The Howlin' Brothers: We spend more time driving than playing

Categories: Interview
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Photo courtesy of the artist

One listen to the Howlin' Brothers debut record, Howl, and you might not know exactly what era they're from. Well, actually, you'd probably assume they were time-machined to the present from the earliest days of mountain banjo tunes and finger-pickin'. That's certainly how the band presents themselves: a rustic string trio pledging allegiance to the tried-and-true country-stompin' blues.

Ben Plasse, Ian Craft and Jared Green are not technically brothers, but the three of them sound so natural together, they might be somehow distantly related. On Howl, produced by Brendan Benson, the artists test the limits of their instruments on a riotous ride filled with the deftly intertwining sounds of the banjo, fiddle, guitar, and upright bass -- with the occasional harmonica for good measure. It's an album steeped in more tradition than, say, oh, the latest Mumfy album, perhaps -- though it's every bit as infectious.

Gimme Noise caught up with Plasse ahead of the band's gig tonight at the Cedar Cultural Center to get a little bit of background on the band that seems to have sprung up out of nowhere and where they're heading next.

Gimme Noise: I read that you all met at Ithaca College as music students. How did you discover that you were all into this particular type of roots music?

Ben Plasse:
I think it was a combination of a few things. I think we were all really touched by the O Brother, Where Art Thou movie... I just found a banjo at my mother's house and Ian just started picking mandolin, and we'd just sit out there picking a lot, and that's sort of how we got into it -- just sitting around a campfire learning songs from other people.

Tell me about Howl and how it came about.

We are really good friends with this guy Buddy Jackson in town [Nashville], and he has these old time picking parties at his house. Through Buddy, we met Brendan Benson at one of those parties, and he had just done Cory Chisel's record at the time, and at the end of that show he expressed some interest in doing something with us. He ended up being really serious. [Laughs]

How was it working with Brendan Benson as the producer on
Howl? Did he influence the sound?

Yeah, definitely. I think we had just been doing a lot of home recordings, and the results were always good, but the songs had the same texture. I just don't have a lot of equipment. It was really great to work with someone who could say, "Oh, that's not the right mic for the banjo on that song," and I think he really pushed us.



How has your life changed since graduating college and deciding to make a go of this professionally, or since the album came out?

This is the first time we've started, really, to tour... it's funny because we've been a working band in Nashville for so long, and we've played any gig that we can get, and a lot of those gigs are four hours long, and we'll play three a day, and now we spend more time driving than playing. We're really excited to be taking this next step.

What are you most excited by?

Touring, really. It just kind of keeps you more on your toes. It's a really exciting feeling, just having the unknown every day. It's a really exciting feeling to have a forward motion like that. In Nashville, we do really well, but it's great to break the routine.

What's next?

I think we're just gonna try to tour as hard as we can for the next year and promote Howl. Brendan has thoughts about getting another record out, which would be cool, but hopefully we can be just continuing to spread music across the land.

The Howlin' Brothers will be performing on Wednesday night, May 29, at the Cedar Cultural Center with special guests The Boys 'N The Barrels. Tickets $15 day of show. Doors at 7 p.m. All Ages. More info here.


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