A couple of months ago I went to a local bar to catch a friend’s band play. When the opening band took the stage, the setup was simple — a standard drum kit, a keyboard flanked by the bass player and a guitarist to the left, and the lead singer holding an acoustic guitar standing at center stage. They quickly broke through the silence and low murmurs floating through the bar with a powerful and energetic set. The Howls’ lead singer and main songwriter, John Cooper, wasn’t afraid to pour his heart and soul out on stage for everyone to see, as was evident with every pained expression that would form on his face as he sang — and sometimes screamed.
The Howls is really the perfect name for this band. They’re a mix of folk rock and rock — a sort of Bob Dylan meets Nirvana. The last song they played was a little longer than the rest in their set but clearly, to this writer anyway, one of their best. It started a little slow and quiet but still very emotional. Then it gradually built up until it reached the crescendo when everyone in the band moved and jumped and rocked all over the tiny stage, playing as hard and as loud as they could. John was clutching his guitar spinning around and dancing to the song and then swinging back up to the mic to let out one of the most painful bellows I have ever heard live. Then, all at once, the song ended leaving everyone in the dive silent for a good 10 seconds. I’m pretty sure everyone felt the energy that came from the band that night and especially at the end of that song, which I later found out is called “Shifty Eyes.”
I knew right then I needed to talk to this band and tell everyone else about them. So I got John on the phone the other day and got to know him and The Howls a little better. Turns out, the band has only been together for a little more than a year and the charismatic young singer/guitarist has only been playing guitar for two and a half years or so. “I basically picked up the guitar when I was 17 but never really played it that much. It was about two and half years ago when I really started to sit down and start writing songs with it. I realized that writing songs had really become a great outlet for me emotionally.”
The Howls is made up of singer/guitarist John Cooper, drummer Dave Gargula, and bass/keyboardist Caleb Chial. The band has had considerable success with shows so far and just came off playing the annual Switchfoot Bro-Am surf contest put on each year at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas, which garnered them a whole new slew of fans. “That show was really fun,” John said. “I’ve known the guys from Switchfoot for a long time now and they were gracious enough to invite us to play that show with them.”
John met the guys from Switchfoot in 2004 when he graduated from high school and started working for them as their merch guy and videographer, going out with the band on tour around the country. “It was really an unbelievable experience,” John said. “Here I am 18, 19 years old and I’m sitting on this tour bus with this huge band watching the movie ‘Almost Famous’ and I can remember thinking, wow this is like my story right now!” When asked how that experience readied him at all for his own music career he said, “It was such a unique experience in and of itself that I really took a lot from it. It also really desensitized me to the whole glamour of being a big band and touring because it was like after a while you realize that it’s just a bunch of normal people doing cool stuff. It definitely gave me the drive to go and get it done myself though that’s for sure.”
The Howls just finished wrapping up the recording of their first debut EP, which was all recorded in an old warehouse between the hours of midnight and early dawn hoping to capture some of the unusual energy that comes about during those strange hours. The EP will feature six songs including “Shifty Eyes” and will be released sometime in July or August.
Check out the band later this month at the Leucadian and definitely stop by their MySpace page at www.myspaec.com/thehowlsband or www.thehowls.com for more info on other shows, videos, music, and updates on the CD release and subsequent release party.
Filed Under: Scene and Heard