Valentine’s Day, 2012…The world received a gift. That’s the day that Howlin Rain dropped their newest record, The Russian Wilds. A labor of love that took 3 years to complete. Over time, this site has tried to deliver the rock and find bands that are not only cool, but unique. Well, for me, we may have just hit our pinnacle in the uniqueness department. This San Francisco band was formed in 2004 and has developed a sound like few before them. With their classic rock guitars, soulful vocals, and jam band mentality, Howlin Rain has truly made something great with The Russian Wilds. The first single, is a 7 min jam session entitled Phantom of the Valley.
Stream the entire Ethan Miller of Howlin Rain interview below:
[ca_audio url=”http://www.unsungmelody.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Ethan-Miller-of-Howlin-Rain-interview.mp3″ width=”500″ height=”27″ css_class=”codeart-google-mp3-player”]
Today, I’m lucky to have Ethan Miller of Howlin Rain with me. Ethan is the guitarist and vocalist of Howlin Rain. First off, thank you so much for joining us and let me be the first to welcome you to the Unsung Melody family. The Russian Wilds is the newest release from you guys. It’s a fantastic record that’s a must listen for anyone who enjoys great music. This record took quite a long time to see a release. Tell us a bit about the journey it took to get this music into the fans hands.
Oh man. It’s a long story. I’ll try to make it short. We came off the road from our last record, Magnificent Fiend, at the end of 2009. Actually, I guess it would’ve been the beginning of 2009 or somewhere in the middle there. We began working on our next record. What would become, the Russian Wilds. I worked on songs, went back and forth down to Malibu to meet with Rick. We’d discuss everything from song choices, to playing songs acoustic on my guitar, listening to some home demos that I had, and really just going through an enormous amount of work. Usually, the old way that I had done a record, was just to write the next 9, 10, or 11 songs and put them onto the record. We didn’t have a lot of time, or money, so we just sort of write them after a tour, get a band together, go in and record for a 5 or 6 day stretch, then do some overdubs, send off to mastering, and you’ve got your new record. That’s how this one was going to be. That’s not how Rick works either. His marching orders were like, I want to hear 40 songs, and choose the best ones. I want the best 12 songs out of the group, not just your next 12 songs. He didn’t take into account, that my part of the deal, his way of doing things, the way his brain works, his day to day life or whatever is from a totally different universe also. That caused some major detraction from us moving fluidly forward. Trying to get us all together for meetings or whatever , days turned into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years. From my end, he didn’t take into account that a Howlin’ Rain song, some of the songs on the record are 8 or 9 minute songs, they’re pretty epic. The whole record is epic. He wanted to hear a ton of songs, so I was like, okay, I’ll take that as a challenge. I’ll write a shitload of stuff for this guy. So, some of the songs are 14 or 15 minutes long. (laughter) So, we when we took a listen to 40 songs or whatever it was, it was CD and CD after CD just full of music. Not just these 40 songs that took us an hour and 10 minutes to listen to because they are 2-1/2 minutes long. This was like some Old Testament shit. All these elements are confounding to the normal process of what he would do, definitely to the normal process of what I would do. I found certain elements of it challenging in a positive way. All that’s to say, that’s just a couple tiny elements, before you even get into crazy record label stories, Rick’s scheduling, and everything else. So, I started writing in late 2008 and the record came out in February 2012. So, that’s not a normal scenario. That might be normal for some reclusive genius that’s already sold a million records or whatever, to sit back and make a record every half decade or whatever, but for younger working artists that are trying to still make their name, that can usually be beyond what the band can stand.
I could see where that could be detrimental at times. It sounds like it was an amazing experience, but also somewhat of a frustrating one.
It was all kinds of things.To be honest, unless you’re a hit making band, we may have been one of the last unknown bands, so to speak, to have a major label development deal. To have the bigger budgets, the longer amount of time to work on a record, they’re not going to do that model anymore. Even in the four years since we started doing it, I think all the major labels stopped doing it. We just need a few bands, and they need to sell a lot of records. (laughter) We’re not going to put a bunch of huge funding into a bunch of albums or anything like that. In a way, it was interesting, you could almost feel standing on the precipice of the changing industry. Being engaged with this major label thing just changing, and falling apart beneath you, until you’re standing on this little, like in the cartoons, you’re standing on this little point of the cliff that’s left right under your feet, and the rest of the cliff has already fallen away. Some kind of Tolkien thing.
I saw you guys were nominated for Album of the Year over at Classic Rock Magazine. Congratulations on that by the way. It’s got to be a rewarding feeling, to see such a labor of love getting some recognition.
