The Howlies discuss Wendy’s bathrooms, songwriting drummers, and Hanson-related supergroups.
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The Howlies delve into vintage rock sounds without any reservations that their old-school style might be underappreciated. Perhaps this is because the Howlies possess an ability to find places where their talents are appreciated: Atlanta, where they made their name in “Cabbagetown” along with Deerhunter and Black Lips; Nashville, where they’ve played consistently after pleasing the ear of Grimey’s record store owner Mike Grimes; and California, where Kim Fowley (co-founder of the Runaways) agreed to produce their latest record Trippin’ with Howlies. Aaron Wood (drummer and singer), whose voice sometimes resembles James Mercer’s of The Shins, caught up with American Songwriter.
We’ve noticed you’ve made it up to Nashville a good bit in the past two years.
Yeah we‘ve sort of been lucky in Nashville, making friends with Grimey who runs the Basement and was able to hook us up.
I actually saw you guys play Grimey’s outdoor record-sale party two years ago.
Yeah that was back when we were getting started.
Wanted to ask you a bit about how you guys write songs — would you say you follow a songwriting formula?
No, there’s not really a formula other than the tried and true writing of a verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge. I would say our songs begin with a melody, and then we try to match that to a beat that fits. Also, having a drummer write guitar parts shakes up the formula, because my ideas for a guitar part are less learned, played using basic bar chords, whereas a guitarist writing the song might bring something more complicated to the table.
As a songwriter, are your “receptors” always turned on or is it something you deliberately control and are able to turn off?
Definitely always on, I’m thinking about ideas for songs all the time. It’s like a radar that’s on constantly because I’m always jotting down notes to put in my wallet and you never know when it’s gonna hit, whether it’s a conversation you’re having or situation you’re seeing and you think, “that’s a good idea.”
So it’s probably necessary to write down an idea because you’re in bars a lot and there’s beer and you might not remember it the next day?
Sometimes bars because we’ve been touring for the past year and a half, but anywhere really, walking down the street…ordering fast food.
Like an idea might be, “This Wendy’s bathroom is super dirty.”
[Laughs] Yeah or “I love how clean this Wendy’s bathroom is.” You really learn to appreciate clean bathrooms on the road.
A lot of songs have a story about how they came to be. Do you have a favorite genesis tale for one of your own songs?
AW: Actually yeah, on our new album, the song “(Do the) Natural Thing,” there’s a two-part story. First, the song came about because of a date with a girl that ended badly and it didn’t go anywhere, and so I came home really mad and wrote an angry guitar riff and recorded it to my computer. A few days later I was thinking of lyrics and this Eazy-E song came to mind, “Nobody Move,” where he goes out with a woman and eventually they start to get intimate, until it turns out that she’s a transsexual which always cracked me up. I wanted to write an homage to Eazy-E because he always put me in a good mood growing up. The song is about going home with a tranny, although it might not be obvious just from listening to it.
You guys are playing SXSW this year, have you ever been to Austin?
Any bands you’re excited about seeing?
Absolutely, a really big show for me is Echo & the Bunnymen. I think they’re awesome. Also, this is weird, but on Billboard’s showcase they’ve got this band, Tinted Windows, and it’s kind of like a super-group with James Iha from Smashing Pumpkins, Taylor Hanson from Hanson, the drummer for Cheap Trick and the bass player for Fountains of Wayne, who also produced it. Their album hasn’t been released yet and I think this is like their first performance.
Wow, sounds like it could be really good or really bad.
I’m gonna be an optimist and say it’ll probably be good. I mean, how could it not be when you got James Iha playing up there next to a Hanson brother.