Howlin’ Lord Hombre Solaire
by Walter Price
There’s a breed of artists and musicians who express truth in their art, sounds and perhaps their lives. Artists you can feel life’s pain, love, concern, passing fancies, fuck ups and become part of the atmospheres in which these toil. Howlin’ Lord is one of these souls.
After what is probably his most accomplished work 2011’s Gold Fury and then the surreal and gut smashing grit of last year’s bare-bones Breakfast of Champions, It would seem that HL would need to cool down. Not this purveyor of hearty and persuasive noir honky tonk.
The highly anticipated new one Hombre Solaire is out June 1st via Little Paradise Records. An album that has twitchy eagerness running high in this writer’s veins. Before the album drops I caught up with the man who is Howlin’ Lord.
I dig what you did with Breakfast of Champions, what was it that made you want to go so raw?
I find it interesting to work with limitations.. So many great recordings from the 1930’s and 40’s still stand up today despite what we’d consider to be primitive recording technology. With ‘Breakfast of Champions’ I wanted to give myself the same tools as Robert Johnson or Woody Guthrie had and present some songs in their simplest form.
Do you prefer the solitude of the late night home recording or the workings of a full studio and players?
I prefer whatever suits the song best. I’m lucky to have some great players to call on for recording band arrangements. I can tell them what I want and they’ll give me something different and better, that’s a fun process and goes far beyond what I could achieve on my own. ‘Breakfast of Champions’ was a clearly defined solo effort but most of the time I prefer having a band to work with.
How much of the music is complete conceptually before you decide to record or are you into working out the detail as you go?
I’ll have lyrics and a loose arrangement before I bring a song to the band, once we have a more solid arrangement we tend to play it live for a while to ‘stage-proof’ it then really work at the fine detail later in the studio. Other times we’ve recorded on the spur of the moment. Either approach can work, again it all comes down to what serves the song best.
On Gold Fury you moved easy between Porter Wagoner, Carl Perkins, Old 97’s and Flying Burrito Brothers styles of country/rockabilly. Who were your musical heroes growing up? And who was it that made you think, “I want to that.”?
Early on I got hooked on the Shadows and Hank B. Marvin’s clean, melodic guitar playing.. I thought Stratocasters were magical devices then, I still do now. My first electric guitar I got when I was 9 or 10 a Hohner all black Strat copy my Dad made a case out of marine ply, it weighed a tone! The guitar is long gone but I still take the case on the road now. Singing and writing came quite a bit later when I was 16 or 17. Then it was equal parts Nirvana and Johnny Cash.. I was into punk bands like Black Flag and Dead Kennedys but at the same time was big into Motown, early Beatles, Buddy Holly, The MC5, as much early blues as I could get my ears around and Woody Guthrie.
On tour we’ve listen to a lot of late 60’s and 70’s rock The Allman Brothers, The Yardbirds, The Moving Sidewalks and early Status Quo, also Calypso music to lighten the mood when necessary.
From My Seat At The Bar’, that song is the perfect smoky hony tonk jukebox drinking song. Is it safe to say you write from pure personal history?
I find pure personal history rarely results in great writing but it’s a good starting point. I take something I’ve seen, done or experienced and run that idea from as many different angles as I can. Always trying to catch both sides of the coin, play it out from other people’s perspectives.. I tend to write along pretty universal themes I’m not very anecdotal.
‘From my seat at the bar’ is a drinking song on one level but it’s also a ‘stop drinking and screwing your life up’ song. I’m not trying to preach one way or the other; I suppose I take quite a journalistic approach to my subject matter.
You are part of a community of musicians that seem at home in the traditional music genres. Did all of you come up together or was this a family that grew out of a love of ‘real’ music?
We seem to have a good thing going at the moment and people who are into traditional music seem to gravitate towards it. For most of my band, Howlin’ Lord isn’t the only project we’ve worked on together and it’s great to have those working relationships that go back into the mists of time. There’s also Screamin’ Miss Jackson’s Slap Ya Mama Big Band that contains three of Howlin’ Lord and just about everyone has a side project or two on the go. It’s something that has come about over time. I’m not sure I’m qualified to say what is and isn’t ‘real’ music. There’s a fine line between homage and pastiche and I count myself lucky to be playing with people who are inspired by traditional forms without being bound by them.
Since your last full-length is there anything you’ve learned about the music business you wish you hadn’t?
Despite an alleged digital music revolution most of our trade is done hand to hand at gigs, that’s more important than ever, playing a lot of shows, getting to new places, that’s where the reality is, the adventure.. I’ve seen a lot of great musicians cut off from that world, managers promising the earth and delivering very little whilst keeping a great band on the shelf, I’ll run into friends who are depressed, thoroughly bored and totally unmotivated about music because their manager has told them not to play any shows this year because he’s working on something big for next year. That kind of behavior saddens and confuses me and is getting more commonplace.
You have a new one Hombre Solaire coming, are you staying along the same sound templates of Gold Fury?
More or less, we’ve added another guitar player to the band and wandered into a heavier, weightier sound. I think Hombre Solaire is a bit tougher sounding than Gold Fury was, everything is still underpinned by Honky Tonk and early blues music but there are nods in the direction of Crazy Horse and the Allman Brothers Band that perhaps weren’t as prevalent before.
Who are the players on this one?
Mandrake Fantastico also of Crippled Black Phoenix on keys, Guy Fowler has rejoined the band on bass and Dan Clibery is on drums and my partner in crime Marc Griffiths is our ‘other’ guitar player. The band is always a revolving cast but we’ve all worked with each other in various guises for years, I try to avoid hiring outside of the ‘family’.
Was there anything you didn’t want to do on Hombre Solaire?
We didn’t keep any outtakes, there was no record the song 10 times and then choose the best version. We tracked the song and if we weren’t happy we’d delete it and go again, when we had something we were happy with we stopped and moved on to something else. I’ve wasted untold hours auditioning takes in the past; you can start to lose enthusiasm for a track before you’ve even mixed it. I like to work quickly and commit to things in the studio, the same way a painter has to commit to a brush stroke on a canvas. Endless options and safety nets are a distraction and hinder creativity. I work with a fairly limited amount of analogue equipment and work within and against the limitations that presents. I’m not a purist when it comes to studio work but I am an artist and not a computer programmer.
Any misconception the outside world may have about the UK country or folk scene you want to clear up?
There’s not much I can tell you about the UK country and folk scene, every time I come near it with an electric guitar it shits itself and runs away. There’s a lot of crap floating around under the banners of ‘Folk’ and ‘Country’ most of it will be gone in a couple of years when the winds of fashion change again. There are as always a few really talented acts working hard, thinking around the subject and putting the miles in, Rob Heron, The Buffalo Skinners and Helen Chambers in particular spring to mind.
Battle of The Bands: Gram Parsons vs. Johnny Cash?
Turn Blue from ‘Hombre Solaire’ out 1st June 2015
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