One of the perks of being a music blogger is that you get to grow up with artists. Documenting their releases as they blossom into a glorious musical Phoenix. It’s beautiful and makes me feel like a mother bird when they return home. Howlie is without doubt one of my baby birds. He was one of the first artists to get in touch when I started writing many years ago, and it’s great to see him still releasing music today.
Last week saw the release of Howlie’s new EP Contact High. A modest collection of three songs, two of which were reworked from recordings made back in 2014. It is a wonderful, haunting listen and one I hope brought the creative juices back into gushing action. What a gross end of a sentence that was.
Anyway, I’m so happy to have had a chat with Howlie to discuss Contact High amongst other things! Important questions such as “Do you wash your legs in the shower?” WILL be answered!! Be sure to have a read and a listen to the new EP below. Enjoy.
(Photo cred: Jarad Weeks)
Hey Howlie, how’s it going? How has lockdown treated you? Hey Adam! Life is certainly proceeding forward at a manageable speed. I am simply behind the wheel of a coin-operated arcade racer, and I should really ask a friend to get me more quarters. I hope you’ve been well, it’s been a minute.
You’ve just released a new EP, Contact High. What can you tell us about it? I have a wealth of unreleased material from 2014 to the present. Many of these tunes have been recorded, but something about the vibe will be off to me and I’ll put it aside indefinitely. I was house-sitting for a friend in January this year, and he had a really nice home recording setup for me to get lost in for the weeks he was away. I ended up revisiting some of my first songs that I had written just to see how they would sound in a new environment, and for the first time in years they sounded fresh enough for me to be happy with them. Of the 7 tracks I recorded, I only ended up keeping three of them for the album, one is for another EP with newer material, and I’m not sure about the rest. They’re all about different things, but they’re unified by that Beach Boys-branded melancholy of mine that people tend to enjoy.
How’d it feel going over past material and emotions? Was it strange retweaking them with a different mindset? It was fun and refreshing! The songs “Contact High” and “Theresa” are from 2014, written when I was still working on developing my voice in an acoustic setting. Before Howlie, I was fronting a loud alt-rock band and I could hide behind full instrumentation and guitar feedback. I remember my first recordings were so shaky and I felt a little too exposed for most of those songs to be released. I think I’ve grown much stronger as a singer for the bedroom pop I do, and I have a better sense for what works for that and what I should lean into. Specifically with my falsetto, those old songs really benefited from the voice I have now. It was also cool that I didn’t feel like I needed to change a single lyric; the only thing I really needed to do was habitually listen to Pet Sounds and the Beatles’ Esher Demos for the last 6 years.
Do you feel your songwriting has changed over the years? Yeah, I was surprised by my storytelling from back then! There’s a lot of decisions I don’t think I would make now, and that can be a good thing. It’s like when you listen to your favorite artist’s first albums, and it all feels so fresh compared to later in their career when they have a lot of weight and expectations influencing their work. There’s an innocence in these songs, and a risk that I can hear. With “Contact High” and “Theresa,” I wrote those while I was still in college for music, and was focused on challenging myself to stray away from making sure everything rhymed. I also pulled inspiration from emo and pop-punk bands, and I was less hesitant to second guess a lyric that could be perceived as unsettling or too private. Now I can’t help but think about how my mom or my coworkers would perceive my lyrics about being depressed, and I try to omit details that would be a dead giveaway to the person the song is about. I had a truly candid intimacy in 2014. I loved that and was sure to preserve it.
Who the heck is Theresa? Theresa is a real girl with a different name! Eagle-eyed listeners might notice on my bandcamp that the first two songs I released were also women’s names: Alaina and Laurie. My canned first EP was called “Four Girls,” and had “Alaina,” “Laurie,” “Theresa,” and the still-unreleased-but-totally-finished “Mary.” I sat on the idea for a while and then ended up cringing every time I thought about it, and ultimately scrapped the whole thing. I’m a different person now, and while I still write about real people and I love including little details about my life and real events, even that was a little too private and intimate for me. I still want to release “Mary” some day. It’s one of my favorites and it has a lot of clever rhymes, but it’s probably one of my darkest songs, so… we’ll see.
Do you wash your legs in the shower? I do! I use a loofah and bar soap to exfoliate my tiny hairs, of which there are many.
The last time we featured you was for Howlie Week, celebrating the release of the Dead Dog EP. What usually happens in a Howlie week? These days I’ve been super careful to socially distance and not really go anywhere. It’s been hard not seeing most of my friends, going to shows, or playing with my other bands. My partner and a small pod of friends have been helping me stay sane and I do a lot of video chats after work to catch up with everyone or play games together. Outside of that, I’ve taken this time to build my record collection with all the money I’ve been saving- I’ve amassed more records this year than I ever have in this time frame! I’ve been focusing on older Japanese folk and City Pop albums as well as bootleg video game vinyl soundtracks to my favorite games. I’m very fortunate to live in New England because most people are taking the pandemic seriously and our numbers are low compared to elsewhere in the country. I’ve been safely able to record hunt with one of my best friends semi-frequently, and sharing new music with each other has become a humble pleasure.
The EP brings a lot of variation to the ears. Could we expect to see future Howlie projects shake things up? I remember when we chatted for my last EP release I envisioned dream pop being the new direction for Howlie. At the time I was so in love with that sound… then I moved on to some new experiment and forgot about it! My writing is very indicative of whatever I happen to be listening to at the time, so I expect future Howlie tunes to follow that history similarly. When I recorded Contact High in January, I had just picked up this 1960s Japanese folk compilation called Even A Tree Can Shed Tears. Highly recommended, it’s probably the most important album in my collection and got me back to my roots in a way. There’s a palpable sadness throughout it, and every song feels intimately exposed. It’s one of the few albums that makes me cry. It came into my life at the right time, as I was re-recording all those intimate songs from Howlie’s infancy, so it’s influence is very strong on the EP.
Speaking of new projects…Howlie album when? Howlie full length? …I’m not too sure! I’m working on getting my music on Spotify and I was thinking it might be a good idea to release them as a cohesive compilation so they’re all in one place, and in a deliberate track order. My creative output is relatively slow, and the anxiety I have over releasing something still hasn’t let up after all this time. Singles are manageable and fairly lowkey. There’s more pressure with an EP, and I tend to overthink it a bit. I can’t imagine how I’d feel trying to create a full length! No promises yet, but I have another mostly-finished EP called “Howlie Loves You.” While Contact High is largely depressing, Howlie Loves You aims to be more upbeat, gentle, and tender- quite an outlier in my back catalog. This summer I went through a three month phase of pretty much only listening to the Beatles’ White Album. Paul’s output on that blew me away, and I was consuming mass quantities of “I Will,” “Martha My Dear,” and “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” It’s so saccharine sweet, but I couldn’t help but feel happy listening to them. I wanted to challenge myself to write about the blissful aspects of falling in love rather than the tragic endings, so it’s been fun challenging myself to write from a happier perspective. I want to release it before Christmas, but it’s all dependent on how much lyrical cheese I can generate by then. People think cheese doesn’t pertain to the art; I say it fuels it.
Finally, if you could close out the interview with one final thought. What would it be? Quarantining and an overall fear of death has helped me be more self-aware and nurturing to myself, and to be more considerate of others. I try to remember I’m not just protecting myself, but anyone else I could come into contact with. I like to think that others feel similarly and are taking care of me too. Wear a mask, be mindful, and be kind to each other.