Howlin’ Brothers: Q & A and Concert Review
Even as a music blogger, believe it or not, I am not a very huge fan of technology. I still have a flip phone, I don’t own a Nook or Kindle, and I, obviously, listen to vinyl. You will not hear/see me defending technology very often, so what I’m about to do is a rare occurrence: I’d like to partially thank Twitter for the experience I’m about to describe.
Why would I do such a thing? Because about four hours before the show started, I read a tweet from the Howlin’ Brothers that stated that the Howlin Brothers would be playing in my town that night (Friday, May 2). And when the Howlin Brothers come to your town, you go. You just go.
I got there in time to see soundcheck, where each member of the band (Ian Craft, Jared Green, and Ben Plasse), led a song to test their instruments and vocals. The Howlin’ Brothers are an extremely talented bluesy roots music band, that specializes in old-time and bluegrass. With only three members, the band creates a mighty big sound, mainly due to the fact that each member is constantly juggling various roles, sometimes even three at a time (such as banjo/drums/vocals, or guitar/tap-dance/vocals).
Unfortunately, the Howlin’ Brothers were not headlining, so they were contained to a tight, one-hour set. During this time, however, the band ran through many favorites from their first album, Howl, their recent EP, “The Sun Sessions,” their soon-to-be released new album, Trouble, and many unique covers by Doc Watson, John Hartford, etc.
Some of the highlights from the show include a creepy-yet-beautiful take on “Tennessee Blues,” from their debut album. Craft makes the fiddle sing like only a great player can, and Green’s guitar solo perfected the song. Craft’s extremely soulful vocals on “Dixie Fried” were a great treat, as well as his excellent slide-banjo playing on the bluesy “Big Time.” With all the instruments and harmonies, this three-piece band sounded like a five-piece.
Due to the fact that they were not headlining, when the Howlin’ Brothers set started, few people were in the room to watch. By the end of the set, however, the room was clapping, hollering, and dancing their Friday night away, enjoying the high-energy roots music from the band. At one point, Green stepped off the stage and onto the dance floor (with guitar in tow), for an extended dance that ignited the crowd. Remember: when the Howlin’ Brothers come to your town, you go. You just go.
After the show, I had the privilege to interview both The Howlin’ Brothers about their music, their new album, Trouble, and their perspectives on live music:
Dallas Terry: You told me earlier that you guys all attended school together in New York. Could you tell me that story again?
Jared Green (Guitar, Vocals): Yeah we all went to Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York, from 2001-2005. Ben and myself were in the recording program there. We studied classical guitar with a guy from Argentina named Pablo Cohen. He was actually the one who gave us the name The Howlin’ Brothers. And towards the last year of school, the three of us really started hanging around a lot. We had some backyard campfire parties, and we kinda got into folk music, and old-time, and bluegrass. But yeah, that’s where we met, Ithaca, New York.
DT: When did you make the move to Nashville?
Jared: Ian and myself moved to Nashville in the fall of 2005, so we’ve been there for eight years.
DT: So last year, you guys recorded an EP called “The Sun Sessions.” Tell me more about that.
Ben Plasse (Bass, Vocals): We got to go into the legendary Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee and record an EP. And it’s also a PBS special right now, which is pretty awesome exposure for us out there. Yeah, we cut a good tune called “Dixie Fried” by Carl Perkins, and we learned a few other ones just from the Sun catalog, and got to do the whole tour. And it was just an amazing experience.
DT: You have a new album coming out called Trouble. What can you tell us about the album and the experience you had recording it?
Ian Craft (Fiddle/Banjo/Percussion, Vocals): The record will be out May 13, and Brendan Benson produced it again, just like our first record, Howl. It was an awesome experience, we got to have Ricky Skaggs in on a track, and Jared’s mother-in-law Etta Britt came in and sang some vocals, and she’s a badass. She sings backup with a lot of people and has her own career as well, but she sings with Delbert McClinton and some other heavy hitters. It was awesome though, we got to do the album really scaled down. It was basically just the three of us, Brendan, and the assistant the whole time. Howl was like 14 people on some days, but this album was just us, so it was awesome.
DT: How did that experience differ from the first album?
Ian: It was more intimate. There was less distraction. It was just the three of us, just bouncing ideas and it was awesome.
DT: Would you say that you like that intimacy better than the way you did it the first time?
Ian: I did personally.
