Half Dream’s Paige Berry on making music in Austin and how they got here
Will I Still Bloom is the debut full-length from the emotionally-charged, Austin-based rock n’ roll band, Half Dream. With a melodic vibrato and fuzzed-out guitar riffs, the band creates a liminal space to explore raw emotion in their latest project.
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Scroll down to read our Q&A with Paige Berry of Half Dream
Q: Where are you from?
A: I’m from Knoxville, TN! The cradle of country music and a short drive to Dolly Parton’s birthplace.
Q: When and how did you get to Austin?
A: I hit a wall in every aspect of my life in 2015, and as a Hail Mary pass, I decided to move to Austin. The little I knew about it was from my therapist from Kerrville at the time. When I say I knew little about it, I mean I didn’t know it was the Live Music Capitol of the World or even the capitol of Texas (only a little embarrassing). I quit my job at the design studio I worked for in Knoxville and my job as a bartender, flew out to visit a week later with my mom to secure housing, and a month later I lived in the cutest cottage on Guad with my musician roommate, Sue Fluger. She introduced me to the folk world, and we started singing together as The Rosaries. It was the biggest gamble I ever made, but I knew I’d die if I stayed in Tennessee. It was the best decision I’ve made thus far, and the first step in a long journey to trust myself and fall back in love with life.
Q: What or who got you into music?
A: My earliest memories of music are with my dad at his job at WUOT, University of Tennessee’s public radio station. Somewhere there’s a tape of me singing “Achy Breakey Heart” by Billy Ray Cyrus, which I also performed on my mamaw’s Astro turf patio for all the neighbors on demand. I ate up every minute of it. My broadcast engineer dad left WUOT to work for WIVK, the radio station where so many country artists got their start. Needless to say, nineties country music was a huge part of my life and what spurred me to start performing in choir, in musicals, in church, just anywhere I could. My mom’s best friend turned me on to doo wop and Motown; she even gave me Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” on CD that I didn’t open until she died a few years later. We’d always listen to oldies in the car when we weren’t listening to country. Some of my favorite memories are of my dad playing Celine Dion tapes in his Chevy Blazer drumming on the steering wheel with me in the passenger seat belting it like I understood a word of what she was saying (I didn’t). I knew that music made me feel alive, that it connected me to stories that felt like my own when I felt so alone growing up. I used to escape into my Disney tapes via my Fisher Price tape recorder which had a tiny microphone attached. Music has always been a refuge and a frontier for me.
Q: Is Half Dream your first rodeo? If not, what brought you to this point?
A: Depends on what you count as a rodeo! I started singing before I could fully talk, and I’ve been insatiable since. I begged my mom to take me to Nashville, but all I saw of fame seemed too shiny and plastic. My dad was always decrying how processed country music had become, and I internalized that. I wanted something that felt real and not something I fell into, like American Idol—which my mom begged me to try for years. I gave up on trying to write songs after a brief collaboration with a friend in college who played guitar to my words and melodies. It all felt abstract. I’ve never been able to truly read music as it felt too technical for me to grasp. I could follow along and developed a sharp ear. I started voice lessons at age 11 and continued through college, where I was in Women’s choir and an auditioned acapella group. It wasn’t until I moved to Austin and went to the Kerrville Folk Festival that I saw just how inclusive, expansive, and real music could be. Austin was a portal to the deepest parts of me that were formerly inaccessible.
Q: January is Love Austin Music Month. Tell us about an Austin artist you’re loving and why.
A: I’m obsessed with my friend Hunter Prueger’s project Middle Sattre. It’s like a weirder Sufjan Stevens singing with the sensibilities of Elliot Smith. It’s raw, immediate, and transcendent. I hear Hunter for the first time playing solo at a campfire at this past Kerrville Folk Festival and it shook me to my core. Besides being an incredible musician he is one of the kindest people I’ve met. One of my favorite things about this scene is that my favorite musicians are also just stellar humans who want to make the world better through the power of art.
