After four tremendous days full of premieres and buzz, Howlie Week is coming to an end. What a week it’s been as a lot of excitement and love was shared over each of the four tracks we premiered from Howlie’s debut EP, Dead Dog. It’s brought new listeners to Howlie’s music and new audiences to the blog. I believe that is what we call a rallying success! There’s one last premiere to deliver, and that is the DEAD DOG EP IN IT’S ENTIRETY. You’ve been able to listen to each song from it separately, but now from today you get to listen to the whole thing and remain in its downtrodden, reverb-heavy atmosphere forever.
Check out Dead Dog EP below, and have a little read to the interview that Howlie and I had too. In this interview we talk about the new EP, Howlie’s influences, stylistic choices, regrets and the success of Howlie Week. Enjoy. (Note: it’s an extremely long interview, so you get to listen to the EP many times!)
Hey Howlie, how’s it going? “Hey Sounds Good! I am feeling so great. Howlie Week was a roaring success, especially for a debut EP. I have never felt this accomplished with Howlie. The response has melted my heart. How’s it been for you?”
That’s great dude! Howlie Week has been superb for the blog too. In what ways has it been a success for you and your music? “For starters, day one began with a bang: 100+ plays on just ‘Coconut Oil’ alone. On day 2 of the trickle release schedule, a total stranger paid $20 for a $4 EP that was only half-released at that point. Kind of insane! My peers within the music scene have reacted so kindly to the tunes, too. A lot of people just seem to “get” it, which feels great. One thing that I keep hearing is the songs are beautiful. As a creator, those types of remarks could warm the coldest of hearts. It just feels like I have accomplished exactly what I set out to achieve.”
What can you tell us about Dead Dog EP? Are you pleased with how it’s turned out? “I am so cheesed about Dead Dog. It’s kind of massive that this is my first EP. I find it hard to believe that I finished a group of songs that were all intended to be together, actually released it, and am hearing such great things about it already. My good friend Taylor described the opening track as follows: “[“Coconut Oil”] definitely conveys the feeling of being in a mental haze… that mild panic that precipitates a real anxiety attack.” Remarks like that are what I hope to accomplish with my writing. That is success to me.“
You mention wanting to take listeners on “tours” on the likes of ‘Coconut Oil’ and ‘Take Me’. Why? “I’m an obscenely sentimental, nostalgic person, sometimes to my downfall. It’s great for remembering the best moments of my life, but the worst memories receive the same treatment. With my past mistakes, I practically obsess over the situation, and in my head I picture whatever happened over and over again. Over the years it became habitual. Writing has always been cathartic for me, and in refining my craft of storytelling I am also honing in on getting an even heavier weight off of my chest. Painting an accurate picture for listeners feels a lot like closure for me, so the sharper that picture is, the closer I am to peace within myself.”
You also mention strangers paying money for the EP and people within your circle rating it. Do you find yourselves thinking about the reactions people might have to your music? Is this something you consider while you’re creating music? “Very much so. I kind of thrive off the validation of others. It just feels unreal to create something that’s basically a piece of me and to have friends and strangers compliment that. I guess it goes back to growing up being bullied all the time and having a rather low self-esteem. I didn’t have a logical reason to still feel that way, but I do. I wouldn’t say that the hope of success has ever altered my creative output; I’m deeply rooted in such a niche genre and recording style. Howlie is definitely not headed for mainstream success. I didn’t release a song unless I absolutely love it, and afterwards I just hope everyone else loves it too.”
Would you be happy having Howlie exist in its own niche? Would you rather have a smaller, passionate audience than a larger audience who aren’t as involved? “That’s a great question (Editor’s note: Thank you.), and one I often mull over. As it is now, I would for my fan base to expand. The dream is to have my music generate a consistent revenue and a regular interest. I would be happy with more or less the same cash I earn at my current 9-5, which really isn’t too much. The intimacy of a smaller fan base is something I crave. I think I might be getting there, slowly but surely!”
