The Howlin' Brothers Explain the Ways in Which They Wail
Don't be misled by the fact that the Howlin' Brothers made their bow on Brendan Benson's Readymade Records label. Howl has nothing to do with the modern pop motif that Benson is known for, both on his own and as a collaborator with Jack White in the Raconteurs. Howl is a traditional album in every sense, a combination of unabashed bluegrass and stomping, swampy blues, that pays allegiance to authentic Americana origins. A rousing combination of banjos, fiddles, mandolin and ragtime revelry. The album provided first-time fans with a spirited display, one that quickly morphs into other arenas beyond their basic string band template. The decided Band-like designs implied by "Delta Queen," the boogie and bluster of "Tennessee Blues" and the jaunty, devil-may-care, happy-go-lucky strut of "Just Like You" all affirm their multi--hued sensibilities.
A new EP, The Sun Studio Session, further reflects the trio's retro leanings. Recorded at the famed Memphis studio that gave the world Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis, it offers vivid proof of the Brothers' allegiance to their homegrown roots.
Suffice it to say then that in a day and age where pretence is everywhere, and ostentatious attitudes are abundant, the Howlin' Brothers provide a remarkably fresh and unassuming change of pace. Beards, straw hats, and overalls are the identifying factor here, all perfectly in tune with the band's southern sensibilities. It's fun stuff indeed, strongly suggesting that these Howlin' Brothers are quite a hoot.
We recently caught up with the band's Jared Green and asked him to share the band's backstory.
New Times: For starters, please tell us how you guys came met and what led you to form the band?
Jared Green: We met in Ithaca, NY, around 2001. We started playing acoustic music around campfires and front porches while attending Ithaca College. With a common love for blues and old-time music, we started playing some shows around Ithaca, attracting crowds of all ages who were ready to dance. The Howlin' Brothers band name was coined by our friend and guitar teacher Pablo Cohen who heard us singing in town one day and said, "Who are these guys, the Howlin' Brothers?"
Who were your early influences?
Muddy Waters, Jerry Garcia, Old and in the Way, and Led Zeppelin. Bands like the Old Crow Medicine Show and Open Road were also big influences, and they led us to discover other great artists like Charlie Poole and Doc Watson.
What made you want to go back to the basics with your sound? Any worries that you might find yourself out of step as a result?
Going back to the basics is what we're trying to do. Playing as a trio gives us the freedom to be more expressive with the music. Whether it's in the dynamics or in the groove, there is something very satisfying hearing just three or four acoustic instruments jam together. I don't think what we are doing is out of step; in fact, I think we're more forward thinking than some other acoustic bands because we don't limit ourselves to one genre. We like to play loud and we infuse a lot of the blues in the songs.
Was that first album a collaborative effort? Were you all responsible for coming up with the material?
Yes. We all took individual roles in writing the songs, but the group effort made the songs what they are.
Were you at all surprised by the critical reaction to your debut?
We're very pleased with the positive reaction people have given us after listening to Howl. Not surprised that people liked it, but impressed that it has gotten so many great reviews.
It seems like its been a big year for you guys. Tell us a little bit about the trajectory
that's taken place. What have you done to capitalize on your initial success?
It has been a very busy year. We toured all spring, summer and fall with multiple tours on the east coast, mid-west and west coast. A highlight was opening for Dr. John at the Winnipeg Folk Festival for a crowd of 25,000. Most of what we capitalized on is gaining fans and experience as a touring act. We've learned a lot about our band, its strengths and weaknesses, what songs work best when, and how to have fun no matter what kind of show it is. Next year we'll release a second album with Readymade Records in the spring and then tour both nationally and internationally.
How did the idea for the new EP come about?
The EP we recorded at Sun Studio turned out great. We were invited to record by the folks who work at Sun Studio. We now have it available on CD thru our website. PBS also filmed us and will be airing a special on recording at Sun Studio in the Spring.
Can you give us a preview of what your next project will be like?
For starters, it has some really great original songs on it. Again, it's a gumbo of the music that we love. You'll hear blues, bluegrass, zydeco and honky-tonk influences. Overall, it's a lot of fun, with even more of a Southern flavor to it.
Do you think your rootsy approach will allow you to continue coming up with fresh ideas? Any worry that that it might become too constricting?
We have a unique sound because of our rootsy approach. We've spent years trying to fill out the sound with just three members, and we're all writing songs without trying to fit into a specific mold. I don't think we let ourselves feel constricted by the instrumentation or expectations of others. We are the Howlin' Brothers, we sound like we do because that's who we are, and we love what we do and we don't want to sound like anybody else.
The Howlin' Brothers perform at 9:30 pm on Thursday, December 12 at The Funky Buddha, 2621 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton. Tickets cost $7. Call (561) 368-4643 or go to www.thefunkybuddha.com