by Ryan Meehan
The Howlin’ Brothers have had a very good year, so far — especially for guys who’d previously spent the bulk of their time honing their craft in clubs like Layla’s Bluegrass Inn on lower Broadway and other small roots-friendly clubs in and around Nashville for the past five-plus years. Their first nationally distributed album, HOWL was released to critical acclaim, reached No. 6 on the Americana Music radio chart, and lead to them touring almost all over the U.S. and into Canada, as well. HOWL was produced by alternative rocker Brendan Benson (of the Raconteurs and solo career fame) and released in March via his independent label, Readymade Records in the U.S., and distributed by Thirty Tigers/RED. In Canada, it was released via Dine Alone Records in May, and distributed by Universal. In October, HOWL will be released throughout Europe via Continental Record Services. An Australian release is being planned as well. According to the trio’s stand-up bass player and vocalist Ben Plasse, “HOWL was very well received, and I think we owe a lot of that to great bands like the Carolina Chocolate Drops and Old Crow Medicine Show among others, who paved the way for a new generation of string bands to have success. It’s a beautiful thing to see so many young bands making music on fiddles and banjos! We are so grateful to be a part of that scene, and really appreciate the positive reaction to our original interpretation of these old styles.” In order to keep the momentum strong with their new fans between now and the released of their next studio album (which will again be produced by Benson) in February of 2014, The Howlin’ Brothers will release a fun EP of six songs they recorded in May of this year at the famous Sun Studio in Memphis. They recorded these songs live in the studio, as was the custom when Sun Studio gained fame for being the recording home of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Charlie Rich.
Four Howlin’ Brothers original songs make their recorded debut on The Sun Studio Session EP: “Til I Find You,” “Troubled Waltz,” “Take Me Down,” and “Charleston Chew.” The EP ends with a new version of “Tennessee Blues,” which also appears on their HOWL album. It’s a killer, no filler collection that adds nicely to the story they are building and allows this “country-blues string band” with an indie-rock edge to honor the roots and tradition of the music they love as they continue to breathe new life into it by adding subtle modern touches via their own influences and vision. The legendary Sun Studio in Memphis is still a going concern. A tourist destination during the day — it is after all billed as “The Birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll” — often at night it hosts sessions by some of today’s best up and coming acts. “Recording at Sun Studios was like going back in time,” says Howlin’ Brother Jared Green, who plays guitar, harmonica, piano and sings. “You can see and feel the history in the walls and floor of the tracking room. It was an honor to work with engineer Matt Ross-Spang and be captured with that authentic Sun Studios sound.” The Sun Studio Session EP will be released widely on all digital platforms outside of Europe and Australia on October 15th. It will be available on CD via the band’s web site and at its shows. A limited edition vinyl pressing will also be available through the web site and at shows and also through indie music stores taking part in Record Store Day on April 19, 2014. It will be released in Australia sometime in 2014, and in Europe next May in advance of the band’s touring there. PBS (in the U.S.) will air the entire Sun Studio Session episode and interview on over 100+ stations in early 2014. Ian Craft of the Howlin’ Brothers is our guest today in 5 questions.
FOH: How did you come to meet each other and form the Howlin’ Brothers?
THB: Me and Jared met up in presser hall my steel drum band was recording a demo and Jared was the engineer on the session. Our mutual friend Dominick Fisher set up the session. We all began hanging and picking acoustic music by the campfire. Ben would come down and hang to he and Jared were the same majors in school and we all found a common bond in acoustic music.
FOH: When you were asked about “Howl”, you had said “We always try to include some of our favorite traditional tunes, because it’s cool give a nod to the traditional stuff,” Craft says. But he insists, “It’s not a bluegrass album at all.” What exactly do you mean by that? Certainly the sound of bluegrass is apparent in the tracks on the album, did you just approach recording the album with a completely open mind as opposed to a strict bluegrass focus?
THB: It’s not to say were not at all bluegrass, that would be completely wrong. We are in fact an American string band we incorporate anything we want from horns to drums or keyboards. What I meant was it’s not a traditional bluegrass record. Don’t get me wrong – Vassar is my hero, and Flatt & Scruggs is
motivation to practice every day. We find ourselves influenced by lots of genres though and that gumbo ends in what we call The Howlin’ Brothers. A trio with acoustic instruments bound to deliver a message of love and good vibrations through and through.
FOH: What is the writing process for you guys like? Have you ever tried to change the fundamental approach by which you write songs or has it always pretty much been the way it was when you started?
THB: We tend to write ideas and then bring them to the fold and after hundreds of shows they morph into a Howlin’ Brother’s arrangement. I think definitely we’ve learned a lot since moving to Nashville. There is so much creativity in this town, you can’t help but pick some up when you’re even at the grocery store. That’s for sure influenced me personally.
FOH: What were the first couple of days like working with Brendan Benson? Did you know right away that he was a good fit to help capture what you were trying to accomplish with your sound?
THB: Brendan Benson is the most creative, hardest working guy out there. Not only did he get what we were all about, he led us into paths’ of possibilities. He’s constantly throwing little ideas into the session that ultimately made it shine like it wouldn’t have without him there. Brendan is the salt of the earth, and in my opinion the best producer hands down on the scene right now. If you take in account productivity to quality ratio he knocks it outta the park on every project he gets involved with.
FOH: I see you co-parent a 1½-year-old pit bull/border collie/bird dog “blend” named Cora Lee…what made you guys decide to get a dog? Will we ever hear some vocals from her on any future records?
THB: Cora Lee came from a dog rescue that Hank 3 runs. She’s made appearances on most Howlin’ records. Tamb, barking, singing, and banjo.
FOH: What’s next to in the twelve months to come for the Howlin’ Brothers? Any big plans in the works that we should know about?
THB: We’ve just about wrapped up the new full length with Brendan, its very cool – moving into new territories for sure. We plan to tour a whole lot and hopefully make Europe and Australia this next year – if the good Lords willing and the creek don’t rise. 🙂
Official Website: http://thehowlinbrothers.com/
The Howlin’ Brothers on Facebook: www.facebook.com/HowlinBrothers <http://www.facebook.com/HowlinBrothers>
Once again thanks for visiting First Order Historians and enjoying more of the internet’s finest in user generated content.