Bobhowla have been something of a slow burn, but they’re lighting fires right now as new single Midnight Fears proves. We have an exclusive preview and a chat with the band about their Blues Brothers type renaissance.
Southport’s hidden gem is breaking cover. Bobhowla have spent the last couple of years getting an album into shape and are now ready to let us hear what it sounds like with new single, Midnight Fears.
We have an exclusive pre-release ahead of the official launch on Friday 18 September. You can hear it from the link below and be ahead of the game.
The album, Everything’s Wrong, But It’s Alright is due for release in October and is set to be a psych fest of a cracker. It’s, perhaps a benefit of lockdown that we will see it’s release sooner, rather than later.
That has to be a good thing.
So we had a chat with Howard, John and Graham from the band.
As always, we kick off with:
P3dro: Where are you and what are you doing?
John : I’ve just literally finished clearing the porch out. We’re about to move house. I’m in the spare bedroom at the moment, which is my makeshift office / music space.
Graham: Sadly, I don’t have the same excuse for the mess in my office / music space. So, I’m up in the attic, slaving over a hot computer for most of the day, today. This is a nice break, actually.
Howard: All I’ve done today is drive back from [my partner’s place]. I got into town to find out that Rimmers was closed, so I couldn’t buy my guitar strings. But I’m back home now and the cat’s seen me for the first time in about 8 days. So, she’s happy.
Oh, and as well, we’re getting the final mixes for the album in dribs and drabs coming through from the producer, about one a day at the moment, so I had another one today. So, it’s very exciting times.
John: Yeah, I’ve just listened to it. Enjoyed it.
Graham: I was the same – just wandering around the house with my ear buds in. It sounds good.
Howard: So, that’s how we’re all rolling with the band at the moment, waiting for the daily tracks to drop.
P3dro: Give us a little potted history of the band – you’ve been around for a while, haven’t you?
Howard: OK, it started with me doing a kind of solo thing for a long, long, time. Doing early demos and playing the usual bars around Liverpool – just doing 3 songs [on open mic nights]. That then progressed to doing gigs at places like The Zanzibar, The View Two Gallery on Mathew Street.
I used to run a monthly acoustic night there, as well and used that platform to do a few songs to open up most nights, so that kept me playing live as well. Then I had a couple of albums worth of material, although the last one was about 11 years ago now, so it was about time we moved things forward.
Then about two years ago I had a bit of motivation and a push from a friend to go and do some recordings – that’s where the last single came from and it spiralled from there. Can we get a band together? Can we do a single launch? Is there more traction to do some recording as a band? And it’s slowly snowballed out of that to where we are now.
P3dro: The last single was Sail Down The Water?
Howard: Yeah, that’s the one. It’s been a while since we put that out. But there was the intention to build on us playing live and that went hand in hand with getting an album’s worth of material recorded together as a band. So, that’s what we’re looking at for the next few weeks.
John: I think I got collared by Graham. He asked me [to join the band]
Graham: Yeah. It was quite weird. Howard came round to talk about Sail Down The Water and the artwork. About 10 years ago I did the photography for your previous album, so we were talking about the artwork, but then we started talking about getting the live band together. Did I know anybody who could join on bass. So, yeah, I was very pleased to be able to talk to John. I just remember being blown away by the sound.
P3dro: You sound almost a bit like the Blues Brothers trying to get the band back together.
Graham: Ha! It does. Love it!
Howard: Where are my sun glasses? And my hat. I need that too.
I must say, though, Peter, from what Graham just said about our conversation – I can picture it, still, sat in the kitchen, getting the laptop up so I could play the song. It was a case from there that it came together very organically. Graham’s input was a massive part of that. In the past I’ve found it such a ball ache to get a band together, so this was a wild pipe dream that it would come together. But luckily [it did]. And it’s kept evolving.
Graham: And to go on with the Blues Brothers thing. Although I was playing in a band with John at the time. I’d also bumped into Al [ the drummer] in the last 6 or 8 months before – I’d played with him 15 years ago, but we hadn’t met since. And then [Howard] said he needed a drummer.
