Howlin Rain: Creation is key
by Brent Cole
photo by Kristy Walker
Started in 2006 as a side project to the legendary Comets on Fire, Ethan Miller’s Howlin Rain has lived the ups and downs of the rock ’n’ roll life. From innocent beginnings to a major label and recording with Rick Rubin and crashing down to no label and being bandless, then rising up again, Miller seemingly has lived it all with Howlin Rain. But with a new release, Alligator Bride, Miller has settled into a new level with the band and released one of their most inspired albums.
This isn’t anything new for Miller, who lives his life in a state of constant creativity. He runs Silver Currant records, plays in Feral Ohms and Heron Oblivion, produces analog ambient music under the moniker of The Odyssey Cult, and releases books of poetry.
In 2015, Miller found himself without a band and went about recording a new album, Mansion Songs, using different musicians, some of whom he hadn’t previously played with. Among them were Daniel Cervantes on guitar and Jeff McElroy on bass (drummer Justin Smith was added with Alligator Bride). While the sessions they worked on didn’t land on the album, Miller connected with them enough that a new formation of Howlin Rain began to take shape. The band toured and came together, recording the new album early last year. The album’s feel is swamping rock ‘n’ roll with a hint of the Comets on Fire fevered guitar.
“The guiding principle for The Alligator Bride was to create ‘Neal Cassady Rock,’” Miller said. “Which is to say, high energy, good-times adventure music, driving the hippie bus, shirtless and stoned, up for four days straight, and extremely fuzzy around the edges.” The album harkens back to an earlier day of rock ‘n’ roll, akin to the Grateful Dead’s Europe 72, Mountain Bus’ 1974 Sundance and Free’s Fire and Water.
Alligator Bride is very much a live sounding recording and for good reason – the album was tracked over three days by Eric “King Riff” Bauer at the Mansion in San Francisco with songs kept on the first or second tape. The Mansion has been, in some aspects, the breeding ground of the Bay Area psych scene with Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees and Mikal Cronin all recording there.
“I wanted the band to play really naturally. A couple things went into making that expression… I wanted that record to sound like a raw snapshot of a four piece band playing hot right in front of you on the stage… I wanted that to be what the whole record sounded like. The basic expression of what it feels like to see that live hungry band.”
The feel of a live, hungry band was aided by the prep for recording the album. Miller lives in the Bay Area, the rest of the band down in San Diego, so songs were worked out over three weekend sessions. First they’d go through the songs, then rehearse and work on arraignments. Over three weekends of consecutive 12-hour days, the band would see what clicked and what didn’t. “We knew after that first or second time through if the energy was behind it,” adding, “If the energy wasn’t there, we’d move on.”
The album is the band’s first on Miller’s Silver Current Records, who oversees all aspects of the label including recording, design and distribution. Being in one band and running a label seems as if it’d be overwhelming, but it’s just a drop in the bucket for Miller.
“I like creative discovery in the moment of creation,” Miller said, adding, he approaches things the opposite of the Neil Young way of songwriting, which is to let things come to you. “My theory is the opposite of that – if I create with almost every waking moment of my life, I don’t have to wait for it come to me. That’s where it would drive me crazy, like waiting for some cloud in the sky dropping rain songs.”
That isn’t to say, living a super charged creative lifestyle is easy. “It’s hard when you’ve got too many things going… this week came and you’ve got too many things at deadline… on the other hand, I like the reward of having something to do every day that’s creative or putting a creative product out in commerce. I like the pace of it, I think it’s healthy,” Miller stated
He also sees it as an important aspect of being an artist in today’s world. “I do think in this day and age, artists are under accelerated influence,” adding, “my most successful peers keep at it.”
Whether it be with his different projects, both musically or literally, Miller is the consummate artist and with Howlin Rain’s most recently release, he’s brought a rock ‘n’ roll band to all of its glory.
Catch Howlin Rain at The Firefly on Jan. 10 with Garcia People and Bellingham’s Supermissive. Follow the band on social media for updates.