(Photo Credit: Sonya Kitchell)
We had the opportunity to talk with Howard Feibusch, of the group Howard, about the group's musical inspirations and their upcoming album, Together Alone, which drops 9/14 on Fashion People.
1. How did you come to pursue music and how long have you been at it as a profession?
I started playing guitar when I was 12. You know, I just kind of had like, some small school bands that weren't too formal. Then, when I was in college, through a series of circumstances, I was able to start my first band. It was called Orange Television and I was actually studying art and medicine at the time. My plan was to go to medical school.
But, you know, I started to feel that magic of just being in the room with other players and writing songs, and kind of a new way with new influences, and just kind of exploring a lot of writing, and starting to get a taste of what it is to play live. It just all coalesced, and I almost didn't even know. I didn't feel like doing it. But even in college already, it sort of became like, a full-time operation. I had part-time jobs, but it has basically been full-time since I was 22. This was [while attending the] University of Massachusetts.
2. Could you elaborate on your writing process? Do you have a set process for writing music?
I wouldn't say there's a stright process because I really seem to enjoy coming at it from multiple approaches, and I think, for me, that's how it keeps it fresh. I'm thinking of some that came from just playing guitar outside—finding the right melody and chords, and building it in a pretty traditional way.
Some of it weirdly develops, not originally from a computer, but in more of an editing format. There's one song in particular. I'm picking up where we were just kind of jamming and something really interesting was happening around the beat, and I just kind of chopped it all up and made it sound like a human drum machine. And then, the challenge was getting a melody and lyrics to feel right after that.
Some will just be inspired by a beat or something I'm listening to at the time, or I do a fair amount of TV composing that only really started towards the end of the record, but that definitely inspired me in some way.
3. What artists have inspired you in your career?
Radiohead are definitely a huge, huge one. I would say they were my religion for like five years. But, it's weird. On our first record, there was definitely a clear body of influence that I was listening to. And I know, it's been a really hard climate for me for digesting music the last couple years. I think one of the things that made making this record so hard was not having a North Star influence. I was always trying to force myself to be inspired.
I think with Spotify, there's just so much music at my fingertips that I never had the chance to settle into anything musically that I was listening to, and there were a couple of records that I just kept coming back to. I used to be mesmerized by production. But, everything has cool sounds now. Production isn't even that impressive to me anymore. It was almost like scaled back production started to be more influential.
I fell in love with a Sparklehorse record that I kind of overlooked when I was younger -- Dreamt for Light Years in the Belly of a Mountain. There was just something about the feeling of that record that I really related to.
This one Everly Brothers’ record that my wife had from her father's collection just had a big impact on me. Just thinking about the silkiness and rawness of their voices.
The Beach Boys’ Surf’s Up was a big one for me over the course of writing this record.
I don't know; it was just like a couple of random things that I would keep coming back to. But, I can't really say anything in particular. I think the challenge was just finding things that felt right in a climate that was just totally over inflated with music.
4. Do you have any favorite gear? And if so, do you have any stories behind them?
I got this Guild; I forgot what model it is. It's like a Bluesbird. It's like one of their Les Paul ones that I found in this vintage guitar shop in Portland a couple years ago when I was starting to make the record. It's funny, actually, that one trip to Portland really inspired a lot of gear. I hadn't spent money in a long time and then I dropped like three grand. So, I bought this vintage Guild Les Paul style guitar, and I'm sure a lot of readers will kind of relate to this feeling. It doesn't come often, but sometimes, you're just walking into a guitar shop and pick something up that's just like there and it has a desire for your hands and your ears. I was just like, “Holy shit. This is the tone.” It was just gritty enough and had a bite that it works at the same time.
On the same trip, I was starting to get really in a modular sense, so I kind of built this kind of guitar effect rig through modular synth with this patch box this company makes that basically brings your guitar to modular level so that you can run through it. So, a lot of the guitar tones were through these kind of weird modular effects, and then, I kind of decided to play with it more just as an effect like on the overall recording and mixing. You know, I just kind of fooled around with some weird filters, reverbs, and gates.
I have an amp that's pretty cool. It’s one of those Fender Pawn Shop Excelsiors that I got modded a couple years ago with this fat eminence speaker. That is pretty much, my Guild through that, is my tone.
5. What's one thing that you want people to know about your music?
Listen to our music differently than other people. It’s silly how much work we put into this record. I really put like three years of my entire life into it. I had sleepless nights, four month bouts of insomnia, some really trying times in my personal life because I was just so wrapped up in it.
So for someone to listen to it and say, “Oh, that was nice,” and just kind of move on, bothers me. And I think that's just kind of the reality of this listening environment. So, like I said, listen to our shit differently.
But, you know, there was one song that had 14 different versions written until we settled on the lyrics, tempo, and key.
I don't know if there's much of a backstory, there's definitely no agenda. These songs felt right to me and interesting to me. I was trying to push my own boundaries, trying to explore what was new and fresh to me, and I hope people take and learn from it.
