Interview: Howler

For they’re recent tour around the UK, The Vaccines brought two very different bands along with them. While Frankie And The Heartstrings‘ uniquely English indie rock seems very suited to a support slot with a band The Vaccines, Howler brought along some noisy shoegaze guitars, sugary pop songs, and a sloppy, immature and most crucially, fun attitude to the tour.

We caught up with lead singer Jordan Gatesmith, guitarist Ian Nygaard, and bassist France Camp, to discuss their debut album, America Give Up, coming from Minnesota, and being compared to The Strokes.

OMB: Hello Howler! Seems like you’re having a rather enjoyable tour! Is there not an accent barrier between you and the other bands? Frankie and The Heartstrings have pretty strong Geordie accents.
JG: They’re from Sunderland, which is pretty intense. It was really hard to understand them at first. Ian: Holy shit, it was so hard. But as time’s gone on we can understand at least half of what they’re saying. And The Vaccines are cool dudes. Way nicer than I thought they would be.

OMB: Did you think they wouldn’t be nice?
JG: We thought maybe they’d be cold heartless fucks. But they’re overwhelmingly nice.
France Camp: Yeah, giving us champagne, offering us beers, giving us back rubs.

OMB: So what’s Minneapolis like? How has it affected your music? Because it seems like there wouldn’t be much of a music scene there.
JG: It’s pretty similar, except we drive on the opposite side of the road and it’s just as freezing. But the scene is fucking amazing. Tons of bands, and zines.
Ian Nygaard: Yeah, the music scene and art scene is fucking incredible. There are people there who can live off literally nothing, and make awesome shit.
JG: I think the 90s there was pretty dull, but the last few years have been amazing.

OMB: Do you feel like you came from the music scene there or do you consider yourselves kind of separate?
IN: There is totally a scene there, everywhere you go you meet people in noise bands or whatever, and the college radio scene is great. But we aren’t really part of it.
JG: Howler was never really around long enough to be part of that scene.
FC: Me and Ian are in a band there called Nice Purse and they’re part of the underground scene, and we’re playing a house party show the day we get back.

OMB: Well, you pretty quickly came to England, and you’re signed to Rough Trade over here, which is a very English label. Do you feel at home here?
JG: Well, the band is still in its infancy, so it’s hard to say. But we’ve definitely got a lot more press in England. But it’s very hard to say.

OMB: The other Rough Trade signing from America is the Strokes, who you have been compared to in the press. How does that comparison or comparisons like that in general, sit with you?
JG: Well, we’re not the Strokes obviously. There are comparisons I can take, and ones I can’t. The Strokes is OK, because they’re a good band, but at the same time, we don’t want to be the next anyone.
IN: That seems like people being unimaginative.
JG: If we were the next Strokes, there wouldn’t be any need for us. The Strokes already exist.
FC: If we were the next Strokes, we’d be rich as fuck.

OMB: Your album is called America Give Up. What are the feelings behind that title?
JG: It just literally means America, give up. It’s a punk thing, I guess. It’s harking back to that late 70s, early 80s, middle finger up to everything feeling. But our music isn’t political. We have a song called ‘America’, which is half sarcastic, half protest song. Although it’s mainly sarcastic and more of a ‘whatever’ to everything around us. That is the only political song on the album, and even then it’s more of a vague feeling of dissatisfaction with where you live then any obvious political message.

OMB: Have you started writing new material for future releases? Can you even write on the road?
JG: Yeah, i have been writing a bit.
IN: You wrote a lot on the last tour we were on. But Rough Trade owns this flat in London, and they put up their artists while they’re staying in London, so we sort of have a base, where I can set myself up and write a lot. It’s pretty sweet and it has 6 bunk beds.

OMB: Are you consciously trying to steer the new material in a certain direction, or is it more based around what comes naturally?
JG: Well, I wanted our first EP to be very simple, sugar-coated pop. And then the album, I wanted it to sound like shoegaze music. Disgusting, dirty shoegaze. Like Jesus and Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine. But this new stuff, I want it to be more spacious, and simple. More Velvet Underground than Jesus and Mary Chain. Less dense. Instead of crappy guitars through thousands of fuzz pedals, we wanna have everything be simpler. Lots of live tracking; one clean guitar, one distorted guitar, bass and drums. So it doesn’t feel so Phil Spector, wall of sound type of thing.

OMB: How democratic are things like songwriting and recording?
JG: It started out as me in charge. Just because I built the band out of songs I wrote, but by the time we recorded the album, everyone chipped in and that’s why it’s sounds the way it does.
FC: Because we’re dirty bastards.
JG: Exactly. That’s why it’s so big and noisy.
FC: Jordan still gets the screaming 15 year old girls though.

OMB: How personal are the lyrics? Is it just you that writes them, Jordan?
JG: Well, they’re all very personal, but I cover everything in sarcasm, because I don’t want to give too much away. Just like in life really. It all comes from shit in my life, or they’re about different people that I know.

OMB: You guys are all pretty young. How does age affect everything? How supportive are your parents?
IN: Well, my parents wanted me to play sports. I grew up playing Hockey and shit. Then I started playing music, and my parents got it, but they didn’t actually really get it.
FC: My parents wanted me to be a doctor. Like France Camp MD or something. Or a lawyer.

OMB: You didn’t fancy becoming a lawyer?
FC: Well, I am definitely a fucking good lawyer. Throw me in a court room and I’m amazing. I just don’t have the right paperwork. But no, not really.
IN: Not only did I choose music over sports, but then I went to art school, which is bad. AND I dropped out after a year. So that was pretty expensive. But doing this seems a lot more fun.