On Stage

Trailer Park Stage


Love is complicated. It’s addictive, it’s confounding, it’s euphoric and it’s disappointing. It’s
the subject of the second album by Halloweens, Opera Singing at the Salsa Bar. That’s no
surprise really, because Halloweens – Justin Young and Timothy Lanham – are also half of
the Vaccines, and skewering his own romantic obsessions and failures has been Justin’s
subject for most of the Vaccines’ career.

“My favourite songs are often conversations I’m not brave enough to have,” he says.
“With Halloweens, in particular, the songs that hit me the hardest are the ones where I’m not
trying to be clever or funny – I’m just trying to be brutally honest. Songs like Convert or
Answers in the World are really being delivered to one person through the medium of song.”

What’s different from the Vaccines is the tone of these songs. Halloweens still play pop in a
largely classicist tradition, but where the Vaccines take their inspiration from the rowdier,
rock’n’roll end of things, Halloweens are rather more mellow proposition. Justin mentions
Paul McCartney, Arthur Russell, Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell as informing the songs on
Opera Singing at the Salsa Bar. Certainly, Prophets Of Nostalgia sounds like it might have
been unjustly omitted from one of McCartney’s 70s albums. The opening What Did I Do To
Love has the bouncing piano and muscular guitars of some lost powerpop classic, perhaps
by Emitt Rhodes: this is an album that relishes music history without being caught up in a
cosplay recreation of anything.

None of it sounds contrived though: Opera Singing at the Salsa Bar sounds like pleasure.
There’s a lightness of touch to its melodies and arrangements, exemplified by the way Mrs
Us skips through its bars. The lyrics might be self-examining and confessional, but there’s
real playfulness to the music not just on that song, but across the album.

That’s because working as Halloweens allows freedom. “Any music you make, you’re trying
to hold yourself to the highest standards,” Justin says. “But when you have an audience, a
team and a back catalogue, there’s always this low hum of obligation in the background –
even if it’s imagined. And with Halloweens there is none of that. The songs that come, come
very naturally and are what Tim and I making music together sounds like. But there’s
absolutely no framework and so that’s very freeing. The only criteria they have to meet is
making us excited.”

Opera Singing at the Salsa Bar wasn’t something that needed to be overthought. All the
songs were written in in September 2022 then recorded in January 2023, produced by Luke
Temple and Geoff Roberts. There’s an unforced freshness to it that’s appealing and sunny.
“We want it to feel like a holiday, which I guess in a way it was. We wrote the first LP and
last EP in Paris and recorded in San Francisco. This one was written in Colombia and
recorded in Long Beach. We want to make the next one in Vietnam. We’re kind to each
other during the creative process. We’re not beating ourselves up. Low stakes but high value
in our minds.”

It needs to be high value because Halloweens is not some high-investment major label
project. In a true sense, it’s genuinely independent music: they pay for everything
themselves, and they expect to lose money on the release. If it weren’t exactly what they
wanted, there would be no point in doing it, because the return is not what matters. As Justin
says: “All we care about is being proud of it and having fun while we do it.”