6. Do you have any upcoming projects that you want to highlight?
We're releasing our record at Mercury Lounge on September 13th, in New York. We also have a music video out (see above).
Howard Together Alone Album Review
1. "Mothers Wedding" - Begins with an upbeat acoustic beat to this track with good vocals and harmonies. Changes to a nice drum beat with electric guitar for a good change of pace. As the song progresses, more electronics work in. Chorus is pretty standard alternative that reminds us of Nada Surf, who are great, with added harmonization. The added horns, about a quarter of the way through the track, evokes memories of 90s alt, which is also great. Some of the melodies in the verses in breakdowns remind us of vintage Beck, which is also a good thing.
2. "Your Honor" - Kick's off with a guitar riff and vocals that are very much in the alt genre, that evoke comparisons to a less gritty Eels track. The song quickly slows down for a quick breakdown, before kicking back up again into another verse. Lot's of instrumentation and electronic sounds here, but it doesn't sound cluttered. It works very well and with great precision. It's very difficult to stick the landing with all that is going on in this song, and Howard manages to do it perfectly.
3. "Walks like an Artist" - Evokes Radiohead immediately, specifically OK Computer. The vocals even take a slightly Thom Yorke-esque sound at times. This song seems to be hitting on themes of hesitancy and difficulty in social interactions, especially when the potential for romance exists, or just anxiety in general. These are themes often found in Radiohead songs as well. Beyond the comparison, this song is a great track for a rainy day and effortlessly glides along with some brilliant stuff, both melodically and vocally, particularly with the highs that are achieved.
4. "Made up My Mind" - Another electronic sounding track that balances delicate use of guitar. Again this track evokes comps to Radiohead a bit, but with a bit of an indie twist. The acoustic guitar that plays through this song really ties this song together when it comes in, although, every instrument has a part to play. It's just so unexpected to be there. That's part of what make's Howard so good. They do the unexpected and they nail it. In addition to Radiohead, this song has a bit of a Pinback, Seattle Sound feel to it as well, which we dig a lot. The hook near the end of this song, where everything comes together is simply fantastic, with the entrance of the horns, etc. Simply fantastic.
5. "Oh Dear Brother" - Has a bit of an Americana feel to this track. This track does kick it up a notch more than the other tracks as far as tempo goes. It's a nice change of pace and takes the comps from the Radiohead camp, firmly back to the Beck camp. Particularly, when Beck was more alt-country infused. The keys, horns, and drums make for a catchy beat which lay a great foundation for the vocals. Boy, does Howard take advantage of this foundation, weaving in and out of a slight falsetto throughout the track with slight effect on the vocals.This is another solid track from an album that, thus far, has been full of them.
6. "Interlude" - Change of pace track with some saxophone, that we can appreciate being fans of jazz and blues, but it only lasts about 22 seconds. We don't mind it's inclusion given that the album is 11 tracks long.
7. "Act 1" - Begins with acoustic guitar with vocals that are highly digitized. This fluctuates a bit before, ultimately, ending about one minute in. We would have been disappointed had the entire track played out like that. After this, the vocals lay perfectly with the guitar. Beats come in to take over for the acoustic and once again mix perfectly with the vocals, and we get some of the sax that was alluded to in the "Interlude." The sax reminds us of the sax on David Bowie's, Black Star, record.
8. "Act 2" - This track begins reminiscent of a Radiohead track with the guitar work and the piano. Vocally, this track is reminiscent to Alt-J. The song is extremely mellow, but still has a busy (in a good way) beat that you can really move to, despite the slow nature of the tune.
9. "Soul Mourning" - Starting off slow, comps to Alt-J again, with just guitars, keys, vocals, and light drum-work. You get the feeling that the track is building to something, but we're not sure what. The song begins to shift three-quarter of the way through, adding cymbals and digital effects. The ending was a bit of a letdown, but that is okay.
10. "Together Alone" - Track starts with unsettling mobile music from a baby's crib, but is quickly accompanied by drums, keys, and vocals. This song quickly explodes into a hurricane of sounds and we dig it! The explosion quickly dissolves as Howard heads back into the soft verse.
11. "Brave Young Man" - You can tell a lot about an artist by how they choose to land an album. Howard chooses to bring this album to close with an elegant acoustic performance. This song is truly unlike anything else on the album. There are elements of "Brave Young Man" sprinkled throughout, though they seem to have assembled here for Howard to stick the landing. What a fantastic closing to a fantastic album!
Closing Thoughts - This album has a bit of everything, blending the stylings of alt, indie, and acoustic elements, all for a sound that feels intellectual, or more significant that your typical top 40 album. We can tell from the interview with Howard Feibusch that the group left pieces of themselves in this music. If things continue to go their way, we could be looking at the new limit pusher for intellectual alternative music, like predecessors Radiohead and Alt-J. This is a group to keep your eyes on people, this is not a drill.