It’s rewarding. It’s rewarding. I gotta say that over the years, the very first time that I put out a record and it got some reviews, we didn’t know what we were doing. We made this record, the first Comets On Fire record. We made this record, we hand silk screened the covers, we literally sent it out in the mail personally. We had no distribution, we didn’t have anything. We sent it to some writers, and a few distro places, even record stores themselves. Seeing if they could sell them on their shelves. The reviews came back, and we just poured through them. We were like, “We’re just these crazy kids from Santa Cruz, and we’ve somehow touched the world out there. The critical press and they’ve written something. They’ve listened, they’ve given us feedback.” Of course, a lot of it was really good. (laughter) So, we were all like, “Wow! Fantastic! I’m amazing!” Ya know? Then over the years, the press is with you and they’re against you. Sometimes in mass, sometimes it trickles in. For this record, there was some people nominated us for Album Of The Year, others said it was a masterpiece, and others said this is complete garbage. Like, I can’t imagine anybody would want to listen to this. There’s no telling why one said it was terrible, or one said it was good. That’s all to say that over the years, I’ve sort of withdrawn myself a little bit from the highs and the lows of that, or even putting much weight on it. Of course, I have to say that it makes you feel pretty good when you get a nice write up and of course it’s good for business. To sell the record, to get some people to get turned onto the thing. At the same time, I don’t let it take me too high or anything. Because I really don’t let the bad ones take low. I’m like fuck them, they don’t know what they’re talking about. (laughter) You have to have that mentality with the good ones too though. Kind of like if you believe in God, but not the devil kind of thing.
Listening back to your catalog, you’ve really evolved your sound. It’s a much more polished, layered sound and the music has such a great vibe. Looking back at what you’ve written over the years, where you would rate this album for you personally? From say a creative, writing standpoint.
I don’t know, that’s hard to say. Between the three Howlin Rain records, and a couple of EP’s or whatever. The other ones, like I said before, they were done pretty fast. Pretty off the cuff. On the first album, we just rehearsed for two days. Ian was in Hawaii, John Moloney lived in Boston. We took a listen to some really rough demos I had made, we came out into a jam space for two days. Then went into the studio and just jammed the basic tracks. Those guys didn’t even know what the songs were even going to sound like really. They’re just like, “Okay, here’s the changes and we’ll play on it.” Then I went and overdubbed the vocals and guitars over another four or five days, and the album was done. I didn’t even know what it was going to be like. That’s also kind of true for the last album. The band flew in from different places, we jammed a bit, then recorded for five days, and finished the album, sending it off. You never know with those accolades, what it’s going to be in those cases. On this record though, we knew what the songs were going to sound like for the most part. The demos were taken almost to a complete level and they were super rehearsed. We even have more material that was recorded that we didn’t put on the record. At least three or four songs that didn’t make the album. They’re all different albums, with different players and stuff, but I guess without trying to back out of the question or anything, I think this is something that I’ve strived for. So, I don’t have to say all these records are the same project, but this is the closest to what I’m trying to do. I’m kind of looking at it like the songs are all crazy little animals that I’m developing in the lab, and some of them get a little out of hand, but they’re all kind of unique and have their own unique DNA. They’ve came from the same lab, the same mad scientist, but it’s kind of a menagerie. I guess the short answer is, the last is album is the best…at least hopefully.
Strange Thunder is a fantastic short film about the recording of The Russian Wilds. Pamela Littky worked with you on that. How did that whole project come about?
She is actually friends with our manager and in the early stages when we finished the record, when it went out to friends, colleagues, family, you know people on the inner circle of the music industry, she wound up with a copy and her intent was to see if she was interested in doing something with the band. She’s also a world renowned photographer and filmmaker. I guess Pamela heard the record and fell in love with it. She came back to Jared and said, “I really love the album and I have to do something on this. I’m really intrigued by the story and finding out more about the story.” She was just really inspired to do something creative, that engaged our creativity as well. That was the subject of it anyhow.
You have a big 3-night stand in your hometown of San Francisco around New Year’s. It’s at the Cafe Du Nord. We are planning on covering the first night, if things work out like they should. What can the fans expect during these hometown shows? Any surprises you care to mention, or are they surprises for a reason?
Well, yeah, I think they’ll be some different stuff. The sets are going to be a little different every night. We’re going to do some different stuff into each night. We’re going to do some cover songs, that people definitely haven’t heard before. We’re doing the stand with Vetiver, we’re co-headlining. They’re gonna do a set, we’re gonna do a set. I was just hanging with Andy Cabic on Saturday night, and we were kind of scheming on some cover songs that he can sing, while Howlin Rain will do back up and stuff on. I think there will be some nice surprises. Even at it’s very core, it’ll be a summary of everything that both bands have ever done this year, and a distillation of the power of those bands presented over these nights, but on a more surface level too there will be some nice things that a lot of diehard fans haven’t seen yet.
Alright, I always end on a random question. So, here goes yours; You are given a lucrative deal to star in an upcoming guaranteed hit movie. The only stipulation is you shave your beard. Do you do it?
Haha! Yeah! (laughter) I’d probably do it. I mean who doesn’t want to be in a hit movie anyways? My beard grows really fast. So, it looks magnificent, so people are always like, “Hey man, how long have you been growing that?” When really, it wouldn’t take me very long to grow it back. I actually trim this shit all the time, to keep it from growing crazy and out of control. So, that’s a no-brainer for me because my beard grows fast. I know it’s going to be there.
Ethan, I thank you so much for your time. The site and myself, wish you nothing and the band, nothing but the best.
Howlin Rain members:
Purchase your copy of The Russian Wilds from Howlin Rain on Amazon below:
Check out the short film Strange Thunder: The Evolution of Howlin Rain below:
Check out the live performance video to Roll On The Rusted Days by Howlin Rain below: