Howl at the moon

Minneapolis rockers Howler retain their humility despite international acclaim

by Grant Tillery

If the jumpsuit becomes trendy, garage rockers Howler will be to blame. Their guitarist Ian Nygaard was wearing one last Saturday afternoon at Espresso Royale, and vocalist Jordan Gatesmith copped to owning one as well.

Underneath Nygaard’s jumpsuit was an Alan Jackson T-shirt, and his outfit was finished off with a slick, black pair of Common Projects sneakers.

“I’m full of shit today,” Nygaard said. “I’m wearing so many good things. The back [of the T-shirt] is better because you can see [Jackson’s] butt.”      

Though clothes make the man, they do not define a band (Gatesmith is strongly anti-fashion after a one-off walk down the runway with Saint Laurent). Howler clicks because of an innate chemistry and a telepathic synchronicity between Gatesmith and Nygaard. They often finish each other’s sentences and seem to have the same thought process.

While the band maintains an under-the-radar presence on the local scene, their brand of surf riffs and tongue-in-cheek attitude blew up overseas in 2012.

“[Gatesmith] did an EP and didn’t send it anywhere,” Nygaard said.

A music writer who caught one of Howler’s shows got his hands on a copy and sent it to famous English record label Rough Trade, which promptly signed the band.

“The A&R guy came and saw us at the Hexagon — of all places — and got really drunk with us,” Gatesmith said.

Though most of their success has been in Europe, the local scene has been kind to Howler. The Current invited them to play at the second night of their Birthday Party show in January, and Howler delivered a sweltering set.

“That was our first time debuting the songs [off the new album],” Nygaard said.

That album, “World of Joy,” will be launched at a release party at the Triple Rock on March 20, but it began taking form in the middle of 2013.

“We got off tour at the end of 2012, and we shut ourselves in,” Gatesmith said.

“I didn’t see [Gatesmith] for four months,” Nygaard added.

The band took time to reconnect with their families and attend local shows. After reconvening, they wrote and recorded the album during a six-week span in July and August.

But here was another scrapped album that was written in between this time.

“I had done it by myself in the winter,” Gatesmith said. “I felt it was a silly thing to do, because I have such a good band, and I decided, ‘It’s not time for me to do a solo record. Screw that.’”

Though Howler was signed based on Gatesmith’s diction, he and Nygaard agreed that more interesting material is churned out when the process is collaborative.

Howler says their music is best enjoyed in small venues. Gatesmith and Nygaard said they enjoy the intimacy of house shows, even though one they played in Southeast Como this fall was shut down after one song.

“The reason we do house shows is because a connection is important to make,” Gatesmith said. “Being shopped like rock band products on a massive stage doesn’t feel good to me.”

This desire to embrace and party with the audience allows Howler to demonstrate levelheadedness and a commitment to making music for music’s sake.

This humility manifests in their recording process. Noted alt-rocker Jon Spencer was set to produce “World of Joy,” but Gatesmith worried about using Spencer as a crutch and stunt.

“I had this weird epiphany that I thought it was unfair to use his name to promote our record,” Gatesmith said. “It felt embarrassing to use someone else to make [us] sound more interesting. I feel you have to stick to your own guns.”

Howler stays this way because they don’t see themselves as famous and find their everyday lives quotidian. Nygaard argues that just because Howler has blown up doesn’t make them more special or intriguing than the average Joe, jumpsuits aside.

“Do you know what we do all day? We do nothing,” Nygaard said. “I go eat a taco, and I watch a movie. That’s it.”