Howliní Rain is a San Francisco band that
formed in 2004, when Ethan Miller began
searching for a more melodic sound and the
ability to express a handful of influences
gained while growing up on the ďLost Coast.Ē
Miller, then a member of Comets on Fire,
recruited a high school band-mate and a
drummer and a new band and HowlinĎ Rain was
born. Several albums and frequent lineup
changes later, Miller has returned with
HowlinĎ Rain's latest record, ďRussian
current lineup is Ethan Miller, Joel
Robinow, Rai Ojha, Cyrus Cominsky and Isaiah
Mitchell. "Russian Wilds" drops February
14th and recently we had the opportunity to
interview Miller and discuss the new album
and music in general.
on the new record, "Russian Wilds." Itís due
out on Valentine's Day, February 14th and
Iíve had a chance to listen to some of the
MP3s. Youíve put together a diverse and
interesting record, why donít you tell me a
little about it?
EM: Iím pretty happy
to have completed it. Itís been a long
creative process and weíre done with the
first step, itís complete. The next step is
the release and weíre still working all of
DB: Yes, you are to
the nail biting stage-- waiting for the
EM: I feel pretty
good about it. Actually it just feels good
to have it done. The rest of the process
should be fun.
DB: So tell me a
little bit about the record. How long did it
take? Where did you record?
EM: I basically
started writing this album while touring on
the last record. Out last album,
ďMagnificent Fiend,ď was released in March
of 2008. We toured for about a year and, in
between tours, when at home, I started to
write songs for "Russian Wilds." So you
could say the journey started four years
ago. I started accumulating demos, but the
band didnít start working on any of the
tracks until we got off the road and then
got serious in 2009. So the actual process
of the record: band rehearsals,
preproduction, going back and forth with
Rick [Rubin, record producer and the
co-president of Columbia Records] on song
selection, arrangements and finally the
recording process all took about two years.
Itís an awful long time to work on a single
project in this accelerated modern era.
DB: Absolutely! How
many songs did you actually end up writing?
EM: I donít know.
Iím not sure how many I personally wrote.
Between full songs and fragments and songs
that I reworked, that could be somewhere in
the 40-50 range. In the end, we took a demo
of 25 or 30 songs to Rick for him to choose
from for the record. And that was after we
boiled down a whole bunch of material for
past years. Youíve got to imagine, I know
that youíve listened to "Russian Wilds,"
some of these songs are nine minutes long.
So listening to 25 songs and trying to make
selections for an album can be daunting.
DB: Youíve already
mentioned the remarkable Rick Rubin. How
much of a hand did Rubin have in making
"Russian Wilds"? I know he signed you, but
heís not listed as the producer of the
EM: I think itís
fair to say that he executive produced it.
He worked closely with Neil on the
pre-production stuff. He had a hand in
everything we did right up to entering the
studio. We went into the studio with Tim
Greene and he took up the producer role once
we started recording.
DB: I didnít see a
name associated with producer and was
curious how that all worked. So Greene was
EM: Yeah, Tim
Greene. Heís the guy weíve worked with all
along. He did our last couple records.
DB: OK, so heís
obviously somebody that you are completely
comfortable working with. Heís a familiar
hand and knowledgeable of how you work.
Greene and I have a very effortless working
relationship, especially on detail work. He
likes to get into the details and go through
them and thatís nice. He makes a nice foil
for Rick, who likes to work on the macro
stuff, although we did get him into some
detail elements in the pre-production.
Greene doesnít mind going into the studio
and filling it with 10 hours of snare
sounds. Weíre both into that and itís an
important part of making a record. You want
someone who can resolve small problems in
the beginning before they turn into
something big. After 10 years of working
together on records, there is a great
communication between us without having to
say a whole lot.
DB: I will share
with you that Iím not familiar with your
past work. This album is the first that Iíve
come across Howliní Rain, so it was
important to me to complete due diligence,
to listen to "Russian Wilds" in its entirety
and vet the interview process. This album,
like all others, has obvious musical
influences. Itís always been interesting to
me to ask if celebrating those influences
was an intent, a tip of the hat if you will,
or just something that occurs naturally
during the writing and recording process.
