Howler’s Jordan Gatesmith
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Local pop-rock outfit Howler is certainly having an excellent year, with a showcasing band slot set for SXSW 2012; a freshly inked contract with legendary record label Rough Trade; and an upcoming, sold-out U.K. tour supporting The Vaccines. Getting plenty of radio play from EP This One’s Different both here and across the pond, Howler is poised to follow the kind of career trajectory most young bands will only get to write about in their dream journals.
The A.V. Club caught up with lead vocalist-guitarist Jordan Gatesmith, who was drinking “Coke with cherries, not Cherry Coke,” to discuss dad rock, neck goiters, and Howler’s new album—America Give Up, arriving Jan. 17—before the band opens for Tune-Yards at First Avenue Nov. 12.
The A.V. Club: So you just got back from touring the East Coast with Tapes ’N Tapes. How did it go?
Jordan Gatesmith: It was a glorious experience. We’re used to playing these smaller shows at home, and this was our first real time, like, out on the road, so we didn’t know what all to expect. Tapes ’N Tapes has their own following, of course, but we had some fans in some cities. [Laughs.]
AVC: Are they pretty easy to spot?
JG: Well, “I Told You Once” has kind of done us a lot of service. When we play that one, you see the heads kind of start bobbing, and you see people going, “Oh shit, it’s that band!” But I think people who were hearing us for the first time tended to receive us pretty well, too. We were definitely having a good time onstage on this tour.
AVC: It wasn’t so great for at least one member of your band, right?
JG: Yeah Ian [Nygaard], our guitar player, got gravely, gravely ill. That was definitely the low point of the tour, which, ironically, came right after the high point. We had just played three shows in New York. We did Glasslands in Brooklyn, The Bowery Ballroom, and then we went to Maxwell’s in New Jersey, and all those shows were really packed. And we had our label flying in to see us and everything. So after a big week of sold-out shows, Ian wakes up and has this growth just swelling up like crazy on his neck, and it turned out he had a terrible infection. We took him to the emergency room right away, and then, unfortunately, had to just leave him there in New Jersey and go on to the next show. He had to stay in the hospital for, like, four or five days before he was able to fly back to Minneapolis, so he was only with us for about half the tour.
AVC: How did that affect the rest of the shows?
JG: I just tried to cover two guitar parts, basically. We didn’t have as full of a sound as we could of, but we’re pretty used to making those types of adjustments. Tapes ’N Tapes are just, like, so much tighter than us. Their experience definitely shows when they’re playing. Plus, they seemed to have all figured out how to get along on the road. With us, we are all such good friends, but we also have sort of extravagant personalities and pretty massive egos. We got in so many fights, but in the end they were mostly about being shoved together in this little van.
AVC: The stakes will be much higher on this tour of the U.K. supporting The Vaccines, who are arguably Britain’s biggest band right now.
JG: Right, but with that East Coast tour we just did, we were completely on our own. No tour manager or anything like that. In that situation, we normally make Brent [Mayes], our drummer, take care of everything. He’s the most responsible one. But even with him corralling us, we’d still show up to shows like 15 minutes before we were supposed to play. I’m especially terrible at being places at a certain time, so the nice thing about this England tour is that we have everything planned for us already. We have a tour manager and a merch person, and all our hotels are taken care of. We basically just have to show up. Plus we can all get into the pubs ... legally.
AVC: And this will be the first time out of the country for some of you, right?
JG: Yeah, it will be my first time out of the U.S., ever. So when people are asking us about the venues, we don’t really know them. I mean I know the Barrowlands in Glasgow, and like, Brixton Academy, which I know is going to be huge and terrifying. But I really prefer playing in front of big crowds. I’m more nervous playing in front of a small group of people I know than a thousand strangers. The bigger the crowd, the better I am.
AVC: Well, that’s a good quality to have as a performer. So you’ll be in the U.K. when your new album, America Give Up, comes out? Or will you plan to do a homecoming show in the States?
JG: We will actually be in New York for the release, but we’ll play a lot of stuff from it on this tour. There are three songs from our EP on the new album, so people will recognize those, and then we’re working up a cover too.
AVC: Are you at liberty to say what that might be?
JG: It’s either going to be “Come On” by Chuck Berry or “Lucifer Sam” by Pink Floyd ... because we’re dads. [Laughs.] No, I actually hate Pink Floyd a lot, but I do really like Syd Barrett so I’m into that first Pink Floyd album.
AVC: The new album is definitely going in a different direction than the EP. What influenced you while you were writing it?
JG: Well, I always write pop music, and the EP was very, very poppy. But I felt like I was pigeonholing myself, and even though I am really proud of that EP, I didn’t want to be a pop band. I was listening to a lot of The Jesus And Mary Chain, and basically locked myself in the basement to write a lot of the songs on America Give Up. I wanted to make it disgusting, like something grungy with a pop shine to it I guess. I feel like I’ve found a better vocal range for myself on this album, but more important was really getting the sound I wanted out of the guitars. I had something really buzzy and shoegaze-y in mind, and I think we got that. Lyrically I think the main theme is: dissatisfaction—well, dissatisfaction through a very sarcastic lens anyway.
AVC: You guys signed a four-album deal with Rough Trade. Do you feel pressure to keep up a certain pace and be producing new material?
JG: I really do want to do an album a year for the first three albums. Rough Trade has been awesome to us, so it’s more pressure we are putting on ourselves than anything else. I’m working on the second album already, and that one is going to be more straightforward and stripped down. For our third album, I want everyone on it. I want Akon on it.