The title track references your dog Duke, who sadly passed away. What’s your best Duke story? “Now, for a husky-collie mix that lived to be eighteen-years-old, I have a mountain of worthy contenders. This is tough! I think my favourite thing about him was how musical he was. He loved to howl in the most unique way, with these little wavering, playful embellishments at the end… it’s been nearly ten years since he passed and I can still hear them. When I was about 5 or 6, I used to put on these little pretend concerts in my backyard for him. I would stand up on our picnic table singing songs off of my Power Rangers the Album: A Rock Adventure cassette, and he would stare at me, wagging his tail and howling back at me every now and then. He was my best friend for many years, and at times my only friend.”
In the description for ‘Coconut Oil’, you mention Julee Cruise’s Floating into the Night as an influence, which brought about the dream pop sound of the song. Were there any other songs of yours on the EP that saw creative tweaks because of particular records? “My mind kind of feels like this rolodex of influential musical spices to sprinkle in here and there, so it’s hard to pinpoint significant ones. Floating Into the Night was definitely what changed everything for me, unquestionably. I never actively search for the next band or artist that will change my life because those moments are so precious and I like to space them out. I fell in love with Julee Cruise in a matter of seconds.
Lyrically and somewhat sonically, I have taken a lot of inspiration from Turnover’s album Peripheral Vision. God, I must have spun that record a thousand times over the last year. That album is dreamy too, but in a different way from Cruise. They convey heartbreak in a way that very much speaks to me and I’ve taken a lot of lyrical cues from them. And of course, I would not be the same singer without heaps of influence from Brian Wilson’s sweet yet powerful falsetto. Towards the end of the EP I was really trying my darn hardest to hit those highs.”
The EP showcases the shift from lo-fi acoustic into solid dream pop tunes. How did you find writing music under this new sound? Is this a sound you’d like to continue for future projects? “Releasing acoustic songs wasn’t getting tiring, per se, but it was certainly limiting in what kind of soundscape I could play with. It’s great that “Coconut Oil” is not only the first song on the EP, but was the first song I wrote with this new sound. It sounds like I’m kind of figuring it out, y’know? These chords that are strummed even more lazily than my usual fare: strumming each chord twice with my thumb and letting them breathe, bending the guitar’s neck to get this slight modulation that compliments the haze of it all. The notes swirl on their own and do things that I could never play on an acoustic.
As for continuing this sound, I am head over heels with how my songs sound in this style. There were two songs on the EP that for the life of me I could not get to sound good enough on an acoustic, but in this style they blossomed right before my very ears. I think the eventual full length will more likely than not be all-acoustic, simply because I have so much of it rooted in that style as it is. As for the release after that, or the singles in between… I’m leaning towards the dream pop for now!”
I heard a first draft of Dead Dog that featured an entirely different direction for your sound. Howlie mate, what made you choose to scrap it? Will it make an appearance in future? “So for everyone else out there, since you’re the only one who’s heard it besides me, the first draft of Dead Dog was a loud, Weezer-meets-Ovens-meets-Neutral-Milk-Hotel love letter to my heart songs. I grew up with punk and pop-punk, my love for a RAT pedal’s distortion and ear-piercing guitar feedback knows no limits. I don’t even know what initially sparked the concept, but I sat down one weekend in late January and blasted out four songs: three full band bangers, and the song “Dead Dog.” When I got the rough drafts done, I was seriously hyped. I must have shared it with you right away, man. These were songs I had shelved from 1 to 3 years and I just wanted to get them out of me. However, the more I got into the mixing and overdubbing process, my confidence drifted away from the project like the smoke of a blown out candle. I was afraid that it would be too alienating to the listeners I have worked so hard to attract, and that the change was too jarring. It was way too different from that established Howlie formula.
