Meet The Howlin’ Brothers, a Nashville-based band that likes to keep one foot in tradition — and use the other to kick it right out the door. Though they certainly incorporate bluegrass rhythms, these Ithaca College graduates say they’re better described as Americana, where multiple hyphens are the norm and boundaries are not.
Earlier this year, the group released “On Howl”, their first album for Brendan Benson’s Readymade Records label (through Thirty Tigers). They effortlessly dispel all kinds of preconceived notions — starting with the myth that Nashville means just country. We can also forget the words rock and pop, regardless of what their association with Raconteur Benson, who produced, might imply.
We caught up with the guys to ask them about their fans, their funniest memories and their live shows! Check it out!
What is the strangest thing a fan has done for you or at your show?
Hah, in a way, I’d have to say Brendan Benson becoming a fan, and subsequently giving us an indie deal, and producing our record is the strangest thing a fan has done for us! We have been on a really wild ride since Brendan took us under his wing, and we are so happy and lucky to have him as a friend and mentor. It kicked open the doors for us to build a career doing our own original music, and led us to record with Warren Haynes, and get a great manager and press agent and booking agent. Before I met Brendan I never thought I’d have a chance to hear myself on vinyl, and now it’s a reality! The list goes on and on. B has helped us in so many ways, and continues to do so. I can’t wait for fall, when we get to record another album with him!
What is the funniest moment you have had as an artist?
Well, back in high school I was still kinda splitting my time between the jock world, and the arts and music world, and trying to figure out where I fit in. We had a legendary football coach, named Bill Tighe. I believe he was the oldest coach still coaching high school football in America when he retired – he was something like 85 years old. Coach Tighe is one of the most quotable guys in the world, and one day we were watching film, and I had missed a tackle, and he looked at me and yelled, “Plasse, if you can’t make the play, why don’t you take up the banjo and serenade me on the sideline!?” And, I guess, it really got through to me. That’s probably the exact moment I decided to be an artist. It was like, you’re totally right coach, and the next day I quit football and started taking classical guitar lessons so I could audition for college as a music student. At the time I didn’t play banjo, but now I do, and I’ll always be grateful to Coach for sending me in the right direction, even if he was kidding!
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
If we have time, and it’s not too dark outside, we like to play some hacky sack in the parking lot. It’s good to get the blood going, and put your focus on something other than the show for a minute. We are tighter musically if we have time to hack I think. It kinda puts sound check behind you and clears out the traveling from your system.
If you could describe your music in one word, what would it be?
How do you connect with a crowd?
I think that honesty is the most important thing in music. You can’t fake the funk, as a fella says. Howlin’ Brothers’ shows are really just us being ourselves. I think people connect with us because they feel like we’ll be the same exact guys whether we’re on stage or not. Ian and Jared do a great job of breaking the fourth wall, and talking to the crowd, which is something I’m always impressed by. I’m a pretty shy guy, until I know people, and it’s hard for me to speak to a group like that. Some performers are really amazing at breaking the wall. BB King and Doc Watson were my two favorites. Both those guys could have set their instruments down and told stories and still given you your money’s worth.
Musically we connect with a crowd by playing a lot of stuff that they can dance to, and encouraging them to dance. It’s always beautiful to see a bunch of people who are in love, and waltzing, or a bunch of people who are just freestyle hippie dancing, it’s the best feeling in the world, sharing that with total strangers. What an amazing gift music is in our lives!
How did you decide on your band name?
Jared and I were both classical guitar majors at Ithaca College, where we studied with the great Pablo Coen. Pablo is a great human being, and an amazing musician. We talk about him all the time, we really miss getting to learn about music and life from him. For my senior recital, Ian and Jared, and Dom Fisher (who now plays in the great Wood and Wire) joined me at the end for a few rootsy, bluegrassy songs. At the end of the recital, Pablo came up to us and said, “I hear this music, and I say, who are these guys?! The Howlin’ Brothers?!” We all loved it, and it stuck!
What is the best way to write music?
All the time. I think hard work and practice are really the key to life. My uncle Paul used to take us to see the Celtics play when we were little, and Larry Bird has always been a hero of mine. “All the time” is actually one of our catch phrases, or mantras, or whatever. Although, we pronounce it “awwdatiiiime.” It’s funny, because once you’re listening for it, you start to hear “all the time” used awwdatiiiime. So, yeah, if you write music all the time, you’re bound to be a lot better than the guy who only writes some of the time.
Don’t miss The Howlin’ Brothers at Eddie’s Attic this Thursday, August 1 at 10:30 pm. It’s sure to be a good time!