Howlin’ Rain pours on Hermosa Beach
Do you ever get tired of doing the same thing? Ever wish you could just take this job and shove it? Go reinvent yourself and pursue a new direction? And embrace subdued passions that were boiling beneath the surface for too long? The life of the artist may not always afford security, but it does provide this freedom. The boundless opportunity to shift gears, change directions, get into something new, old, or different, and just do what you want. To express and create at will, even on a whim.
In 1965, The Rolling Stones said, “I can’t get no satisfaction,” and they’ve continued to metamorphose over the years to this day. In 2004, while in the Santa Cruz noise-rock band Comets on Fire, Ethan Miller felt dissatisfied too. He wasn’t unhappy with Comets, or their accomplishments (including more than four LPs); the artist just needed to expand, explore, and express in a different way. And so Howlin’ Rain was born.
“The band really sprung out of my desire to just have a holistic musical approach,” says Miller. “I was in a band called Comets on Fire… really loud, nihilist, noise, super bombastic, a-tonal elements, freak outs… It wasn’t the right place for us to investigate elements we do in Howlin’ Rain – harmonies, laid back groovin’ vibes…”
By 2006, the Oakland-based band Howlin’ Rain released their eponymous debut LP. It served as the trailhead for a path laid out by Miller to transpose the influence of his upbringing along the Lost Coast of Humboldt County, California – where hippies shake hands with sasquatch, and Santa Claus is thought to be hiding alongside mermaids and dinosaurs. A more melodic sound manifested, steeped in classic rock.
“I wanted to create just another outlet so I could have a ying and yang experience – a complete musical experience,” says Miller. “It’s kind of a cross of different genres… classic rock elements of the 60s and 70s, cosmic California hippie elements, 60s and early 70s jam elements… all of that kinda combined with, ya know, sort of the whole high energy of high velocity rock and roll stuff… It’s got a little more firepower than what you would call most hippie bands. And I think our live show is definitely a little more firepowered than most.”
With a broad musical appetite, and of all the genres and sub-genres from Japanese noise rock to classic jazz… “All the different things that I truly cherish in my heart that I love,” Miller says that 60s and 70s classic rock n’ roll remains the core of Howlin’ Rain and his most cherished element.
Maintaining that nucleus, Howlin’ Rain’s albums swirl together vibrant mixtures of psychedelia, blues, funk, and folk. And yet, three LPs and two EPs later, MIller concedes that the “complete musical experience” doesn’t end there.
He says as an artist, “You don’t want to get bogged down in one set of aesthetics.” Utilizing a colorful spectrum of influences, Howlin’ Rain has done a good job avoiding mundane repetition as a band; but for Miller, the desires of the individual artist are like a flooded river – whose outlets pervade with the yearning to carve interminably new pathways.
“Of course now, as time goes on, I need a yang to Howlin’ Rain as well… more experimental music over here on this side, play with these guys there… I think it’s just a natural cycle for me.”
By no means has Miller indicated any foreseeable end to Howlin’ Rain, who in fact has gained a considerable degree of attention and success both here and abroad. They’re currently signed to American Recordings (a subset of Columbia Records), which released their newest LP “Russian Wilds” earlier this year. Following a little west coast tour, the band will be hitting the east coast before touring Europe for nearly a month. They’ll return for a west coast run in October.
If you don’t wish to wait until the fall, your chance to experience their live firepower is Friday, July 20 at Saint Rocke in Hermosa Beach, featuring the current lineup of Miller (guitar, lead vocal), Joel Robinow (keys, guitar, vocals), Isaiah Mitchell (guitar, vocals), Cyrus Comiskey (bass), and Raj Ojha (drums).
“These are interesting times for being a band working professionally and making a career,” says Miller while pondering the band’s success. “I think the biggest thing for any band – whether it’s Howlin’ Rain or some new band putting a foot down… Sonic Youth to Bruce Springsteen… the very key is being able to say, ‘We’re still here, we’re still doing this.’ At any level that’s challenging. I’m sure even The Rolling Stones feel there’s a desire to stay out there, stay known, stay current.”
To Miller, survival is the monolithic feat facing any band across the spectrum of fame and success. “At the heart of all this, it’s a human endeavor. Throughout our career and our lifetimes, we rise and fall at the whim of the public mind; and, you know, of our own.”
Howlin’ Rain headlines Saint Rocke in Hermosa Beach July 20 with opening support from BOOM CHICK and Cab 20. Doors at 5 p.m., show at 9 p.m. $15. See www.howlinrain.com. For 24/7 streaming music from the independent music community, including Cab 20, tune in to DirtyHippieRadio.com.