Since moving to Nashville seven years ago, The Howlin’ Brothers have taken their music in several directions. Part bluegrass, part blues, part roots, part old-time music, their sound is both a merging of genres and a toe-tapping, smile-inducing experience. And while they are not brothers… if you listen to their new release, you can definitely hear them howl.
Produced by Brendan Benson (Jack White/Raconteurs), Howl the new CD by the Howlin’ Brothers was released this week amid a lot of buzz. The Howlin’ Brothers are: Ian Craft (Banjo,Mandolin,Fiddle,Vocals), Jared Green (Guitar,Harmonica,Vocals) and Ben Plasse (Upright Bass,Banjo,Vocals).
Just prior to the album’s release, Jared Green took the time to talk about their influences, the making of the album and what to expect from the Howlin’ Brothers.
Kath: Looking at the three of you and watching you play, I would have no trouble believing you all grew up somewhere in the hills of West Virginia and you each had a grandpappy who was a moonshiner; but nothing could be farther from the truth. Could you tell me a bit about your musical backgrounds?
Jared: We all had slightly different ones. I grew up playing piano, had a band in high school and we wanted to be a dance band more than anything. I would see some kids older than me playing at dances and I just thought it was the coolest thing that they were playing music and kids were out there dancing. I like all kinds of music. I like blues a lot, classic rock, there was a really good string band in my hometown, so that was my introduction to bluegrass. Then I went to college and did a recording program at Ithaca, which is where I met Ben and he had the same major as me. We studied classical guitar, and toward the end of school I met Ian, who was a drummer and he loved folk music and that kind of got me back into singing again. Just playing for fun, for the sake of playing around campfires. He (Ian) was influenced by stuff like Oh Brother Where At Thou, and his French-Canadian family would play a lot of folk music. We had a band the last year in college called the Log Cabin Bluegrass Band and we played a handful of dances and that was a blast. We’d usually have a pretty good turnout. It was so much fun that when we finished school we were going to stay around Ithaca and try to keep that band together, but the housing situation just didn’t work out. And we heard all these great things about Nashville, and knowing there’s a lot of people down there playing old time music and bluegrass, so we decided to move down there and check it out. So we did that back in the fall of 2005.
Kath: You said that you got some good crowds to come see you in Ithaca, so your sound was pretty much accepted up in Ithaca?
Jared: Yeah, at the time we were playing dance hall blues songs and Old Crow (Old Crow Medicine Show) was big at the time and we had a bunch of their records and we were playing a bunch of the stuff they played. There weren’t that many people doing that and I still don’t think there’s a lot of people playing it for the sake of dancing. But yeah, it was well received.
Howlin’ Brothers’ “Delta Queen” (Sample)
Kath: “Big Time” opens the album, setting the mood really nicely. The song was co-written by Warren Haynes and he also plays on the track, how did he get involved?
Jared: Yeah it’s one of our favorite songs and it was a last minute thing to even run across him. Brendan’s publisher or someone had set up a writing date with him and Warren Haynes and it happened to be the week we were recording with Brendan. As a second option he (Brendan) offered “hey would you want to come out and play on this record?” He’s a real cool guy and it was fun. He added some nice touches on it, he’s a really good guitarist and we didn’t expect him to sing on it but his singing was pretty awesome.
Kath: And how did you get involved with Brendan?
Jared: We got involved with Brendan through a good friend of ours who we love playing old time music with, a great artist by the name of Buddy Jackson. Buddy would have pickin’ parties in his house every other month.
Kath: I’ve heard about these pickin’ parties, can you tell me a little bit about them?
Jared: They’re just fun. There’s a group, I don’t know how many, but there’s a close group of friends of say thirty or forty that play old-time music, which is different than bluegrass. So Buddy loves old time music and hosts these old time pickin’ parties and we happened to be there and Brendan was invited to the same pickin’ party we were at and heard us play. That was our first introduction to meeting him and then a couple of weeks later, Brendan was producing an album for Cory Chisel and asked Buddy if he knew a couple of guys who were multi-instrumentalists and Buddy recommended us, the Howlin’ Brothers. So Ian and I ended up playing on Cory Chisel’s record and just started a friendship with Brendan. He liked our attitude and the way we played and our strengths. By the end of it he said the next project he wanted to do is a Howlin’ Brothers record.
Kath: How long did it take to record the album?
Jared: Just over a week. Brendan wanted to do nine days straight. So we did nine, 10-12 hour days. We didn’t think we would need to use all of them but it was kind of a slow start. He wanted to try different rooms and different set-ups for each song and we were more familiar with just having one set-up and rolling through the songs faster. But yeah, we ended up using all nine days and we recorded something like twenty songs and narrowed it down to twelve. That was pretty fun and we had a couple of extra friends join us, they came up from Austin for about four days and they contributed. I play organ on one track and Ben played the Wurlitzer part on another track, so it allowed us to be a little different.
