Where are you currently based?
Right now, our bedrooms! The band is spread across Melbourne, all of us in various stages of lockdown.
What’s been happening recently and how has your Covid experience been so far?
We’ve mostly been preparing for our upcoming EP release, ‘Not Here’. Covid has definitely thrown us a curveball though – it put a pin in our touring plans and meant we had to rethink a lot of our approach when it came to performing and promoting the release, especially when Melbourne hit round two of lockdown as the rest of Australia opened up. Fortunately, we’ve all been really lucky in terms of our day-to-day employment, we have a great band support team around us and isolation has turned out to be a really productive, creative time. So we’re actually pretty excited for what we have planned with the EP release now.
How did you first start playing music?
We all got into music pretty young, learning through school either self taught or lessons – Alison (vocals) and Andrew (keys) went to high school together and have been playing music together since about 2010, while Ben (guitar / bass) and Lyle (live drums) have both been in different bands over the years. In terms of playing together, it was a matter of convenience – Alison and Ben started dating, so he joined the band with Andrew, and for a while it was just the three of us. We met Lyle last year, when he was playing drums for a mutual friend, and quickly realised we needed to recruit him!
How did Howlite come about?
Howlite is Alison’s baby. She initially wanted a musical project that didn’t have her name on it, and had a kind of ambiguity over whether it was a band, a solo project or something else. It also gave her the chance to move more into pop music and away from the folk music she was performing at the time. Alison recorded Howlite’s first EP ‘Reasons’ with a friend from uni, Michael Robinson, but slowly grew to incorporate Andrew and Ben into her live sets. From that point onwards Howlite was formed as the band, and we went on to record and perform together as a group rather than a solo project.
Your new single ‘Canary’ is out now, what or who influenced the sound and songwriting?
The idea of metaphors or analogies is something that happens a lot in our writing and it’s fun to incorporate them into a narrative. We’d all been listening to a lot of trip-hop music, and we were definitely influenced by bands such as Portishead and Massive Attack, along with bands such as London Grammar and Daughter, that delve into that more sort of dark-pop or left of field pop realm. At the time of writing, Alison had also been listening to some of Aurora and Marika Hackman’s early stuff, and she really liked the dark imagery of their music.
How did you go about writing Canary?
Alison tends to write all the songs, and will bring them to the band for evaluation and workshopping. The seed of the song started with Alison on piano, just the chord progression of the verses and the opening line, “Curse me in your mother tongue, do you kiss her with that mouth – why not me?”, and it kind of developed from there. At the time Alison was in a transitional period of life, really questioning identity and sense of self within the context of others. It’s a very “lost” song. Kind of pleading and looking around for answers from people, or wanting to feel accepted and safe. The chorus is quite sparse, with the line fading off into repetition, to give that idea of isolation and a lack of clarity or response.
Where and when did you record/produce?
We recorded the bones of the whole EP way back in 2019 at The Alamo Studios here in Melbourne, working with our producer Tyson Fish and mixing engineer Daniel Caswell. From there, we did some development on drum tracks and arrangements with our friend and producer, FAULK. The main post-production, and some of the mixing was then carried out by our other producer JP Fung, who’s based in Sydney, who helped craft and articulate the tracks. We then left the final mastering in the capable hands of our longtime mastering lord Joe Carra from Crystal Mastering. It takes a village to build an EP!
How did you approach the recording process?
We had worked with Tyson and Dan in the studio on our last single before this EP, ‘Orchestra’, and it was such a positive, fruitful experience that we were excited to dive right back in for the EP. They helped us immensely with pre-production, workshopping the songs and demos to the point of recording and planning out the recording schedule. Previously, we’d often head into the studio right away, and then end up spending a lot of time problem solving or exploring multiple ideas. This time round we had the good fortune and freedom to really take the time to do things properly, both before, during and after recording, to get the best out of ourselves and the songs. We made the decision to track the vocals first, and build the song around it. As we got further into the project, we decided we really wanted to push and develop our sound, and look at creating something that took things to the next level. That’s when we decided to work with JP on the post-production side of things, as well as sharing the mixing of some tracks alongside Dan.
