Pre-pandemic, London three-piece The Howlers were making steady inroads with their garage/post-punk rock, with the gigs gradually increasing in capacity and their steady run of singles starting to garner attention from the likes of Steve Lamacq.
Worldwide events acted to curtail any further progress, but that was insignificant compared to their personal situations.
“We all suspected we had it (COVID-19) at the beginning,” frontman Adam Young tells Live4ever. “Cam (drummer) definitely did. We were just keeping each other going. For the first time Gus (bass) opened up about his mental health, while me and Cam openly struggle with ours.”
Tragically, the darkness wasn’t just limited to the band members: “During the pandemic I lost two family members to COVID-19. During that time it was really difficult for us, because we’d just lost our career path, I’d just lost family. It was a difficult time for us, but we used that time to reflect on the band and who we were as people and as a family.”
“I moved back down to (his hometown of) Portsmouth during the pandemic to be nearer my family. But we used that time to put a mirror up the band and said that we weren’t cutting it.”
“It takes a lot for a band to do that, because it’s saying the art form that you believed in wasn’t great. We did that and tore the setlist up and threw it up. We ended up writing a load of new tunes and these songs came out of that.”
“They all follow the narrative, which is why the EP is called The Sum Of Our Fears. It pulls together the sum of our fears as people and as a band. Everything we were scared of happened and that’s what it’s about. It’s not a COVID EP at all, but it’s our cathartic way of dealing with it.”
The new EP marks a sea-change for the young band, with the last year garnering an overhaul of their sound and, more importantly, their approach to songwriting.
“Our influences have stayed the same, all we’ve done is expand on them a bit. Everyone knows that at the moment the world is a horrible place. That’s why post-punk is really popular because everybody’s angry, and we were following that narrative.”
“We got sucked into that hurricane of needing to be angry about everything. When we were talking to the huge labels they said to us, ‘We don’t want you to be that, it’s unambitious’. We then showed them the songs that we really poured our heart and souls into and they were like, ‘That’s amazing’.”
“We’re not egotistical people, we just look to be better and improve. We always beat ourselves up after every gig. The sound that we were wasn’t something we were comfortable with. The sound we have now is something that we’ve flown with. It seems that every time we get into a room together, which isn’t often!, we write a new tune, which is great.”
When we first interviewed The Howlers in early 2019 they had all the hallmarks of a young band; ambition, confidence and belief. Now, understandably, there is a marked difference in the demeanour of Young.
More sanguine and reflective, although the belief is still there, their recent experiences seem to have emboldened the singer to open up. “The premise of (new single) Lost Without You is about not giving up or being scared to fail,” he tells us.
“After I lost family, I took the stance that I wasn’t going to give up on something that they believed I could do. That’s what it’s about. The chorus is a message I wish I could say to them, but at the same time it’s them saying back to me, ‘Keep going’.”
When we spoke the single had been available for three days, but the reaction had been positive. “We’ve always been a band that struggles with a lot of things, such as a digital presence. We often get in reviews, ‘the best band you’ve never heard of’, which is a kiss and a slap.”
“But it’s been cool, the tune has been out for three days and has racked up 5000 streams already which, for us, is like, ‘What’s going on?’. It doesn’t seem a lot, but for a band that doesn’t ever get Spotify support, to see it organically is great. It’s validation that you’re doing something right.”
Ah, Spotify. The streaming giant is becoming ever more infamous through their model which fails to serve the artists, especially when it comes to payment. For The Howlers, the problem goes deeper than that.
“Spotify have their remit on things. We have an amazing team around us who pitch out but it doesn’t seem to land on Spotify, for whatever reason. It’s not a big loss. Everyone seems to base everything on Spotify these days, but we’ve always been a band that does things our own way.”
“It doesn’t really faze us anymore. It used to because you’d see your friends’ band there. But they have a sound to them; we don’t sound like anybody else. We can’t expect to be put into these playlists which are very centralised along specific genres and sounds.”
“Fortunately, the trio aren’t just reliant on one streaming service, and have praise for one of Spotify’s competitors: “We get support from Apple Music. The last single went straight into an Apple Music playlist, we topped one of them. That was just amazing.”
“Apple Music love us. I think that’s because our music is very Americana-twinged, and Apple Music is a very US-centred platform. Apple Music is better because people will stream it on their platform and then buy it through iTunes. We actually get a lot more income from that!”
As grim as 2020 was, there were highlights for The Howlers, including an acoustic, socially-distanced gig in Dalston. “We did an acoustic thing. Our local is the Victoria in Dalston, mainly because Gus is chained to the bar!”
“We debuted all the new songs there acoustically. There was probably about 80 people there. We’d never done an acoustic show and we played one song that means a lot to me and I looked up halfway through the song and the front two rows were all filming it, crying!”
“I’d explained the narrative of the song before and I think that was where it hit home that we should write from the heart and not what people want to hear.”
The future looks brighter, with a tour pencilled in for the end of the year and some festival dates, as Young continues: “We’re doing 14/15 dates in November and December. 11 of them are back-to-back which is going to be brutal. Shout-out to our booking agent! We love him.”
“We’ve got a couple of festivals which haven’t yet been announced. We’re playing a couple of main stages, which is great.”
Any ‘older’ fans may have to brace themselves for disappointment however: “Last year we had an 8/9 song set. We found that every time we wrote a new one, we’d drop an old one. So we weren’t getting a bigger set, we were just maintaining the same length, writing better songs and dropping the shite ones.”
“Now we’ve had this breathing space and worked on making the set an actual show and demonstrating every facet of the band, which meant we had to throw stuff out. If people are coming to the shows in November expecting to hear old songs, they’ll probably be disappointed, but if people come with an open mind and a hunger for new music then they’ll lap it up, which is what we want.”
“We don’t want to hang on to the old tunes because we hate them! We’re so proud of what we’ve done, we want people to dig that and not what we were.”
And beyond 2021? “We’re working with a few people and have got a few offers on the table for varying things. For us, the tour is selling well so a natural progression would be to put a lot more music out there, whether it’s EPs or an album. We might not want to do an album in three months, but next week we might be up for it. We’ve got enough material so we’ll see.”
“The people we’re working with want to take us out of circulation so we can work on our records, so it may be the last time people see us for a little bit. Then we’ll be back out there next year. It’s about learning the instruments inside out and maturing our sound.”
If triumph does come through adversity, then it should be quite a year for The Howlers.
The Howlers will release their debut EP The Sum Of Our Fears on August 26th.