Jared: Yeah the whole experience was much better, but I was gone for four days of it (laughs). My wife had a baby, the day after we started. So I was gone for four days. So four or five tracks I just overdubbed. I was missing for some of the sessions. So it was really bad timing to do an album, but in the end it came out really good.
DT: So are you planning a big tour after the album is released?
Ian: Well the funny thing is we’ve already started the Trouble tour, but we haven’t had the product yet. When we get home in two days, we’ll finally get the CD, and we’ll be able to really, full-on go into the Trouble tour. But we’ve already been touring; we’ve already done the whole Northwest… Well we’ve already basically done the entire country without the record, and then we’re going to go back and do the entire country with the record (laughs), and hopefully we’ll nail it ya know?
DT: One of the main things we really appreciate at Galleywinter, is live music. Everything about live shows. So what does live music mean to you, both as a fan and as a band?
Jared: I love it. Even on our days off, I’m always looking to see who’s playing in town because I’d rather witness it. I’d rather be on the other end of it and see it, and listen to something new. So I think it’s very important and a very exciting part of our lives for everyone who’s into music. I think it’s just way better than sitting home and listening to the record. If you can get out and support live music that’s one of the best things you can do in life, ya know?
DT: So what is it like being such a big fan of music, and then eventually being in a touring band who gets to play live shows for other fans? What’s that like?
Ian: It’s awesome. I’ve always loved live music and it’s funny though, because I never saw as much music as these guys. These guys have seen a lot more and know a lot more music than I do, just because of their home and what their folks listened to. We literally didn’t listen to anything in my house, except the radio. We had a record player with some records, they were there, but we never listened to them. So because of that, live music made a huge impact on me. Ya know, getting to see it live changed my life, and now it’s all I want to do. So to elaborate on Jared’s point, saying, “Live music is everything,” well, the feeling from live music both when you’re in the audience and when you’re performing, there’s nothing like it. Any drug or any sexual experience cannot match a purely high night of music on either end, either as a member of the audience or on the stage.
DT: Who are some of the main influences for your music?
Jared: Blues wise, Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Jimmy Rogers from Chicago.
DT: Not the country Jimmie Rodgers?
Jared: No, but he’s also a big influence (laughs). Country wise, Jimmie Rodgers, Woody Guthrie, John Hartford, Doc Watson. Rock ‘n’ Roll wise, anyone from The Band, to The Grateful Dead, even Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix. We listen to a ton of music. Then on the other spectrum, like Cajun music and zydeco, reggae, Bob Marley, Red Stick Ramblers. Then there’s some modern bands that are kind of in our vein like the Weary Boys from Austin, Old Crow Medicine Show, Open Road from Colorado, The Tall Boys, Whiskey Shivers.
DT: So this reminds me – There’s a lot of modern folk-revival type bands these days. How do you feel about this sort of new folk scene?
Ian: It’s awesome. We’ve all said that. It makes our job a lot easier for us, because it’s not as bizarre. Our music is more legitimized. Wagon Wheel is a mass hit, ya know? The Chocolate Drops were in that debate movie with Denzel Washington. There have been some legit things with string bands lately. So it definitely makes our getting into the market a little bit easier.
Jared: I think that acoustic music in general, the reason I found appeal in it, was that there’s no hiding behind distortion pedals and stuff. In general I just love it because I just love the sound of it. Even though we play plugged in, I just love the sound of acoustic guitar and banjo and stand-up bass. We like a nice electric guitar every once in awhile, but we actually forgot to bring it on this tour (laughs). You’ll hear some on the new record. But we’re rooted in acoustic roots music, but we’re influenced from every slice of American music.
DT: The last question is one I ask every time. You’re stranded on a desert island, what three albums do you take?
Ben: Bob Marley – Songs of Freedom Box Set. Does that count as four? (Laughs). It would be hard to pick a Doc Watson one, but I’d have to pick one by him. And then a Mississippi John Hurt album.
Ian: Graceland [Paul Simon]. An album by Charlie Hunter where he has lots of special guests like Mos Def and stuff, but I can’t think of the name. And then Red Headed Stranger by Willie.
Jared: I don’t know, I love Jimi Hendrix – Ultimate Experience. Snoop Dogg – Doggystyle, Ben’s got Doc Watson, but we gotta have one John Hartford record. So I’ll say Gum Tree Canoe. Jimi Hendrix, Snoop Dogg, John Hartford (laughs).
Here’s an extremely dark video of the Howlin’ Brothers taken from the show I attended by my friend, Sam Tramel.