P3dro: So, you have Midnight Fears coming out and I’m aware you’ve been in Edinburgh recording the album. But let’s throw this one out there – Singles v Albums. Discuss.
John: Ha! That’s a really good question. It’s difficult because the music industry at the moment is singles focused – short and snappy. For example Pink Floyd and Tool resisted going on streaming services, because they wanted their albums to be complete pieces. Until they realised they could make money.
I like the idea of an album, because I like the idea of a coherent whole as a showcase or a snapshot of that band at that time. But I’m also very aware that singles are almost King at the moment. [However] you don’t really see a single release as a big thing anymore. You don’t get the hype. But, then I like old bands, so …
Graham: You get those surprise drops that come out without telling anybody and they just suddenly appear overnight. I’m very much in the album camp because I like the shapes and the form of it, but at the same time I love walking around with my phone and just being able to dab into things, use Shazam for something I’ve heard on the radio, or let my phone just play in the car at random. … There will always be that group of passionate album type people. Just as there will be those who are only ever interested in a single because that’s their thing.
P3dro: It’s an interesting one and I don’t think there’s a right answer. Some bands will say singles are definitely the way to go because that’s what you put on a Spotify playlist. But other bands [eg Sunstack Jones] will say they’re a definite album band, they want to have vinyl they can send out in the post, or sell at gigs. Others are trying to get 4 songs together to put out an EP.
John: I think the EP is on the rise. I’m seeing more bands releasing EPs.
Howard: I’m not sure the EP ever went away. It’s always been there to serve that niche in the market. If I think back to the last EPs I’ve seen come out from bands I like in the last 5 years it was kind of done in between albums or to throw some new concepts together. The EP still has a purpose, although they’re few and far between.
Graham: The single is your advertising. People will hear that and some will choose to follow further. If I hear a song on the radio I like, then I’ll look some further to see if it was a one off, or if there is something else to hear. Then I’ll get excited about the album. But if the single isn’t out there in the first place, you wouldn’t particularly know about that band, so, they’re vital still. But I still think there needs to be a character to latch onto, so that’s me: the album.
P3dro: Yeah, we’re with you on that and we’d tend to agree. But then we’re probably all about the same age.
Howard: They both still play a part and they both still have a very big place to play in the marketing of the band and its presentation. I don’t think either of them will go away any time soon, regardless of what format.
P3dro: So, the album was recorded in Edinburgh.
John: Yeah. With good old Rod, one of my guitar heroes. Rod Jones from Idlewild produced the album. I’m a massive fan. Is that common knowledge, Howard?
Howard: Well it will be when this interview goes out.
John: I had to keep my inner fanboy down a bit, sitting in the studio and playing the guitars I’d seen on countless live shows. But it was great. We did it in two stages because of availability. Graham went up first and then I went up to track the guitars. Then Howard went up again, so it was really weird …
Howard: It’s all been a complete patchwork coming together. I did a few ideas before John and Graham went up, we worked on those, massaged those and they added their bits, so the whole thing has been a long journey. It wasn’t a case of the band going into the studio and nailing it down in two weeks. It was a couple of days here and a weekend there and just keep going until it was finished. But it worked well.
Graham: And then there was the lockdown in the middle of it. So there was a big gap after the bass and the drums had been put down before the vocals could be sorted.
P3dro: Is there a release date for the album?
Howard: It’s looking like 30 October.
P3dro: What about gigs?
Howard: Well, obviously, the situation at the moment doesn’t really paint a rosy picture. But, I suppose I can let you know we will do an album launch of sorts. It’s possibly going to be February, but we’re not going to make any big shake about that until we know the date might happen and then get New Year out of the way. I’m not convinced even the February date’s going to work. We can get the date in the diary, but we all have to be realistic. Maybe push it back to March, May. Who knows?
I know there have been a couple of gigs over the last couple of weeks, but I don’t think I’d be comfortable doing it. Even if a venue would be happy to put it on, I just don’t think it’s worth it at the moment. It’s not worth all the effort and the energy putting that together for an album launch. And I don’t think a lot of people would come along.