Q: Do you have a favorite Austin music experience?
A: One of my favorite Austin music moments was Half Dream’s first full band show at my then partner Tyler Jordan’s (Good Looks) house. Little Mazarn and Amber Shirah were on the bill, and it was my birthday celebration. This was October 6, 2018, three days after my birthday, and I was hoping that would help draw a crowd as well as the excitement of our first full band show. My friend Aidan Fay, whom I’d met at The Kerrville Folk Festival earlier that May (about a year after I started playing guitar and writing), texted me and was like “Adrianne (Lenker) is coming to your show. I told her she should stop by after they play and it sounds like she’s coming.” I had also spent some time with Adrianne at fest and first made her acquaintance in 2016 through Tyler, the same year Buck and Adrianne produced his first record. Still, learning she might drop by rocked my world. The first time I saw Adrianne play was in our friend Amy Sue’s living room, right before Masterpiece blew up. I cried the whole time. And I mean the *whole time.* It changed the way I thought about what songwriting could be and gave me permission to break my heart open for everyone to see and know that it would be held. I cannot tell you what a huge influence Big Thief and Adrianne are to me and my friends, especially my friend Amber. Little Mazarn must have been playing her set because Amber and I were sitting in the floor together when Adrianne walked in and neither of us could play it cool. We were scream-whispering in each other’s ears, probably something along the lines of “holy shit holy shit holy shit.” She stayed the entire time, including our set, during which I saw her in the back dancing right along. Everyone in that room made it an unforgettable night, but her presence was a blessing and an omen of all the magic yet to come. I hold that one deep in my heart.
Q: What is the best thing about making music in Austin?
A: The most talented musicians are also the kindest, most generous, brilliant people I’ve met. With few exceptions, sharing resources and supporting each other is the foundation of the scene. Artists or bands that tear each other down or gatekeep resources tend to weed themselves out. Kindness endures, always. Of course there are cliques and preferences, but in my experience most people genuinely believe that when one of us succeeds, we all succeed. It’s a true community that has lifted me up again and again. I felt like an outsider to the music scene in my hometown, despite going to as many shows as possible. I hung out with musicians who loved my voice, but for one reason or another there were few opportunities to explore music in a collaborative environment where I felt truly included. Part of feeling included is feeling truly cared for, and Austin’s resources for musicians like HAAM and SIMS walk the walk by providing us with affordable healthcare and therapy. That’s real, actionable support for what makes this city so special.
Q: Has living in Austin changed how you make music? How?
A: Well, it sure has given the fact I didn’t play or write until I moved here! It’s a perfect example of being instantly embraced by the music community and encouraged from the jump. Living here has expanded my definition of collaboration and abundance–I have been overwhelmed again and again by the graciousness and innovation that characterize the Austin music scene.
Q: Anything else you want us to know about?
We have some really special shows coming up that can be found in our Instagram bio @halfdreammusic <3. Our next one is this coming Thursday on 1/18 at The Porch in San Marcos with Tearjerk as part of KTSW’s third Thursday series! Then, we’re joining Sunrosa at Hotel Vegas on 1/25 ahead of a mini regional tour from 2/15-2/19. We’re kicking it off at Radio on 2/15, hitting Paper Tiger on 2/18, and sending it off at Hole in the Wall on 2/19 with Magic Rockers of Texas and frosty palms! We hope our friends will stay tuned for exciting announcements about management, label support, and collaborations as they develop! This is our year, baby!
It would mean the world if folks gave a listen to our music, and especially if they’d check out our video for Too Much directed by Vanessa Pla that we released alongside our debut EP. I feel like it got kinda lost in the shuffle, but it’s truly powerful and visually stunning. It embodies the spirit of Half Dream, I think. Overcoming fear by doing the work, asking for help, using anger and trauma as motivation to be better, to seek love that is rooted in recognizing our inherent worth–the value that we bring into this life and leave with without having to earn or justify it. Feelings are not facts, but they are a beacon to the truth, and that’s something worth exploring.