I think that the want to do it eventually outweighs the fear of doing it
I felt like Howlite made the kind of music I could imagine playing in an epic party held in a neon-lit cave in the woods (could be just me), and I was really interested in what the band was all about. Alison is the bold and bubbly frontwoman for Howlite, and we met up at Porgie and Mr. Jones‘s for some tea
What kind of music stuff is going on at the moment for Howlite?
So we’re just mixing and mastering our next single which will be out pretty soon!
So exciting! Is it in the similar vain of your latest release?
It’s a bit darker than ‘Reducer’
A lot of your music has a darker undertone
Yeah, we’re always trying to find that line between pop-accessible and the stuff I like to write
And you like to writer darker sorts of music?
Yeah, I gravitate towards that sort of sound- even with what I listen to as well. I find it hard to write happy-sounding music, I feel like it comes across kind of daggy! I think for it to be done well you have to approach it really sincerely and authentically otherwise it can seem really cheesy and lame
In some ways, darker music can prepare the audience to switch their brain on to really listen to the lyrics of a song too
Yeah, I think a lot of people listen to darker music when they want to listen to the lyrical content in a song- sometimes you just want to listen to a happy party song, but darker music can highlight how you might be really feeling underneath all that
So is Howlite more of a band vibe rather than a solo project right?
Yeah, so I write all of the music and the band helps with a lot of the arrangement- it’s very collaborative in that way. When it comes to some of those structural elements like drums and bass I’m happy to get a lot more direction with it, which is something I’ve gotten less precious about over time. It’s kind like understanding when someone has a better idea than you, and just because it’s ‘your’ thing doesn’t mean it’s a perfect creation beyond improvement. It helps people to want to be involved if they’ve had a say in it as well. We all approach the music together, and we make an effort to make it a collaborative project. It helps me to step back a bit and get over the pressure too, it’s just a song at the end of the day!
And it brings out the best things when you work with other people, they can have ideas you would have never imagined
A lot of the time it can be the difference between a song being good, and a song being like holy shit that’s amazing!
You gotta listen to each other and let people have a voice when it’s a project like that
I think music is really like that- I really value the idea of music being a community and having a connection with the people you create with. I think that sort of connection is missing for a lot of people
And music can be so vulnerable, and sometimes it can be hard to let people into that but you kind of need to do it in order to express it the way it needs to come across
It’s taken me a long time to release that. I used to be really mortified to show people that part of myself and I really struggled to work in rehearsals because I wasn’t sure how to communicate with people and tell them what I wanted, but it’s such an important skill to develop
A hard skill for sure
It’s so hard because it’s so personal- it’s like volunteering all your deepest thoughts for people to criticise!
Who’s inspiring you at the moment?
There have been a lot of amazing female singer-songwriters I’ve been listening to- I was a little too young when people like Fiona Apple and Tori Amos were really popular, and I feel like I’m rediscovering them for myself now. People like Joanna Newson and Laura Marling–
Love Laura Marling!
I would really embarrass myself if I ever had the chance to meet her! I read in an article that she was teaching yoga in LA for a while- could you imagine walking into a studio, and your yoga instructor was Laura Marling? I wouldn’t know how to handle that!
Her songs are always a reference for my writing for sure
She has this way of writing exactly what I want to say in my own music which kind of forces me to raise the bar and create something different
I feel like I often get trapped into feeling like everything I do needs to be totally original and brand-new, especially when I hear music from amazing writers that have really influenced my writing style too. It’s all these stupid walls we create to make things harder for ourselves
Yeah and you have to recognise your intentions in what you write, otherwise I’ll just have to start a Laura Marling tribute band!
Do you find yourself getting stuck with elements of the writing process?
I go through phases where I’ll write stacks of shit, and then nothing at all, and there’s always a bit of panic when you’re not writing
I can’t write anymore!
Exactly! You can sit there and think I have nothing to say… maybe I should fuck with my life a bit
Let’s stir some shit up
I think part of that comes with where you’re at in life sometimes, a lot of my writing happened when I was in the tumultuous years of my teens- I don’t really want to write about saving up for a house at the moment! But it can encourage you to draw inspiration from new places, what books am I reading? What else is going on in life? I can’t always rely on myself being a piece of shit to inspire me to write!
And songwriting is so open with the option of writing about so many different things
And it can be so fun to challenge yourself to write about things that you may have never thought could be a topic for a song!
The first EP has a strong folk feel to it, but ‘Storm Chaser’ is a lot funkier, I thought is this the same band! What’s evolved over the course of your music?
