Howler is from a town that served as the cultural hearth of punk in the 80’s but now hears only echoes of that history. Minneapolis was once home to punk giants Hüsker Dü and The Replacements – just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the hundreds of punk bands that formed in Minneapolis at the height of the movement.
Many of these bands are influences for Howler but it seems like, these days, they are one of very few bands that try to keep the Minneapolis punk scene alive.
Howler’s first studio album, World of Joy, pays tribute to the history of their town in a number of ways. The title is a unique mix of naïveté and sarcasm. The single, “Indictment,” is a pop song at its core wrapped in a beachy guitar sound and frontman Jordan Gatesmith’s unusually deep vocals.
“You don’t have to be a punk if you don’t want to,” Gatesmith sings on “Don’t Wanna.” Though caught in a catchy melody, the statement embodies the ideals of punk at their finest – everything Fugazi would have wanted, I’m sure.
You can get Howler’s latest album World of Joy, and see them at Schubas Tavern in Chicago on May 19.
So I want to talk to you a little bit about the Minneapolis music scene. I read a quote from you saying that the scene is not as good as you’d like it to be. Can you talk about that?
I can comment on it a little more now. It’s such a good music town there because I think I’ve kind of grown obsessed with the idea of small towns that harbor insane music scenes like Minneapolis is one that’s had a great past – Seattle’s one that’s had a great past. But, the small towns have the best things because we’re so far away from everything. We have nothing but ourselves to look to or listen to.
There’s so much great music that happens [in Minneapolis], but I think the frustration that comes with it is that it doesn’t really get out of the city as much as I would like. And I think that we have people who are supportive of the scene, but I sometimes feel like the radio stations in Minneapolis and the papers could look a little harder and really help push the bands to a more national level. We have everything we need to make a splash we just need more support to pick some up.
What really interested me about the fact that you’re from Minneapolis is that you have a lot of punk influence and the city is historically…
Punktown. Yeah, it’s such a huge influence on us. That’s what we live for. We love punk music and there are echoes of it all over the city still. But there’s such a mythology about it in Minneapolis that it’s kind of hard to escape it but that sound is definitely still vibrant but it’s more on the underground circuit, sort of on the house show circuit.
Well that’s what punk is supposed to be, right?
I had a question out of personal curiosity. There’s a line in “Indictment” where you say, “I’m afraid to even take out the trash.” Is that a Replacements reference?
Yeah. In the past, I’ve been very referential to all sorts of influences. Yeah, I think that is partially a Replacements reference but it can take on its own sort of meaning as well.
Being that World of Joy was tracked live, does Howler hold the DIY element as something central and sacred to your music?
Yeah, it’s been a hard lesson accepting that side because it’s more work. But yeah, I think we’re learning it every day how important it is to do things on your own terms and we’re fortunate to have a label that supports us as well but, even so, you need to have the drive to make it happen. You need to do things on your own terms and it’s not like we do it because it’s punk rock to be DIY. It’s just that you have to be DIY to keep things afloat.
What are the differences you’ve been seeing between the tours for America Give Up and World of Joy?
Yeah, there are so many reactions which is awesome and it’s funny. For example, what’s really cool about this tour is that our first album had a lot of hype so we had really large crowds and tons of people showing up and they were trying to check out what the fuck we were doing and so, this time around, it’s much smaller crowds but at the same time, the people that are showing up now are fans and that’s a really cool thing to see.
Our live show is also much more chaotic than it was before. We’ve been working a lot with like noise breakdowns and we play songs pretty fast and pretty punky. We keep it very, very…chaotic, to say the least. Some people come out and see the chaos happening on stage and they absolutely love it and then some people come out and think, “What the fuck did I just watch? I just saw four guys get on stage and not care at all”. We do care a lot but some people think we’re not caring or something like that.
I’m reading a book about punk called Our Band Could Be Your Life right now. Have you ever heard of it?
Oh! I’m reading that too! I’m skipping through it. I’m not reading all of it, but I read the Black Flag chapter, which was awesome and I read the Beat Happening chapter, which was great. It’s a good book though! You like it?
Yeah, I’m like such a music history nerd so books like that are all I read.
Yeah, me too. Speaking of which, I feel bad throwing shade on people, but I read this one like history of music book and I can’t remember who it was by but some English author and it was the shittiest music history book I’ve ever read because, I kid you not, there was like a whole 60 pages dedicated to Brit Pop and how Brit Pop was the most amazing thing that ever happened and I’m like “Okay, that’s weird.” And then they talk about Nirvana, but they never even mention The Melvins or Mudhoney or any of that. The Replacements got like a liner note that said something like “These guys could have been good but they ended up sucking” but then they dedicated like whole chapter to Brit Pop.
I can’t remember what it’s called but if I remember I’ll send it to you so you can laugh at it.
Haha okay, sounds good. Well, I’ll be at your show in Chicago, so I’ll catch you later.
Howler is playing at Schubas in Chicago, IL on May 19th. Tickets are available and can be purchased here.