Howie’s new record ‘Mountain’ is out now – it’s the follow up to his solo debut ‘Bright Light Ballads’, which was produced by Ethan Johns and hit #1 on the iTunes singer-songwriter chart. With fans including Noel Gallagher and Bill Ryder-Jones, Howie’s old band The Stands burnt brightly but briefly during their lifespan, spawning a string of five UK top 40 singles and several support slots with Oasis. Mark Millar recently caught up with Howie during his current UK tour to talk about the new record.
Your new album Mountain is out now. How Did it feel good going back into the studio?
Yeah, it was very quick and I kind of like that. The luxury of time when making a record is cool but this whole thing was about six days. I think when you’re doing something like that you just kind of really focus on it and there’s not really much time to think if you are having a good time or not but you know you’re getting things done so that feels good. When you do it really fast it really feels like you’re really making a record so yeah it was good. We went in we locked the doors and six days later we came out and there was a record, so that was fantastic.
Did you go into the recording with any preconceived ideas how Mountain should sound and what you wanted to write about?
Yeah, I knew exactly how I wanted it to sound when I went in because I had kind of thought it through. I knew what kind of record that I wanted to make and I knew the style but more than anything I knew the vibe that I wanted to get and the kind of feel of it and some specifics I wanted to get in. I had like 80% of the songs before I went in and I knew that I wanted to do it live. The rest of it was dictated by the fact that we only had six days so you have to make quick decisions about how you’re doing things. As well you have limited resources, in your head, you might hear strings on something but you cant do that because you don’t have access to that sort of stuff so instead of doing that you will use something that you have got and that often can be better. I think we got what we wanted to get. Sometimes you go into the studio and you don’t quite get what you were going in for but this time I did which was really cool.
Do you approach songs differently when writing for the Stands than you would when writing for your solo work?
No its the same to me. When I was doing the Stands stuff it was only me who was writing the songs and doing the arrangements and everything so it didn’t really change. For me, it was just doing it with different people and a different environment. It only changes because I’ve changed as a person in some ways because of time That’s the only difference really but still I just see everything I’ve done as my body of work since I started and now here I am doing this so no I don’t see any difference in it.
What is your songwriting process?
There are many, many different ways to skin that particular cat. It just depends really. Sometimes I get a flash of an idea and a song comes in one go and that’s great and sometimes I get a bit of an idea that kick starts an idea that you can chip away at for a little while. Sometimes you get good lyrics and you can write a song around it and sometimes you get a good song and you have to write lyrics around it so it can go anyway. The main thing is you just have to get yourself into a space. It’s kind of like that fishing analogy that the songs are out there already and you’re waiting for them to come to you. I don’t feel like I’m making them up I feel like I’m catching it rather than it actually inventing anything.
Does songwriting come easily to you?
Some come easy some not so easy and some you have to work for but it’s only yourself that’s making you work for it because your blocking something from coming to you or you are looking at it the wrong way but I think the more open you can be the less you have to work at it. Its the same with anything such as your relationships in life, If you could be really open with it you’d have no problems but all of us have these things that we put in front of ourselves to make things more complicated than it should be, songwriting is no different.
Why do you think that Liverpool has always produced great songwriters such as yourself Michael Head, John Power, Ian McCulloch and obviously the Beatles, is there something in the air?
I don’t know I guess if I knew id probably try and take it to other places to sell but it is that way. Maybe its cos there is people around and you pick stuff up. There’s a lot of people who are into music there and really obscure records. There are people like that, that exist in every town and city, but there seems to be a lot of people like that in Liverpool. As you’re growing up you get passed a lot of music from people trying to put you on to a lot of stuff. Maybe its something to do with that I don’t know. It’s just a musical town.
You co-manage Scottish band Neon Waltz who recently released their brilliant debut album Strange Hymns. Would you consider writing songs for them or co-writing?