EM: I donít think
anything that you hear, anywhere, with the
exception of people making music in caveman
times, is a band just being a band. Everyone
has been influenced. The most original
artists of all times, if you want to claim
them to be the Beatles or Hendrix, were all
highly influenced. Some of the most
successful aspects of their music is the
regurgitation or the re-imagining of someone
elseís previous work. Some bands like to
list their influences, while other bands try
to play it more cagey and pretend that Jesus
just gave them their great gift and they are
the only original. But guess what? Itís all
the same. You can try to block outside
stimulus, but youíre still a product of your
environment. If you try to turn yourself off
to modern pop or rock music, youíll find
yourself influenced by advertisement jingles
and ring tones. Itís already inside of you
and, if youíre not careful, those fucking
ring tones will start coming out!
DB: God, letís hope
EM: How many times
have you had something stuck in your head
and you canít figure it out? Youíre like,
"What is that?" As musicians we tend to say,
"Hey I got this new riff and I donít know
what it is. Maybe itís a organ riff or
something, but itís really cool." Later on
you figure out that itís a vocal line from
some Madonna thing! You canít throw
I think that
sometimes having a sense of the music you
love and then trying to give it a
re-imagining is the answer. Iím not talking
about stealing the riffs or any of those
things. Weíre all just passing along a never
ending river of sound.
So to answer your
original question, I also like to pretend
that I am the one true original! I like to
believe that in my best moments, the
universe has just given me divine
inspiration! In actuality, we may strive for
originality, but what we succeed at is
DB: I will support
your answer by sharing that I am also a
musician. Iím 50 and I occasionally have the
fortune to jam with my youngest son. And in
the throws of our musical passion, I may
suddenly kick out a riff that my son will
later comment was the coolest thing that
heís ever heard. Naturally Iím flattered,
but if Iím being honest, it was just "Cat
Scratch Fever"! So perhaps itís to our
advantage that the world's musical memory is
EM: Sometimes itís
just a minor embellishment that causes
something new and original. I donít know.
There are only so many notes, tones and
scales. The core elements of music are very
simplistic, but lend themselves to very
complex arrangements. Really, what it comes
down to is how sincerely you voice those
ideas. Iím here to tell you that you canít
play a new note!
DB: There are a
couple songs on the new record, ďSelf Made
ManĒ and ďBeneath Wild Wings,Ē that stand
out, if for no other reason, for being so
different. ďSelf Made ManĒ is psychedelic
with a Lenny Kravitz feel and maybe some
Black Crows thrown in, while ďBeneath Wild
WingsĒ very much reminds me of Crosby,
Stills and Nash. The influences on these two
songs are so diverse. How did they come to
be on the same album?
EM: This kind of
comes back to the more simplistic answer to
the question before. Those songs come from a
powerful emotional and honest place. With
a two-year writing cycle, they were written
at very different times.
DB: And to be
completely fair, Iím not suggesting that you
pocketed somebody elseís music. For most,
influences can be as simple as an artist
playing a couple chords in the same sequence
or with the same tonal quality as anyone
else. Our minds hear this, intended or
otherwise, make note.
EM: Those two songs
got onto our record because we liked them.
As a band, we are constantly searching and
discovering new things. Perhaps if we hadnít
written so many tunes and had such a wide
selection to chose from the songs would be
more closely relatable. I think that the
sonics of this album has produced a certain
feel. Itís a journey to listen to ďRussian
Wilds,ď where the album starts is not where
it ends. In many cases these songs are
mini-epics, they go through different
places, they may start slowly and then go
into jams or big codas. Itís all supposed to
pull together as a real journey for the
DB: Well Ethan,
those are all of my questions, is there
anything else that you wish to discuss?
EM: Sure, buy
"Russian Wilds" when it comes out and come
see us play!
I want to thank
Ethan for having the time to speak with us.
Heís a complex and interesting man, which is
very reflective in his music. Buy "Russian
Wilds," you wonít be disappointed.