In my fervour of hyping these tunes to different blogs and pushing “Dead Dog” as a single, I had already held myself to releasing an EP and described it as a departure. I was at a crossroads. Do I release something I don’t entirely believe in and potentially lose listeners, or do I start over, keep “Dead Dog,” and dip my toes in a different-albeit-similar sandbox just for fun? I chose the latter, and I truly believe it was for the best. Those songs will hopefully see the light of day in some form or another, but not under the Howlie moniker.”
Up until Dead Dog you’d only released singles. What was the reasoning behind that? Did you ever think you’d want to release an EP/Album? “I’ve wanted to release an album since Howlie’s inception, but being an unsigned solo artist with no one to answer to makes procrastination my worst enemy. I went the route of releasing singles as a way to stay relevant in an otherwise oversaturated market; anyone can plug in a microphone and release a song for free now. Artists have to work so hard to receive attention if they’re hoping to grab a piece of that pie. My first two singles, “Alaina” and “Laurie,” were surprisingly well-received and generated $500 in sales within two months. Granted, that had a lot to do with having great friends and family coupled with my “pay what you want” business model for my singles. This resulted in people paying anywhere from $10 to $50 for a single song… which is nuts, and definitely not the norm! I kind of thought to myself, “If I keep a somewhat steady stream of singles going, I not only stay in people’s minds, but I also can generate some desperately-needed profit.” In doing so, I also amass enough material for an eventual full-length! Of course, this turned out to be somewhat of a pipedream and a crutch.
I would tell people, “Oh, yeah, I’m releasing a full length this year,” but my internal monologue would come back with, “Well, Evan, it’s October, and you’ve released three songs this year, but in that time your style has shifted ever so slightly and everything you have released to this point is collectively no longer cohesive.” What do you do when that happens? It’s hard to say, but I kept cranking out singles hoping to figure it out along the way. It’s interesting that I released an EP because I had always been slightly against it for whatever reason. It’s kind of in between the do or don’t mantra of releasing singles or releasing an album, and it’s a move that worked for this Dead Dog experiment that I ended up loving.”
You mentioned on the details for ‘Laying In The Road’ that an album is on the way, but it’s currently on a perpetual journey of half-completion. What’s its current status? “It’s currently sitting pretty as a collection of files with two or three pieces of the puzzle missing. God, I want that thing to be done so bad. The feeling of having this EP finished and out there is so satisfying, but having a full-length is such a bigger deal personally. While recording Dead Dog, there were two songs that I had as contenders for the EP that I could not get to sound up to my standards. It was so frustrating. But they’re two of the best songs that I’ve ever written, and I want them on the full length because they’re about pivotal moments of the past three years. Thematically, they fit in perfectly with the rest of the batch, but something is missing from every recording I’ve made of them. The album is kind of dependent on those tunes sounding 110% awesome. Someday, and hopefully soon!”
Your music’s often influenced by your life and stories you’ve amassed through life, making it easy for listeners to feel some sort of a connection to you. Have you ever encountered moments where you’ve regretted writing a certain story or lyric in a song? “Oh god, almost with every release, Adam. Regret is a strong word because I’m proud of all of my Howlie songs, but there are a handful of standout moments where I’ve released a single and whoever it’s about just totally lays into me. I’m not going to filter my writing, and I decided not to a long time ago. I’ve been told that it’s messed up that I wrote a certain lyric, or that there’s something wrong with me if I’m still writing about such and such situation, or accused of making up my anxiety and depression for exposure. At the end of the day I just want to write music, man. I never reach out to my past lovers and wave a particular song in their face. If they are listening to Howlie and confronting me about it, that’s totally on them. There is never any indication that a given song is definitely about an individual and I like to think I respect people’s privacy and boundaries. At the end of the day, those awkward situations pass and my songs are still there and writing them has helped me like nothing else is able to.”