Working with different people over an extended time meant that there was a lot of development, a lot of inspiration and a lot of logistical nightmares! We had some concrete reference artists and production styles, and it was exciting to build things we loved about other artists into our own work. By not setting dates on the releases this time we had the freedom to explore some really creative directions and approaches, both with recording and production, until we ended up with a product we felt 100% happy with – and we feel that you can really hear that in the recordings. We couldn’t have asked for a better team to help bring the tracks to life to be honest, and everyone was completely on board with what we were trying to achieve.
What programs/instruments did you use?
We record all our demos in our home studio using Ableton, with a basic midi set-up and direct input for guitar, bass and vocals. Neither of us are particularly well-versed with DAW set ups; so the process is very raw and serves ultimately as a way to organise arrangements, construct vocal harmonies and experiment with ideas rather than achieve any kind of polished product. As we move more into the realm of pop and synthetic sounds, it’s been so much fun to play with samples and sound packages, and create things we wouldn’t have considered a few years ago. Once pre-pro is signed off, it’s time for the professionals and ProTools. It’s always a joy recording at The Alamo because we get to work with such a large collection of vintage instruments and amps, and record with their amazing Neve V1 Recording Console.
In terms of instruments, we wanted a nice blend of organic & synthetic – so there are live tracked drums and bass, but also sampled beats and synth modulations, and a lot of elements that take cues from trip-hop and 90s/2000s electronica. JP really helped bring a sense of pop to the recordings as well, by introducing more layers of samples in post-production. We also like to reflect this approach in our live setup as well, so we now incorporate guitar, bass, live kit and keys, but also work with sample pads, vocal loops and pedals.
Your EP ‘Not Here’ will be released in the next few weeks, please give us an idea of what to expect:
A warm, dark, luxurious embrace, like cocooning yourself in velvet and taking a nap.
What do you like to do away from music?
Our DIY projects have gone through the roof this year thanks to isolation! Alison has taken up knitting, Andrew has been renovating his bathroom and making his own salami, Ben has been restoring a 1970’s moped and our drummer Lyle has gone full handyman and built his own soundproof studio in the garage so he can play drums at 3am.
Who are you listening to at the moment?
There has been so much time for music at the moment! We’ve been listening to a lot of local artists – absolutely loving Braille Face’s latest album ‘Original Cast Recording’. We’ve also been loving Two People, Lastlings, ALTA and EOGISM, who are such big inspirations for us. Internationally, we’ve been listening to London Grammar’s latest, as well as Anna of the North, Future Islands, Tuvaband, Florence + The Machine, and the latest The XX side project from Romy. Alison has also recently taken a dive back through Spotify and is taking a lot of inspiration from early 2000s alt/electronic artists, like Ladytron, Vaults, The Delgados – and lots of synth horror movie soundtracks! Gotta be ready for Halloween.
What’s planned for the remainder of 2020 going into 2021?
We have a few exciting plans for the release of our EP, including an amazing music video that filmmaker Michael Roberts has been working on. He’s done some incredible work with Slowly Slowly, and produced the music video for our last single ‘Stranger’, so we’re excited for that. We’re also planning to record a live set with him and photographer Jeff Anderson Jnr at some point, once we’re able to leave the house!
As for 2021, it’s also shaping up to be pretty exciting, as we’ve been writing heaps, and looking to head back into the studio and record our next EP. Depending on travel restrictions amid the pandemic, we’re also hoping to get the chance to take this EP out on the road, and actually play some live shows around Australia. Anything further than 5kms will be exciting.
Favourite food and place to hangout?
Pizza! It’s such a versatile food, with so many flavour options! And they do dessert pizzas! You’re covered for all occasions. As for a favourite hangout place, we’re all just hanging to be able to get back into a pub – any pub, anywhere, just a pub please!
Apple Music: https://music.apple.com/au/
Official Website: http://www.howlite.com.au/