not put pressure to create and compose. I release something when I feel like it, and that's it. I decided that my music would be my sole focus though the toughest part might be the money. I usually pay for everything myself each time; the mix, the mastering, the production of the CDs, sometimes the music videos, etc… Where it is difficult for me is when I go far away for concerts; I am alone to transport my harp, my equipment, etc. Travel is always a bit chaotic and sometimes I feel like the structures don't really take that into account.
As an independent artist, I think that you should above all not hesitate to give your conditions and not accept everything and anything.
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Wizards, nymphs and other fantastical creatures and pastoral rituals are very present and evoked in the visual side of your work. What are your interests in this type of aesthetics?
I would say that all these inspirations come from my childhood, from where I grew up. My parents always took us to quite ‘alternative’ parties with my brother. I'd spend my days outside, in the countryside, and I'd read books on the legends of our mountains, tales, witchcraft books that my mother collected, etc. I was pretty lonely and didn't care about friendships.
When I realised in high school that people could make fun of it all (and who I was, too) I tried not to show it at all and stay away from it as much as possible. It was only after some years that I realised the richness of it all, and that unconsciously (or consciously?) my work is, I think, infused by all these things.
I do believe in magic, I do believe in a spirit world, and I love how we can make a ritual from nothing to something vibrant. I used to be scared about all of this and used to meet very whack sorts of people, especially when you go on this path. But while I’m growing, I’m also able today to sort out a lot of outdated beliefs.
You live in the countryside. How important is it for you and for your work?
Obviously, I am very lucky to have grown up there, humbled and close to the earth, and I feel like I will therefore always be connected to somewhere natural. Is it not the way we should all live? After some small amount of time living in Paris, I went back to my hometown, fully appreciating its worth. The place where you're working is very important, I can’t work in a place I don’t feel comfortable in. My parent’s house in the country is definitely the best place to start the creation process.
I think your songs, therefore your albums and EP, along with the videos are part of the universe of a very talented and sensitive person. Do you feel like music helps you express feelings, emotions or thoughts?
Yes, of course. Most of the time, when I compose, it had to be because of a feeling that's running through my heart and my body. I think sometimes I am too emotional, and I am too ‘controlled’ by my feeling but music is a wonderful tool to express yourself differently than words; the harp allows you to connect your body and mind to the sound very quickly and organically.
French alt-pop music is getting its moment. How do you see yourself fitting in it, and who are your fellow favourite artists of this moment?
I don’t think I really fit in pop music… It's funny because a few years ago, when Ange Halliwell didn't exist yet, I tried to make some ‘pop’ stuff but it was so bad (laughs). The artist I’m listening to on repeat at the moment is Ethel Cain. When I’m travelling with my harp, I love to listen to Malibu, it’s so meditative and peaceful. But every week is a new mood, for example right now while I’m typing, I’m listening to a choir, very angelic. I used to listen to a lot of traditional music thanks to my parents during my childhood, and very experimental bands too, thanks to my brother.
What are your plans for the future music-wise?
I’m working on scenography for my live shows and also working on a music video. Of course, already thinking about a new album/EP, and what comes with that… To be confirmed...
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