Power play (in conversation with Lalita Augustine)
Aussie Indie band Howling Bells are back with a new album, ‘The Loudest Engine’, released last month on Cooking Vinyl.
Recorded in Las Vegas, with The Killers’ Mark Stoermer producing, the band toured the album with a clutch of live shows, including a date at Glasgow’s Oran Mor.
With support from energetic seven-piece Glasgow outfit Aerials Up and touring support from London’s finest in Canadian blues Cold Specks, the combination of all three acts made for a raw, energetic night.
Frontwoman, Juanita Stein, certainly has her own kind of swagger, with her commanding presence on stage.
Captivating and somewhat sensual with her performance, she mostly danced across the stage while belting out better known Bells songs such as ‘Setting Sun’, ‘Low Happening’ and ‘Cities Burning Down’.
Offerings from The Loudest Engine sounded promising with current single, ‘Into The Sky’, ‘Gold Suns, White Guns’ and ‘The Wilderness’.
Both previous album ‘Radio Wars’ and ‘The Loudest Engine’ have not lived up to fans’ expectations after the belter of a debut with their eponymous album.
‘Howling Bells’ was included on Album of the Year lists when it was released back in 2006 and was celebrated for its combination of elements of pop, country, blues and rock. It will be interesting to see how the songs on ‘The Loudest Engine’ grow on fans, although they sounded pretty decent performed live.
All in all, this was an evening of power, energy and a great eclectic mix of music.
Before the gig, I had the pleasure of speaking with Juanita Stein in the Oran Mor’s atmospheric auditorium and we had a wee chat about the band and how things have been going for them with the new album:
When did you guys form?
We started in Sydney, Australia, about 7 years ago now and we all moved over to London and have been here ever since.
We all live in East London, Joel moved to Berlin a little bit ago, so now it’s just the three of us.
Where did the name the Howling Bells come from?
We formed and the name just came from a bunch of words that we felt best represented the music and that particular combination of words sat the best with us.
What’s it like being based in London, when you are all from Australia?
We felt like we needed a change and a different perspective.
Having all come from very musical families, we were very familiar with the British musical landscape and we felt like if we were to immerse ourselves into the scene, it would be easier to access that inspiration.
Who are the songwriters in the band?
Predominantly Joel (Juanita’s brother and lead guitarist of the band) and I, although we have all contributed at different times, and the balance has been different for every album, for “The Loudest Engine”, the balance has been half and half Joel and I.
What inspires you guys to write?
It’s different every album, every season, every month.
For this album we drew a lot of inspiration on being on the road, we travelled a lot and have done a lot of tours in the last couple of years, we wrote a lot of these songs parked in the tour bus in various different cities, some were in America, some in Europe.
What was it like writing on the move?
I think songs and art is best inspired when you’re not so restricted in your execution of it and it’s nice when it happens and there’s a theme to it, which happened with this album.
You’ve been characterised as a dark, gothic band, how do you feel with this definition?
I think there are elements of darkness and moodiness, I think our band is more moody than dark and there’s a difference, but people are free to interpret it as they wish.
Our music is definitely moody and atmospheric but at the end of the day, it’s all pop music isn’t it?
The new album has a more rock and roll approach, would you agree with this?
I think after our second album we had experimented a lot more synthetically with keyboards and it was a tad more electronic than anything else we had done.
With this record, we wanted to make a distinct effort to keep it raw and earthy and grounded, making it easier for ourselves to interpret in a live format, so I think it did come out a bit more dirty and rock and roll like.
You recorded the album in Las Vegas with Killers’ bassist Mark Stoermer producing
It was a fabulous experience, Mark and the Killers are all based in Las Vegas so we went and recorded in their studio.
I think the environment and the backdrop which was literally the desert, had quite a profound effect on the music.
Mark was great, he was super in-tune and inspired and very much on the same level as we were.
Bands and artists you like?
Joel and I grew up pretty much into Jimmy Hendrix, Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac, a very rich diet of 60s and 70s music, I guess Brendan (Picchio – bass guitar) and Glenn (Moule – drums) were the same.
There’s an endless stream of bands and artists nowadays and it’s rare if you meet someone today and you’re into exactly the same bands, everyone’s off into their own trip into quirky and interesting music.
What are your favourite tracks from the Loudest Engine?
Right now that we have started playing live, it has changed my opinion on some of the tracks, I really love ‘The Wilderness’, and ‘The Loudest Engine’ is fun to play. There’s a moody track also called ‘Gold Suns, White Guns.’
How has playing the new tracks been for you?
It’s been a short tour of only six shows but the reaction has been great, it’s really liberating to play new songs.
What else after this tour?
We go on a tour in November with Elbow round Europe which will be cool, in December and January, we are looking to get back to Australia to tour there.
The Loudest Engine is out now. More at howlingbellsmusic.com
(Photo by Nicola Sharkey - www.nicolasharkeyphotography.com)