Kath: The band has been making the rounds of radio stations and other media outlets. In one of the clips I saw you doing a percussion dance step which actually filled in for a drum while it was just the three of you there. I thought that was quite innovative. How did that come about?
Jared: I learned that from John Hartford. I was introduced to John Hartford by a bass player, a guy by the name of JT Huskey, he played bass with us for about three years. He was the third generation of bass players and his dad played a lot with John Hartford. So through JT we were introduced to John Hartford and we fell in love with his music. We know a lot of his songs and I learned the shuffle step in a way, and found it wasn’t too difficult to play guitar and do that at the same time. It’s pretty fun.
Kath: I can’t imagine being able to do that. I’m amazed when people like can play harmonica and guitar at the same time.
Jared: Yeah, that takes a while too; it’s like learning a new skill. First it’s hard but once you start to get it and it sounds cool… it’s pretty fun, let me keep working at that. Then it becomes another thing you can do.
Howlin’ Brothers’ “Tennessee Blues” (Sample)
Kath: When you go out on tour, will it just going to be the three of you? How are you going to work songs like “Delta Queen” with the horns?
Jared: Oh we’re gonna tour as a three-piece unless the opportunity comes up where there’s horns around or a drummer. I think to get going it’ll just be the three of us. The horns are just something Brendan wanted to do and I like it, and drums add a lot but we’re also pretty rockin’ without drums too.
Jared: Yeah, it’s very cool. What is also cool is the kind of music we play cause it’s not just bluegrass or just blues, we kind of cross genres. It appeals to all ages, a wide audience, which is really nice.
Kath: The Howlin’ Brothers are playing SXSW next month. You will be one band of thousands, but you could be the one band that everyone talks about. Are you ready for that?
Jared: Hope so, yep we’re excited. Some of our closest friends live in Austin, so it will be exciting to go be with friends and get to hear their band play, and we get to play. It’s going to be a busy, fun week. Hopefully nothing too crazy happens.
Kath: “Gone” is the first single, and it’s just fun. I can imagine that it’s a great song to play live; the audience has got to be calling “gone” by halfway through.
Jared: Yeah, it is a fun song. I remember when Ian was writing it, I thought it was such a cool chord progression; when I heard it and I was like “man that is cool.”
Kath: Most of the songs on the CD are originals. Tell me how the writing process works.
Jared: In the past I hadn’t really tried, I didn’t think I had a knack for it. Ian always had a real good knack for it and kept pretty busy at it. So about a year and a half ago I started doing that. Ian likes to write by himself and Ben and I like to collaborate on ideas. It’s pretty cool working with him cause he’s great with lyrics and I think I’m pretty creative at melodies. Ben and I have probably another six songs since the album, together which are upbeat, old-time songs. So it’s different. Ian likes to write by himself and we like to be creative by ourselves but then we share ideas. And some songs like “Delta Queen” came out real quick, just by myself. Other songs take longer by yourself. Other times you just play a melody for someone else and they come up with the right words.
Kath: What’s the best thing about living in Nashville?
Jared: The best thing about living in Nashville is the cost of living is pretty low. I don’t know if it’s the best thing that everybody plays music but it’s cool that is seems like every other person you meet is associated with music. I guess the coolest thing is that so many people are talented and skilled at playing music that you’re always learning, there are always people to learn from and be inspired by. That’s probably one of the coolest things really. And the weather is great, as long as the summers aren’t too hot.
Kath: What do you miss most about home?
Jared: What I miss most about home is the summers and the lake. I grew up in a small tourist town right on Lake Superior and it was pretty amazing during the summer. It was never too hot; it was always kind of comfortable.
Kath: In the sliver of time between the dark and the light, what’s the dream?
Jared: Some mornings you have these dreams that you are playing music and it’s just beautiful and creative and it’s everything you’ve wanted to do. And you don’t always remember those.
Kath: What’s the message you’d like to get out right now as the record is released.
Jared: We are trying to hit all parts of the country even though we don’t have them all lined up yet, I’d like to tell our friends on the west coast that we will be there sometime this year. And we invite people to keep in touch with us online cause we will constantly have new music coming out and merchandise. Right now things are real good. I’m very happy. Blessed to be making a living doing what we love, and to be playing in a band with your best friends.
You just can’t argue with that.
Written by Kath Galasso
OurVinyl | Contributor
Howl, will be released March 5th via Readymade Records. To stream the album on Soundcloud you can visit https://soundcloud.com/readymaderecords/sets/howl/s-ddLr2
Howl Track List:
Julia Belle Swain
My Dog Can’t Bark
Tell Me That You Love Me
Just Like You
Take This Hammer
Mama Don’t You Tell Me