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A Long Way from Clash: Howl

Ballarat six piece Howl have risen through the ranks from high school cover band to national favourites, with their much deserved Triple J Unearthed High competition win largely thanks to the brilliantly infectious single, Blackout. Basking in the glory of their newfound success with a current tour across the east coast, lead singer and guitarist Michael Belsar spoke to Side Street, Sydney about the hype.

Upon hearing Howl I immediately associated the name with the 1950s Allen Ginsberg poem. Was this at all motivation behind the title?
A friend of ours had told us about the poem when we were trying to think of a fitting name for the band, so yes. Those who have read the piece will understand why it made a lot of sense to us. Those who haven’t should.

In terms of playing live shows in outside of Ballarat, how receptive have audiences been?
Most people outside of home haven’t seen us live as often as those in Ballarat so the biggest responses usually come from the two singles that we’ve just released (Blackout and I Hear It’s Love). We structure our set with either song at the beginning or end. It tends to draw more people in.
At festivals it’s a little different. I couldn’t count the amount of bands I’ve seen at festivals that I’d never heard before, but by the end was screaming for like a die-hard fan. Everyone’s a little more receptive because people go to have fun.

Triple J Unearthed High (Triple J’s annual hunt for Australia’s best high school band) was a rare boost into the music industry. Do you think of your music as being a continuum from that point to this point?
Unearthed was definitely a step forward that got us playing more shows and really gave us the push we needed in terms of creativity and motivation. However I don’t know if people think we’re good because they genuinely think so or because Triple J is telling them that we are.
Playing together for so long as a young band was really beneficial for us and helped us realise who we wanted to be and what we wanted to sound like. We’re pretty close to locking in our sound, although you never know what’s waiting round the corner right?

It seems expected for newer, younger generation bands to record and document everything online. Is this something you believe important?
First of all, what the fuck is Twitter? It seems like Facebook with every feature but status updates taken away. We have a MySpace and a Facebook page but it’s not something we spend incredible amounts of time on. It’s certainly a powerful tool but is not something we’re overly obsessed with and being a six piece it’s easy to not log on for a week and come back to see that someone else has updated the page. Having just turned 18, it’s sadly the only thing I’ve ever really known.
It’s strange… years ago people would go see a show after seeing a flyer on the street but now you can reply to an event invitation online and that’s how you stay up to date.

Do you ever feel like your own perspective on your music differs from your audience's at times?
A lot of the time crowds just come to dance and have a good time; they’re too wasted to care so long as they hear a bass line and an up-tempo drumbeat. Coming from a certain musical background I hear things one way, so I’d like to think our EP is pretty heavy but someone from a metal background would probably think the opposite. That’s the beauty of it; there’s no real right or wrong answer to how you interpret music or art, it just comes down to whether you like it or not.
We didn’t want this EP to sound like a first record. A new band’s first release usually sounds like a compilation of songs written over the time they’ve been together, with no real genre and sometimes no togetherness. We wanted the tracks to have a similar aesthetic but without sounding identical. After hearing DZ we were really inspired by their sound and moved in that direction, although we’d never tell them that.

People tend to form bands for a few set reasons. What were the circumstances of Howl’s formation?
Originally we formed under a different name with different music and fewer members in 2005, and back then it was just about showing off and playing Clash covers to girls in our year. It certainly turned into something that I wouldn’t trade anything for.

The past winter made me consider how much the weather plays a role in forming bands. Do you think you’d be writing the same songs had you formed in The Gold Coast?
Definitely not. The weather here in Ballarat is constantly miserable so I suppose our music mirrors that. A lot of things subconsciously influence music but where you spend your life has a huge impact. You don’t hear many Hawaiian Emo bands now do you?

How do you feel about the attention surrounding Howl? Is it something that you even think about?
We think about it a lot. Winning the competition, we were thrown into the deep end when realistically we weren’t ready, but it ended up becoming our biggest motivation. We’re constantly ‘upping’ our songs and live shows and improving every fragment. When it comes down to it, our live show is what’s most important.

Like we said before, Howl and DZ are breaking hearts across the country as part of their I Hear It’s Blood tour. You can catch both bands in Sydney on tomorrow, Thursday, January 14 at Kit and Kaboodle.

words: Jacinda Fermanis


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