Writing songs about dark subjects is nothing new for Colin Halliburton, yet there is something different about the latest album by The Roseline, his Kansas-based Americana band.
On Good/Grief, released April 3, singer-songwriter Halliburton explores the grieving process — specifically, the mourning of two people very close to him: his mother-in-law and a bandmate.
“It’s almost like a futile task to try to encapsulate someone’s life in a three- or four-minute song,” Halliburton admits. “It’s such a limited format; there’s a rhyme scheme.”
“Ghost Writer,” which is about his mother-in-law, who took her own life in 2019, was the most difficult song on the album for him to complete.
“It was written in two different bursts,” Halliburton recalls. “The first two verses and choruses were written maybe six months to a year from the bridge, which was added later after she passed. It was difficult because of the subject matter, and I didn’t want to be exploitive in any way about the situation. But after talking to lots of friends, they were like, ‘Your experience with this is valid, so you shouldn’t feel bad about it.’ ”
The album closes with “Song for Ehren,” and Halliburton describes the first verse as “kinda like an inside joke” that he shared with Roseline keyboardist Ehren Starks, who died in 2018 at age 35. (Starks’ other credits included stints with The Gadjits and Brandon Phillips and the Condition.)
“Through the course or our friendship, we had talked about our ideas of the afterlife,” says Halliburton. “A recurring joke was, ‘Yeah, man, as long as I’ve got a white baby grand piano and a drink up there, I’m good.’ I painted this almost schmaltzy picture in that first verse. It could be taken seriously, too, but just knowing he would think it’s funny is why I included it.”
There’s much more to Good/Grief than grieving and death: “Better to the Bone,” the excellent opener, is a “positive love song,” Halliburton points out. And during the tracking of the album (done in eight days, spread over the course of a few months) with producer-engineer Joel Nanos at Missouri’s Element Recording Studios, Halliburton made it a point to foster an upbeat vibe.
“I feel it keeps people looser, and you get better takes if you’re keeping it light and cracking jokes,” he says, “as opposed to, ‘All right, guys. This song is about death. Let’s buckle down and give our darkest performance we can possibly give.’ ”
The Roseline won’t be performing in public anytime soon due to the pandemic, and Halliburton has no desire to do a streamed solo show.
“It just seems so oversaturated: I’d feel like one more dude with an acoustic guitar on Instagram Live,” he says. “It’s almost becoming comical how many people are trying to do it. It doesn’t seem to have the same effect at all as being [together] in the same room. I get why people are doing it, and I get why bigger acts are doing it, too, because they can make some decent revenue from fans paying to watch these things. But for me, I don’t feel like throwing my hat into the ring.
“I’m not working my day job at all [right now], so I’ve been dedicating two or three hours every night to playing music in my basement — by myself for fun, and seeing if a song comes, and they have been coming more than not.”
— By Chris M. Junior