Hello Luna finds freedom in reimagining itself

Joel Oliphint
Kenzie Coyne of Hello Luna

Earlier this year, not long after the release of 2019 EP Dear Demons, local act Hello Luna retreated to its Milo Arts studio to begin working on a follow-up, of sorts. The Columbus rock band had recently played an unplugged show, and singer Kenzie Coyne and her bandmates liked the way the songs sounded in a stripped-down setting, so they set out to record acoustic versions of the Dear Demons tracks.

“We were doing a piano ballad for ‘Tongue Tied,’ and it sounded really cool live, but when we started doing it in the studio, everything kind of shrunk and I just wasn't feeling it. I was explaining to the guys, ‘I'm not liking where this is going,’” Coyne said recently by phone.

While Coyne was lamenting her lack of inspiration, engineer/producer and Milo neighbor Gino Bambino of Avant Music Group happened to walk in the room to check out a piece of furniture. “He was like, ‘Would you mind if I sat in on a session?’” Coyne said. “He comes from a very different background. We’re an active rock band, and we have not really strayed from that. This is a guy who focuses mainly on hip-hop and pop stuff. … But he pulls up a few different things and we start messing with crazy synths.”

An unspoken collaboration built from there. When Hello Luna got together to record twice a week, Bambino would come over to work with them on the sessions, reworking and transforming the songs from Dear Demons into a brand new form of electro-pop. Coyne and her bandmates — guitarist Eric Morgan, drummer Michael Neumaier, new bassist Mitchell Ammar Horn and auxiliary pianist Michael Grenier — handed Bambino the creative reins. Not that the band didn’t have some moments of hesitation, particularly while re-tracking the song “Great Escape.”

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“There's a dance party remix in the middle of it, and I was like, ‘I don't know about that. This is just too much,’” Coyne said. “There was a period of time, about two weeks in, where I had to step back and be like, ‘Are we really going to do this?' There was an identity crisis.”

Hello Luna keeps old issues of music magazines in the studio, and while the bandmates talked through the ins and outs of reimagining their sound, Coyne picked up a tattered copy of Under the Radar that featured an interview with Rogue Wave, and in the story, the indie-rock band talked about breaking down barriers and embracing the freedom to go in new creative directions. Coyne took it as a sign. “OK, we're doing this,” she said.

Hello Luna will release the results of those sessions in the form of Dear Demons (Reimagined) on Friday, July 10, followed by a socially distant drive-in release show at North High Brewing on Saturday, July 18. The band is also channeling its newfound creative freedom and the lessons it learned from the Reimagined sessions into a series of singles to be released throughout the summer.

Additionally, the new EP is an opportunity for Coyne to breathe new life into some of the stories behind the songs on Dear Demons, which she has recently delved into in social media posts, on podcasts and in a 2019 interview with Alive. Some of the songs deal with painful memories of childhood abuse.

Coyne met with friend Danny Rogers to make a short video that would explain some of the meanings behind the songs, in hopes of creating more dialogue and a safe space for others to share their stories. Soon, though, the on-camera interviews turned into a full-blown documentary, which Hello Luna will release on Wednesday, July 15. Not only that, but Coyne also plans to create an online community where fans can go to find help and sympathetic ears.

“I've made a few posts about [my traumatic past], and whenever I do that, I seem to get a lot of messages from people who’ve had similar experiences and nowhere to turn. I've been to support groups … and generally, when people go through a very traumatic experience, what I found most helpful is finding other people who have been through that,” Coyne said. “Hearing that you're not alone, and this isn't some big secret that you have to keep from society, is one of the most helpful things.”

Coyne still thinks about one particular incident with a fan that occurred around the time Dear Demons came out. “We got a suicide note from from one of our fans, and that day was horrible. I was crying and I was freaking out. Everybody that I was talking to was just like, ‘You need to stop responding. This person is just crazy.’ … But they were reaching out to us because they needed someone … and I'm not just going to leave these people on red. I'm not just going to ignore this,” she said. “I've been in those situations. I have mental health problems. Nothing about me scoffs at this. This is real. These people need help. They clearly don't have anyone to talk to about this. And if this stranger feels comfortable enough to talk to me about it, then I have an opportunity to create an atmosphere where they can.”