With that first EP I had written all these songs on guitar or piano- way before I knew how to use Ableton or anything on a computer- and I would be solo most of the time. I think I just didn’t really have a sound. I was getting tired of performing one-woman folk music because I felt kind of lonely being on my own and singing about really deep shit every performance, it was pretty emotionally taxing. So I had these songs and I just knew I needed some help with the direction. I think at the time I was listening to a lot of Daughter– a real echo-y, ethereal, sad pop. I think my music has been evolving further and further away from folk, and heading towards a more pop sound. I’m inspired by people like London Grammar, and using really interesting lead vocals and cool arrangements. When I was performing alone, my default was to use lots of finger picking and have lots of lyrics, and have basically no space in the song. Playing with a band has helped me calm down a bit- I don’t need 15 verses every song and that’s okay!
You can let the song settle instead
Yeah, and not get caught up in yourself, like maybe that lyric isn’t as great as you think it is… and you don’t need 15 verses to say one thing. More is not always better
It’s easy to get carried away
And I think I have the tendency to want to put all this stuff on to hide the song in a way, and keep it all sounding busy and like a wall of sound! Orchestra and choir!
And we don’t get a first impression of our songs, we hear them and we think it needs another harmony, it needs another guitar melody
More! More! And you gotta actually ask yourself if it’s necessary. When you keep piling on, it’s hard to think objectively because you can lose sight of how the song was even meant to sound. You create doubt in the song when you keep trying to add things, and you need to kind of step back and figure out that the problem might be structural
So ‘Reducer’ is the newest track, and it’s such a bop! I love the guitar chugging that drives the song, feel’s very romantic 50’s almost
Yeah that sound was developed with the band and a producer, and we had a lot of ideas that went back and forth between us all, and it felt very collaborative
What was the main thing you wanted to communicate with the song?
I’m really bad at writing pop songs, and I find it really hard to verbalise some of those more romantic feelings, so this song was my attempt at creating something romantic and warm and safe. It’s about that person who becomes an anxiety reducer, and as someone with social anxiety, having someone there who can be there with you in the room-
It can make all the difference
Exactly! That person who is your rock and your constant. It wasn’t going to be the single, and in some ways it was kind of thrown together- the song was planned to be on the next EP. We were playing with really simple ideas and chords with a big focus on the melody
If someone was going to listen and walk away with something, what would it be?
I really like music that feels pretty and leaves you feeling warm, and gives you little moments that stick out and you remember later in the day. I would love for this song to give people that feeling. I think Florence And The Machine do that really well, there’s something really tribal that connects with you on a deeper level that’s hard to explain
Passes your barriers a bit
And you like it on a really intrinsic level. It’s always my goal when writing music to give people that emotion. I think a lot of choral work can give you that, and to be apart of it can give you chills. I think everyone should sing and maybe even have the chance to be in a choir, you feel so good being apart of something like that, it’s like yoga!
Something about hitting a good harmony with a group of people
It’s like woaah!! I feel like so many people would be less stressed and scared of people if they got that chance to be in that sort of environment
Do you feel like ‘Reducer’ is the sonic direction you want to head in to
I think my personal preference is a lot of unusual progressions and being a bit Bjork or Fiona Apple, and there’s so much cool stuff out there to experiment with, and I’m trying to balance that while also making something people want to actually listen to. The direction will be variations of what ‘Reducer’ has sonically, but I think we’ve matured as a band and the sound is going to represent that in some ways
It’s hard to balance the need for people to understand and want to listen, and the ability for a song to represent what you want
I get sucked into the idea with writing pop that it needs to be simple and only four chords, and you don’t want to push it too much
The same-four-chords is definitely not what you guys have been doing!
For me, the progressions need to be emotive, and have a landing point that makes you feel really good. I don’t have formal music training, and I tend to try and work really intuitively with where the chords are going. Sometimes that can make it harder because you get stuck and don’t know where to go, but a lot of the time it’s kind of freeing to feel like you can go anywhere
I think having a strong intuition can bypass the need to know everything about music theory, you know what the feeling needs to be
Kind of like being a painter, if you can be intuitive about the colours you want to use you can create something that’s beautiful to you. Music is one of the professions where you don’t have to do it by the book, and you can really figure it out as you go
So I don’t know how to say this one…Reki?vik?
Oh ‘Reykjavik’! That was one of those songs that I never expected I’d release it, so I never bothered to change the name! It’s the capital city of Iceland, and I went there in 2015 with my sister. I’ve always been really interested in Scandinavia, and Reykjavik is in the arctic circle so there are a few months of the year where the sun doesn’t dip below the horizon, and a few months where it doesn’t rise- I think it’s so interesting that people can live there! At the time of writing the song, I was going through cycles of depression, and this concept felt like a real link to the feeling of being functioning and productive and trying to do as much as you can before the sun sets again. I wrote this song a long time ago but I still like the idea of it and I still value the metaphor
If you still like it then that’s huge! So much stuff we make can feel cringe worthy after a few years
Hundred percent! And it’s always a surprise to see what songs people connect with, I never thought it was strong enough to be released, but people really like when we do that one live
What’s the mindset you get into when you’re performing with your band?
