Photo Credit: Phil Smithies
As if 2011 wasn’t a big enough year for Minneapolis’ latest export Howler, 2012 is shaping up to dwarf it in comparison. Topping off their recent tour with The Vaccines and Frankie & The Heartstrings at London’s Brixton Academy, the band stopped off in West London before Christmas for a few days of R&R. With the release of their debut album, the scathingly title ‘America Give Up’, next week and the launch of their first ever headline tour mere days later, we caught up with Jordan Gatesmith at Rough Trade HQ to get to know the foul-mouthed frontman a little better.
It’s been quite a whirlwind few months for you, signing to a British label, touring with the Vaccines and releasing your debut album. How did it all start off?
It’s a weird story, how they [Rough Trade] heard about us and then basically the next week sent an A&R agent over to check us out. Things happened really fast. I think I wrote the first Howler song maybe two years ago. I was 17 and I didn’t really start a band for six months afterwards, so in the spring of 2010. Fast forward about another six months - so a year ago - we recorded our EP and then in another six months, Rough Trade signed us. So it happened pretty fast.
Did you have much material when they signed you? Had you been working quite hard?
Not really. We’ve finished a record and the EP. We still don’t have a lot of songs. In total there’s still only like 12 Howler songs. Well, maybe 13.
What happens with a live set? Do you play all of them?
I don’t like playing that long. We only play nine song sets, which has been alright so far but maybe in the future it’ll be a problem.
How are you going to work that into your headline tour?
We’ll probably play everything. I’m not looking forward to that. I’d rather keep it short and sweet. Play nine songs and do a cover and then it’s like, ‘goodbye!’
Do you prefer being in the studio then to being live?
No, I love playing live it’s just with more than nine songs, I get bored. I like to keep the momentum up. I can’t imagine how someone could play a gig that’s like an hour and a half concert, just keeping that momentum up the whole time.
So what do you make of bands like The Cure who played for two and a half hours at Bestival this summer, is that something to aspire to?
I love The Cure. They’re definitely an influence. Well, maybe not an influence. I never know what an influence is for us because I listen to music and I don’t think I want a band that sounds like this. I just write music that feels appropriate to me. But I was obsessed with The Cure for such a long time growing up. I guess a couple of big ones would be Lou Reed - he’s been a huge help. A lot of punk rock, I think, from the late 70s, early 80s.
What can you tell us about the album’s recording process?
There’s not really much to tell, it’s really boring. We had three months in the studio. It was a really small studio though, I mean tiny, tiny. It wasn’t very luxurious or anything at all. Seriously, like you’d sit in this tiny little booth and play and you’d get really fucking hot because it was Minneapolis, which is 90+ degrees in the summer. Tiny little booth, all sweating our asses off.
A few people, when they’ve heard your record, have compared you to the likes of your old tourmates The Vaccines. What do you make of that?
I think it’s funny. People say a lot of things like, ‘they’re the next Vaccines,’ or ‘they’re the next Strokes,’ which is weird because if people have that expectation, they’re going to be so disappointed because we’re not at all. I mean, I can hear some similarities to what The Vaccines are doing but the only similarity we really have with The Vaccines is that we’re another guitar band that’s being pushed right now. But indie-rock bands, I would say, are rising so that’s the only thing in common.
The Vaccines and The Strokes have had quite different trajectories and their careers are quite different at this particular point in time. What kind of career path are you aiming for?
I don’t know yet. This is maybe me being naive but I want to make Howler as youthful as possible. I’m 19 right now and I’ve completed a record and a tour. I want to keep Howler short and sweet, maybe do like four records and leave it at that. I’ll move on to another project and work with other people but I like the whole Smiths trajectory; four albums and then fuck it. But that’s more because they hated each other than anything else. But give us four years and maybe we’ll hate each other too.
Speaking of hate, the album title and your signing to a British label might hint at a bit of animosity towards your homeland?
It’s more of a joke than anything else. There’s nothing really serious about this band. We get in trouble for having self-deprecating lyrics like we have but whatever, people have already made fun of us for that. It’s not because they’re self-deprecating, it’s just because we think these things are hilarious and we think a title like ‘America Give Up’ is really funny. Especially seen as the cover was supposed to be a packet of Lucky Strikes but then we got in legal trouble because we wrote ‘America Give Up’ in there so we had to change it around. But it’s supposed to look like a cigarette packet. We just thought it was hilarious. But yes, actually I hate America anyway. Especially after being over here. I like the UK. I like a lot of parts of the UK. I’m a big fan of Manchester, I like Sheffield a lot too actually, and London too, obviously. People are more drunk here. You guys are very like party hard, party early. Seriously. It’s weird. All the pubs close at like 11pm. I was never a tea drinker until I came to England. Now, I’m like ‘fuck coffee’, I don’t care anymore. Coffee is over.
It was The Vaccines that first brought you over here. How did you wind up on that tour in the first place?
We got on tour because The Vaccines liked us and they were just looking for support bands. They heard Howler, they were into it so they were like play some shows with us and we were like, ‘fuck you, man.’ And they had to really con us into it because we were not having it for a while. Nah, I’m kidding. We were excited.
Obviously, there’s your headline tour in January but are there any festivals you’d like to play over here this summer?
Latitude. It’s awesome. Or Reading, that would be fun, if that ever happened. I think all of the festival plans are being made right now. I have no idea what it’s going to be but hopefully some cool stuff.
Howler’s debut album, ‘America Give Up’ will be released on 16th January via Rough Trade.