I don’t think they need anyone to do that for them but yes I would write with anyone who I like or that I think would be interesting to write with and they certainly would be because they are great writers. They are already six people that write so that’s a pretty crowded room with a lot of ideas (Laughs). I have worked with them on their music quite intensely. One of my main reasons for getting involved with them was so that nobody pressured them into having other songwriters in there because that is quite a common practice when you get a young band and the label decides it would be a great idea to get a songwriter in with them. It can work and it can be something that creates a hit record but really what it also does is it stops that band from finding their own sound and their own thing. Neon Waltz was doing something that was so interesting I thought it was really important that they followed that path themselves and found there own sound. I think the album shows that I was right and they did find something incredibly unique in what those six people together do. Can you imagine if someone had seen the Quarry Men and the next step was to get Lionel Bart in to write songs with them? McCartney and Lennon would never have developed. You’ve got to find your own way and I think that really important. I think their record will be hailed as a classic, it’s a watershed record.
What was the first record that turned you on to music?
I have an older sister who was really into music and she always played me the music that she listened to and luckily she had really good taste when I was little. I remember that she had a boyfriend who gave me a copy of All Day and All of the Night by the Kinks and said –“you should listen to this record.” and he was right. My parents always sang and played music in the house so there was always music playing in our house such as Billie Holliday and Frank Sinatra. I don’t remember a time when there wasn’t any music and I always loved it. I did have a record that switched me on to playing the guitar, I always fancied making music but I didn’t know how to do it until I heard two songs that were played back to back on the radio one was Rock N Roll by the Velvet Underground and the other one was Eight Miles High by the Byrds. When I heard the lead break in Eight Miles High I thought that was an incredible thing that makes no sense but makes perfect sense and that really made me want to be a guitar player. Other than that it was really Chicago blues I wanted to play when I was growing up. I liked Muddy Waters and things like that.
How do you listen to music nowadays? CD – Vinyl – Download?
I think the idea of Spotify and all the other ones where you can access huge libraries of music is fantastic, I think that’s an amazing gift for everybody. You can have every record you want you can have anything you want to listen to. You can find new music or really old music it doesn’t really matter anymore it all exists at the same time. Something like Hoagy Carmichael or someone is just as relevant now as Ed Sheeran is because they might turn up next to each other on a playlist and I think that’s fantastic its kind of what rock n roll and punk was all about, everything existing at one time.
There shouldn’t be all these barriers to what you listen to based on some shelf in HMV or whatever shop it is, you kind of get sectioned into listening to one thing where streaming is a much more democratic process and I’m really into that. From my own perspective, I really like the format of vinyl from a sonic perspective and I like the tangible aspect of owning a big piece of paper with a big piece of vinyl inside it with pictures and notes and its the perfect size to sit on your knee if you’ve got any hobbies (Laughs). I still buy and collect vinyl, I love that people are buying really good vinyl again and taking the time to make nice pressings of vinyl that play well. I think that really cool. I like people being able to access music without any barriers, you can listen to my music on Spotify or whatever I don’t care if you listen to it on there and if you like it and you want to own some aspect of it or want something to do with it then its the vinyl or CD or whatever your bag is that you can get that or if you’re not into that then you can still have the music. That’s important I think.
What have you been listening to recently that you could recommend?
I’ve been listening to a lot of music but ill tell you a record I really like and its the new Whitney record, its called Light Upon the Lake. There are two really cool songs on it. One called No Woman, its a really good song and the other is called Golden Days. There’s a few on it that I haven’t got my head around yet but those two are really good especially No Woman. I like the last Kurt Vile record it’s really good too.
What do you do when your not making music?
That’s a tough one because I’ve kind of always got the music going on in my head whatever I’m doing. I’m always at some stage of writing a song even if I’m doing something else there’s always a song generally in the background. I do all kinds of things, just life, what everybody does, a bit of gardening or whatever (Laughs) I go to the pub, read books, and watch films, all that sort of stuff.
HOWIE PAYNE ‘MOUNTAIN’ TRACKLIST:
1. Quick as the Moon
2. All of These Things
3. Some Believer Sweet Dreamer
4. The Brightest Star
5. Holding On
6. After Tonight
7. Thoughts on Thoughts
8. Hold Steady the Wire
9. High Times
10. Evangeline (Los Angeles)