I vividly remember the email you sent submitting your music for review, and how personable and openly steeped in anxiety it was. Could you give your side of the story when it came to discovering the blog, and going about writing that submission email? And how has being Howlie been for you since? “Ah, memories. That email was the first piece of the Howlie revival that lead to where I’m at right now. In the fall of 2016, I hadn’t played a show in over a year and I wasn’t making any progress towards any tangible goals. It sucked! I was in a slump. I’m casual internet buds with the artist Hypocrite in a Hippy Crypt and had seen that he posted an interview with you in anticipation of his then-new single “New Friends.” A lot of my insecurities about Howlie are rooted in how lo-fi and niche my sound is; people don’t “get” it and ask why it sound like I recorded it outside on a rooftop. HiaHC and I share a lot of creative and aural similarities I feel, and reading his interview and the care that you put into it made me feel like maybe it was worth a shot for me to submit my material! I had never sent an email like that, but I knew it was important for me to stand out in some way. I kind of wrote a novel as I always do, and laid it all down like I had nothing to lose.
As you and I have become closer, I’d say it worked out fantastically! That first Sounds Good feature last year gave me a much-needed second wind, and in turn has lead to more successful submissions to various music sites, listeners from the U.K. sending me kind emails about my music or enjoying what I’ve had to say, and a comfortable level of confidence in my music. I’ve always considered my music to be good for my tastes, but to have that validation from you and other people in the USA, U.K. and beyond is quite special.“
To me, Dead Dog EP seems to be a project detailing a particular timeframe that featured a lot of low moments for yourself, with it’s closer ‘Laying in the Road’ seemingly concluding that part of your life. Are you in a better state of mind these days? Are we going to witness another shift in sound for Howlie? “In a lot of ways, my life is on this steady rise of positivity and improvement. It’s actually been a little tough writing new material because nothing lousy is going on. From a chronological standpoint, you’re right in thinking that “Laying In the Road” is covering the tail end of a significant chapter of my life, but I don’t think that that door is closed for future inspiration. I kind of touched on this earlier, but the bad times in my life are a constant source of inspiration. I’d say they’re the source of inspiration. I still feel like there’s so much to write about. I’m not too picky about where the muse comes from or how expired the subject matter is as long as I can deliver it in a fresh way, and I feel like I do!
As for whether or not there might be another shift in sound, it’s hard to say. I can almost say for certain that I will never write a happy song. I’ve been trying for close to 12 years and have gotten some fleeting attempts, but once I let them sit and I listen to them a few days later I practically cringe. I think it’s good to know one’s place in the music world, and playing to one’s strengths in a way that doesn’t become stale is key. All these songs on Dead Dog are about the same old sorrows, but all they needed was a fresh sound to give them a new shine. I don’t think I’ll stray too far from the established Howlie formula, I get so much enjoyment out of it. I think dabbling in similar lofi genres will happen eventually, but I want to ensure that I take my time exploring and simply writing the most genuine tunes I can.”
And finally, if you could close out this interview, what would you say? “I just want to say thanks to you for putting Howlie Week together. It’s still kind of unreal to me that someone who doesn’t owe me anything or doesn’t feel any obligations would give me a platform to celebrate my first EP for a week on their website. When I click on the Sounds Good site and see me there or see people sharing the articles in my social media newsfeed, it’s kind of crazy to think I made something worth sharing. Not only showcasing the tunes exclusively with you, but being able to go into each track’s conception has left me elated. It’s every songwriter’s dream to be able to have that outlet. As it always is, it’s been a real pleasure, Adam!”
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I would just like to thank Howlie for not only trusting me and this tiny music blog enough but for also getting as involved as he did with Howlie Week. It wouldn’t have been half as good if it wasn’t for all of the images, comments, context and wonderfulness he provided to help me make the content as good as his music. So thanks mate, I really hope we get together to do something similar again in the near future.
I’d also like to thank all of YOU for supporting this past week as much as you have. It’s been a humbling experience knowing that if you put in the effort (and sprinkle it with good music) that people are gonna appreciate that. Howlie Week has been easily the most popular week this blog’s ever had and that’s all down to you, so thank you. I’m a little sad to have it end but next week we return to normal and continue writing good words about great music. See ya then.