Discovery: The Howls


Genre-dodging California band The Howls are gearing up for a memorable 2013, and it all starts with giving a little something back. After spending four years together in the studio and on the road, The Howls have amassed a growing Southern California following that frequently sells out shows at the band’s hometown venues, The Howls are constantly looking for new ways to expand the reach of their music. In addition to enjoying airplay on the San Diego radio stations FM 94.9 and 91X, The Howls’ songs “Weight,” “Vacation,” and “All” have been featured on episodes of Sons of Anarchy and Private Practice. Following the release of their debut album Rocky Ground last year, The Howls are currently preparing their sophomore effort for a tentative summer release.

In the meantime, The Howls’s new song “Girls Night” is appearing alongside 16 other unsigned acts on Unsigned | Unrest, a compilation disc powered by Broken Heart Records that benefits St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Days before the album’s February 12 release, we spoke with The Howls’ lead singer John Cooper over the phone.

MEMBERS: John Cooper, Caleb Chial, Chris Garcia, Dave Gargula

HOMETOWN: San Diego, California

CURRENT LOCATION: San Diego, California

EARLY BEGINNINGS: We came together about four years ago. When it started, I really wanted to write songs, but I realized the songs themselves needed something else; it couldn’t just be me playing an acoustic guitar. So I hit up Dave, who is friends with my little brother—he was the only person I knew who played drums. Caleb, our bass player, used to be in another band with Dave, so he came along and we all learned how to play our instruments together. About a year and a half ago, Chris, our guitar player, came along, and he was like the missing link we’d been looking for. That really solidified our direction and rounded out what we wanted to do.

NAMING THE BAND: I was driving back from LA with my girlfriend on Valentine’s Day, and I’d been trying to think of a name because I didn’t just want to go under John Cooper. I was really into Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and they have a record called Howl that really influenced a lot of my songwriting at the time. There’s also a poem by Allen Ginsberg that I’ve known about for a long time—I thought of it while listening to the record coming back from LA, and I put two and two together with the Ginsberg poem and thought it was cool with the double meaning. The name also fits because we do a lot of different things, we have a lot of mellow, folksy, kind of country songs, and we have a lot of just rock songs. We covered most of those bases, and I think that when people hear the name, it doesn’t sound weird to them.

THE GENRE DANCE: Our music is eclectic. From a marketing standpoint, it might not be the best way to go about it, but we’ve never wanted to be pigeonholed. We’re all into different avenues of music; everyone has different tastes. We’ve always looked at it where if it feels good, we’ll play it. I think it’s the best way to look at it because if you love making music, you should make the music you want to make. If it’s rock-‘n’-roll, write a rock-‘n’-roll song; if it’s mellow, play a mellow song. We’ve actually just finished tracking another record that’s not out yet, and it is more of a straight-up rock album, just because that’s what we were feeling.

ON RYAN ADAMS AND WILCO: For me, Ryan Adams was a huge influence musically, but not so much personally. The vibe and feel of his songs were really influential. I want to play songs where, when I play them, I can feel like I feel when I hear a song of his. Wilco goes a lot deeper for me. Their record Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is in my top three all-time records of anyone. There’s something about that record, not only the way it sounds or the way it feels; it’s almost like a weird spiritual connection, where I just feel connected to the record. That sounds like a really weird thing to say, but you can tell there’s a level of feeling and a level of grit and depth that they have on that record that people identify with. I think that’s something we strive for as a band, to have that intangible feeling come through the music. That’s our goal: for people to listen to our songs and feel the way I feel when I’m writing or playing them.

RECORDING ROCKY GROUND: We actually tracked it two years ago, and then we didn’t release it. We were trying to figure out what we wanted to do with it, and then we got an opportunity to go into a studio. When Chris came on—he has his own recording studio, and it’s full of much nicer stuff than we recorded the original version on—so he wanted to re-record and produce the whole record. The writing process took about six months for all of the songs to come together, and then the recording process was cool. It was great working with Chris because he was also in the band. It was great, the recording process was a lot easier than the writing process.

EVOLVING STYLES AND INFLUENCES: I’m constantly looking for something else, whether it’s something old or something new. We all have new influences going on, either old influences that have been stronger recently, or bands that we never listened to before. But hopefully we’ve gotten better as musicians, as far as playing our instruments goes. As far as lyrical inspiration, the first record was a full-on breakup record, like a heartbreak breakup record. Lyrically, for this next album, it’s more like commentary on my life. There are songs about girls, there are songs about faith and my relationship with God and how that can be confusing sometimes, and there are songs about trying to understand the world.

ON “GIRLS NIGHT”: That song is about looking back at love you lost. The name has nothing to do with the song. We were in the studio listening to the song, and we had to save it. Caleb, Chris, and I were all sitting around, and nobody knew what to name it. So we were like, “Let’s just think of something random.” Somebody threw out “Girls Night,” and we were all like, “That sounds like something that will stick in people’s heads,” and we just kind of went with it.

ONSTAGE MEMORIES: There are so many. Honestly, that’s why we do it, because we all love playing live shows. We actually opened a show for Switchfoot at the Del Mar Fairgrounds last summer. That is a really crazy memory, because there were 10, 12 thousand people there or something when we played. Walking around the stage and seeing the whole grandstand down at the racetrack—it was just people as far as the eye could see. But every show is fun, and when people are there having a good time, it’s always a good memory and experience.