Interview: Howler

Howler - Photo courtesy of Howler

Howler – Photo courtesy of Howler

“Are we punk? Nah, we’re not a punk band. Are we an indie disco band? Er, probably not. Are we a surf rock band? No… come on, we’re from Minnesota.”

Howler, a self-proclaimed “mystery rock” band straight out of Minneapolis, has just let loose a sophomore album. “World of Joy,” released by the hallowed Rough Trade Records, is raucous, noisy and, quite simply, a straight-up good time. Following the hype whipped up by debut album, 2010’s “America Give Up,” was never going to be an easy job, with critics and fans alike clamoring for an encore since this time last year. So, how has Jordan Gatesmith, Howler’s floppy-fringed frontman and formerly NME’s 11th Coolest Person of the Year coped with the pressure?

“What?” he laughed. “Oh…man I don’t fucking know! I mean, we have no idea what we’re doing. We’re stupid. You know what’s really funny? Actually, yeah don’t worry, I can’t say that. We just make the records we make and cross our fingers and hope for the best.”

Gatesmith talks at a thousand words per minute, correcting himself and laughing over his near slip-ups. Sounding completely unphased by any expectations there might be for “World of Joy,” he described the band’s attitude as just “pressing the reset button.”

“We actually had a way better time working on this record than the previous one. We had this very freeing experience, where we were like hey — we can literally do whatever we want. So let’s just do that. Let’s not have any restraints. Let’s not put any tags on ourselves, let’s not take any influence from what other people have said about us before. Go in fresh, and make something that we actually like.” Sounds sensible, really. “Yeah…there [are] lots of ways to approach it, but any other way would have made us miserable. And I don’t want to be miserable!”

With a brash, frenetic first album that doesn’t mince its words, Howler earned a bratty, irreverent reputation — especially with the band’s longest song to date clocking in at just over four minutes. Has the group “matured” for its sophomore effort?

Gatesmith laughed, again, a lot, and said, “I feel like…well, the way I look at it, our first record was very adolescent, so maybe this one is a bit more young adult? Who knows, maybe we’re growing up. Is that a bad thing? I don’t know, no fucking idea. It’s definitely a different beast. For us it’s kind of experimental. We tried a couple new things out, we wanted to see where we could take it. It’s good! I think it’s good. I think it’s much better than our previous record.”

The first single from the album is “Don’t Wanna,” which, on a lyrical basis at least, suggests that the four haven’t grown up one iota. It’s a simple attack, teen-angst style, on conformism and insecurities: “You don’t have to be a punk if you don’t want to, you don’t even have to date boys if you don’t want to.” Gatesmith and co. helpfully go on to advise us that we don’t have to get a job, be Kurt Cobain, or listen to The Smiths, either. At just two minutes long, it’s the shortest, slowest, and most straightforward song on the album; Gatesmith admitted that actually, as a single, “it might have been the wrong choice. It’s a ballad, and we don’t really do ballads, but we thought we’d just float it out there for the hell of it.”

Most of the album, though, is more “high energy, and maybe more…the Howler that you’ll recognize from the past,” he said.

And, while a few tracks fall a little flat, there’s still plenty to get down to, and a definite indication of Howler growing into a bigger sound. The second single, “Indictment,” is a plain and simple rock’n’roll tune that could soundtrack your next party, or a backwater bar scene in an old-school Western. While it’s more spacious than the Howler sound of old, lyrically it remains rooted in the same nostalgic teen anarchy. Shrieks and, appropriately, howls kick off the track, which is motored by Gatesmith’s graveled, punchy throwaways: “dye your hair black/make your boyfriends cry.”

“World of Joy” is a mixed bag, and Gatesmith embraces this, deriding speculative talk of influences and genre.

“This time around, getting rid of the tags was really important to us. It could be that we found our genre, or we lost it. It’s one of the two,” he said. “Instead of deciding on labels or tags, and we’ll get them whether we want them or not — it’s not up to us — we decided that we just want to be a rock band. We’ll write rock music. Come on, aren’t we too postmodern for this shit now? We just like music. We like all music.”

As part of an intimidatingly mammoth tour, Howler will be bringing “rock music” to Berlin in April. It’s going to be hot, sweaty, and according to Gatesmith, “emotional.”

“Tell them to expect jumpsuits,” he warned. “Yeah. We’ll be rocking the jumpsuits. No, this is actually deadly serious. I’m not even kidding. We were in Los Angeles the other day, playing a show, and we woke up one morning and we were like, we need jumpsuits. So we went to a thrift store and we all got matching jumpsuits. So we’ll be looking good, feeling good…plug it.”

Howler plays on April 10 at Monarch in Berlin. The show begins at 21.00.

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