“The new record is called ‘Starting Over’ for a reason,” says Halter. “I wanted the title to be direct, simple, and set the tone for the album. In this past year, I experienced the ending of a marriage and the birth of my first son. It was during this year that I wrote the material for the new record and performed over 150 shows.”
“More than ever I think it’s important to be as open and honest as possible, both as a songwriter and as a person,” Halter continues. “One positive side to the tumultuous year I’ve had is this new-found freedom to say it as it is, to admit who I am and where I’ve been. I feel this is a total crossroads for me.”
“Starting Over” was recorded in early 2008 in New York City and is the follow-up to 2007’s “Congress Hotel.” On “Starting Over“, Halter puts himself out there in deeply personal ways like never before. Says Halter: “I feel like I’ve started to become a real songwriter in the last year through these experiences and the acknowledgment that it’s universal. I’m not the only person who has been in a situation like this, who’s been hurt, who’s hurt other people.”
On the eleven-track new album, Ernie mixes blue-eyed soul, pop, and rock in a style that is both familiar, unique and always inimitably Halter. His vocal delivery is percussive and smooth, raw and real, his phrasing often an instrument itself. From “Different Lives” to “Try” (a song co-written with tour mate Josh Hoge about balancing a life at home with a life on the road), to the plaintive, piano-driven ballad “Lighthouse” (“a song about friends who love you unconditionally”), Halter explores real life in ways he hopes will resonate with his listeners. But there’s also a lighter side to the record which reflects Halter beginning to find love again. From the soulful drive of “Blue Dress” to the calypso-esque “Crazy Love” (“a song about that intoxicated feeling you get from new love, even though your friends think you’re nuts”), to “My Heart is With You” and “Count The Days” (both written about a long distance love affair), the album dips and soars, alternating between heavy topics and light.
The entire recording process, for perhaps the first time ever, was broadcast over the internet from their New York City studio. Says Halter: “To my knowledge, nobody has ever done that.” Halter has been called a pioneer by many including EQ Magazine and text broadcasting company Mozes (Halter was one of its first artists) for his technologically-oriented approach to connecting with fans. Halter elaborates: “I am making this record for me and them, and I wanted them to see their record being made. I wanted them to be as much a part of the process as possible. They allow me to do what I do and I think it’s extremely important to acknowledge that.” It was actually Halter’s tech-savvy approach to promoting and marketing his music that garnered the attention of his management and label, Rock Ridge Music, in the first place: Halter was one of the first artists to really take advantage of MySpace as a promotional tool. Utilizing his tech know-how and his extraordinarily focused work ethic, Halter has incorporated such unique features on the page as a live “tour van cam” and nightly webcasts of his concerts across the United States.
Stylistically, Halter endeavored to make “Starting Over” sound more organic and a little less polished than previous recordings. Halter’s long-time drummer Michael Peters and bassist Zack Rudulph flew out from Halter’s hometown of Los Angeles to record with him. Jason Spiewak (Five.Bolt.Main, Chris Volz) sat in the production seat. “I wanted this to sound more raw and live. I tour so much that when it comes to making a record, something tends to gets lost a little when I get into the studio. That is part of the reason why I enjoyed webcasting the sessions so much is because it was the closest thing to bringing that live element into the studio. Fans were commenting on things we were doing and it was very interactive, more like a live show would be. One thing that shaped the record sound-wise more than anything was a decision that we made to lay vocals down in the control room with the monitors on. It means that any bleed-through that comes through the mic makes it impossible to edit the vocal in any way. The vocals were all one straight take. No editing, no pitch correcting, which is a bit unorthodox. I wanted to be a little bit free to make some mistakes, to let it be what it is, because I feel that is also fitting with the content of the record itself.”
Halter also has an ongoing cover video series on YouTube, popular with his fans who submit requests on an ongoing basis. It was this, as much as Halter’s penchant for performing covers during his live shows, that prompted him to include three covers on the album: “Just Friends” (Musiq Soulchild), “Pretty Girl” (David Ryan Harris – a song that Halter wishes he had written himself and calls it “the most beautiful song ever”), and “Cyclone” (Baby Bash). Halter explains: “‘Cyclone’ is a hip-hop song, you hear it in clubs, and it’s not the kind of song you’d hear an acoustic songwriter singing. I basically flipped it – added some chords and arrangements that weren’t there, rather than just trying to copy it. There’s no skill in that. Incidentally, I noticed it was getting a lot of traffic on YouTube. One night, I was looking on MySpace and Baby Bash had written me a message there just to tell me he dug it. And I found out later that a radio station in Phoenix had picked up the song and had put it in rotation. People were telling me they heard it on the radio. I just decided have some fun with it.”
Despite an emotionally-grueling year, Halter finds himself happy to be starting over. “Happiness doesn’t come from the outside. It has to come from your own acceptance of the present moment. I feel, in a strange way, more at peace for having gone through everything because it has helped me learn some things and understand some things that I needed to learn.” And he’s equally pleased to be sharing this with his ever-growing fanbase. “Music is a conversation between the writer/singer and the listener. I write music for myself, and also for others, so that someone might come up to me in a club after a show and tell me that I’m singing about their life. Call it a distraction or a remedy or catharsis, but there is something very healing about music. Whether you’re making or listening to it, it has a way of washing over you, making things alright.”