It’s changed a lot from when I first started. I was a really shy kid growing up, and it’s taken a long time to feel comfortable on stage- I think that the want to do it eventually outweighs the fear of doing it. I’ve had moments where I find it really hard to talk to the audience and do it in a way that feels authentic. This year we have been experimenting more with what to do in the live shows- for example I love when Florence And The Machine have such high energy but I don’t know if that’s right for Howlite. I’m realising I’m not the kind of front woman who can jump around, and we don’t write the kind of music where you necessarily want to jump around. I want to perform and talk to the audience normally, and that feels right for me. For a while I was obsessed for a while with having a character- a David Bowie, St Vincent kind of thing- and I do love that aspect of music but I don’t think it suits what I want to be doing
I think so highly of the musicians that can really pull that off, it’s so amazing
Oh absolutely! People like Lorde and Florence, it’s unreal. I do like the idea of distancing your identity from the music a bit, and becoming a character and wearing cool fluffy dresses and amazing things because it’s so fun! But I think it became a thing of serving myself instead of the music- it was just me having a dress up and escaping myself for a minute, it wasn’t serving the performance. That was a shitty thing for me to realise, especially because I have all these amazing vintage dresses! I think it was a good thing for me to realise, I needed to stop trying to be someone I know I’m not
We get caught up in trying to be more ‘interesting’ with that kind of thing and it ends up not really representing who we really are in some ways
I think people like Sia and Lady Gaga have such cool branding and it really makes you want to be apart of something like that! But it might not be who you are and what your music is. I think it takes a lot of strength and maturing to realise that about yourself, and realise you might be misrepresenting yourself. In some ways you can have a bit of fear to just be yourself because you think people won’t like you if it’s just the music
‘Are you sure you guys want to watch me sing!! Do you actually like this music?!’
‘I should have worn a costume I’m sorry!’
What do you think is your ideal performance space?
I think maybe a cottage out in the woods or something, something quiet and reserved- little haunted. An old run-down mansion would be cool- something that needs a really long extension cord
What has song writing taught you about yourself?
When I was younger I really struggled to openly communicate with people. I was so shy and I would talk too fast or eat my words, and I found that when I wrote them down and ordered my thoughts a bit then things felt clearer. I think struggling with anxiety and depression kind of required me to find this sort of outlet, and I was able to teach myself to really understand how I was really feeling
Confront your own emotions
And see them as valid! And see them as destructive sometimes- knowing when maybe I hadn’t been a totally A+ human to the people around me. I wrote a lot of angry songs in my teens, and I feel like I learnt how to react a bit better to these situations in real life, and analyse my behaviour. It’s self-reflection, same as journaling! It’s my mindfulness
Isn’t it crazy that someone can listen and say oh that helped me
Amazing! That would be the hugest compliment. I know a lot songwriters have really helped me with that they’ve said in their songs. To be able to help someone else is all you can ask for with art, especially with music
When it comes to writing vulnerable songs, do you feel like you hesitate before releasing them?
Yes I’d say so, that was partly why I moved away from doing the folk stuff. I was writing a lot of folk music amidst some really dark and raw emotions, and I realised it wasn’t actually enjoyable to listen to…
People don’t need to hear this!
Exactly! And I listen to people like Julian Baker and wonder how the fuck do you get up every night and sing that! Pheobe Bridgers as well like damn dude! To tear your soul out every night and re-live your pain
I guess you get desensitised to it
Yeah kind of like exposure therapy. I still write those songs but I don’t feel like I need to share them with anyone
And we gotta remember that music exists so serve ourselves too, you don’t need to sell it if you don’t want to
It’s hard to view music as an emotional output when you worry about how it can be marketed when sometimes those songs were never meant to exist in that realm
What do you want to stand for as a musician?
Being a musician is an extension of me as a person, and I really want to encourage people to be good to each other. I want to do my thing and hopefully make someone’s day better, and in some ways I’m totally aware of the insignificance of this project so all I can ask for is that my music can be a good thing in this world
And giving people a space to feel things is a good thing to be in the world
Creating somewhere where it’s okay for people to sit with their emotions and feel what they need to feel, and be more self-aware. People can be quick to shut up and not deal with them selves, and that’s been something that I’ve had to un-learn. It’s important to realise that to feel things is part of the process, and things won’t change for you and get better until you do that step
You can find Howlite through their socials below,