P3dro: Those gigs that have been running have been limited to, say 30 or 40 people, all seated and you’re not that kind of band.
Howard: I can’t really see it being worth the hassle. It would end up being very stripped down. It wouldn’t do the album justice. If you’re going to launch something, then you want it to be your big showcase, really. And that happens when you have a room full of people, the excitement, the heat – that’s what creates the night. If you try and do something limited with 30 seated people – Nah. You may as well go and play at the [Sefton Park] bandstand.
P3dro: Well, there is that option, we suppose.
Graham: It might be a good shout, that. Actually.
Howard: Or the Palm House?
John: If you hit a snare in the Palm House, it’s like being back in the 80s. It goes on for ever.
Howard: Who knows. We will give the album a decent launch at some point.
John: I think it’s been good we’ve been able to create music through this anyway, regardless of the pandemic. OK, we had to wait a bit longer, but we’ve managed to put something out that may not have happened [otherwise]. We’ve managed to do something, make some music, be creative, even though this has all been going on.
Graham: I think that’s massive. To keep hearing the mixes that have been coming through has extended the excitement for us, even if nobody else.
Howard: The lockdown is probably the reason the album is coming out this side of Christmas, because when we first started having the discussions and recording an album’s worth of material, I’d kind of envisioned we’d wait until after Christmas, maybe do a single around about this time and then the album would have been a February / March affair, but the lockdown and the frustrations we have had and the recording experiences kind of kiboshed that and then put it back together, along with the fact we’ve seen a few other people put stuff out. Then we just thought “Sod it”, if Taylor Swift can bang out an album, announce it the day before, then there’s no reason why we can’t do it. So, for me lockdown has been a personal drive to get it done and get it out before Christmas.
And because the live thing is out of the equation, we now have to focus on what we have got. So, I just ranted at these two and said “It’s coming out”. But there was no mutiny in the ranks.
P3dro: It’s been nearly six months since things closed down and a lot of people are saying “Fuck it”, lets just get things out there
Graham: Yeah. I think you want to draw a line and get it out and say: “This is is where it’s at”. And then, actually that frees you to start looking at new stuff as well. I know that’s jumping ahead, because the album isn’t even out yet. A launch would be great, but if we can’t do that then we can’t do that. But we can look further ahead. It clears your brain. The creative element needs to keep moving.
Howard: It would be be nice next year to think that we could play more. As a live concept, we’re only in our infancy in this format. It would be nice to get more gigs under our belts. I think we all share that desire to get to that stage. Hopefully, the album will propel that and then when things get back to some sort of normality, the album will have done its job.
P3dro: Now, what I need from each of you is to recommend a band or an album that you think we should be listening to right now.
Graham: Ha! That’s not easy.
Howard: I’ll go first. The big thing on my rotation is the new album by The Secret Machines. They’ve been dormant for quite some time and this album’s been a long time coming. Compared to some of their other stuff, it’s almost mellow. It’s almost like they put it out because they felt comfortable doing it rather than a need or a pressure. Nothing much was expected from them. It was a surprise announcement.
P3dro: I tend to agree. It doesn’t quite have the punch of their earlier work, but it’s definitely a Secret Machines album.
Howard: A lot of bands emerge with punch. It’s like that youthful vigour they have, but as they get older, they mellow and the sound mellows, but you go along with their journey. So, this album is where I would expect them to be. It sounds authentic to me.
P3dro: That’s a massive pick for me. I love their prog thing – their 10 minute songs and the way they let them breathe.
John: I’ve been obsessed with an album from 2013 by an artist called Rosie Thomas called These Friends Of Mine. It’s a weird album, because it was recorded over two years with Sufjan Stevens. It sounds like they’ve just thrown it together. It’s a lovely album because it’s really stripped back. Acoustic guitar and vocal harmony. I love that kind of thing.
Graham: I’m gonna cheat, because I have two. Man of Moon. Their drummer played on our last single. The other one is a sneak back to XTC. I loved them years ago.