|HOWARD’S CRUCIAL AUDIO GEAR
Howard is a Brooklyn band that plays an atmospheric brand of melodic post-rock (although the band, on their Facebook page, refers to it as “Folktronica”), where gentle textural experiments, synths, samples, varying percussive elements and electric guitars blend effortlessly, guided by the mellow tenor of singer songwriter/producer Howard Feibusch. The band has been active since 2009 in various forms, and lately came to the indie rock audience’s attention through single “Money Can’t Buy” (streaming), which early in 2015 gathered more than 2 million plays on Spotify in a matter of weeks. We asked Howard Feibusch a few questions hoping to steal some of his secrets.
What comes first: music or lyrics?
Usually the music although each way has its own advantage. The lyrics can be the slave to the music or vice versa. Depending, it yields different results.
What’s been inspiring your music lately?
Recently I have enjoyed listening to more stripped down music. For a while, everything I was listening to was production heavy. I sort of forgot that chords, melody, and lyrics make a song. More specifically, Serge Gainsbourg and Richard Swift.
Is inspiration some kind of random blessing, or is it possible to set it in motion?
Apparently, the term ‘genius’ stems from a latin word that refers to an external being that gives you ideas. It can be a relief to think about it that way so you can relax and not feel like it’s dependent on you but on something else. That being said, the more times you put yourself in a room, the more chance your genius has to come and visit. It can be difficult, but it’s always good to shed expectations in the embryonic stages of writing.
It can be difficult, but it’s always good to shed expectations in the embryonic stages of writing.
Is there a rational conceptualization behind the band’s sound (i.e. are you purposefully trying to achieve something musically?) or are you just following your musical instincts?
For the most part I follow my instincts, but sometimes your instincts create its own brand and you start to over-conceptualize and try and make your subsequent music sound like your old instincts. It can be difficult, but it’s always good to shed expectations in the embryonic stages of writing.
Is there something you look for when writing lyrics, like, say, catharsis, personal expression, topicality, or positivity?
For the better or worse, I usually just let my mood dictate the lyrics. It’s inconsistent, but during some times of my life it feels very easy to write and some others it feels impossible. I try and stay diligent while just sort of trusting the wind.
- MUSICAL TOYS AND RECORDING
Are there any real instruments, pieces of equipment or musical toys that lately made you rediscover the playful side of creating?
I have been messing around with the Akai MPC 5000. I haven’t used an MPC before and it’s been a ton of fun. It allows me to think about different ways of sequencing audio and is like the ultimate guitar pedal for samples. Also, routing any audio through it can really fatten up sounds.
Has a piece of gear alone ever inspired a song? If so which?
Great Question… There have been many times where software has but I can’t think of a piece of hardware–at least at the beginning stages. I find it fun and easy to create with a computer but, lately, I am trying to rely more on hardware and traditional instruments.
How much of your recording is done at home versus in the studio?
If you use a studio, what do you record there and what do you record by yourself and why?
Drums are the hardest to record and you usually want to use a big studio to track them. I did some of the acoustic guitars at a studio to get a Neumann mic on it.
What piece of equipment you find particularly useful when recording at home?
I like the Apogee Duet because I can just keep it on my desk or even go to a cafe and work. I also use my Roland SP 404 Sampling Workstation to have fun with ideas and samples. It can also be a great arrangement tool if used as such.
What one piece of hardware/software would you most like to add to your recording setup?
I have a very humble setup so I could use a lot. I would like to invest in a set of stereo compressors. Maybe a stereo pair of 1176 limiters.
Do you/your guitarist use rack effects or guitar pedals to forge your own guitar sound? If you do, please list the ones you use the most and let us know why you love them.
Guitar pedals: I have some go tos.I love the distortion sound from the ProCo WhiteFace Rat–very 90’s. The Electro-Harmonix Memory Toy is a great little pedal and I use it more to thicken sounds than a delay. I recently bought a MASF Possessed which makes everything sound glitchy and weird–I am looking forward to re-amping drums through it. The Empress Superdelayis probably the most expensive pedal I own. I’ve had it for years and it’s a delay pedal’s wet dream. Do you have a particular recording style that you aim for?
It all depends on the song. To be honest, I think the recording sound has just as much to do with the aesthetic of the song than the writing. Making something lo-fi, high-fi, big, small, wide, number of instruments, etc… can really change the way it’s listened to. For ‘Mansion’ it was really difficult for me to find the proper recording sound, and I did about 5 or 6 versions with different guitars and microphones. I then decided to use an old four-track cassette machine with a dynamic microphone for the whole song.
What do you find to be the most challenging aspects of the recording process? On the flipside, what aspects are the most rewarding?
Challenge: The “spinning beach ball of death.”
Reward: When you take an idea and spin into something beautiful that you didn’t conceive before you recorded it, it’s one of the best.
Is there a person outside the band that’s been important in perfecting your recorded and/or live sound?
I have had a lot of mentors and great friends over the years that have watched me and taught me. Mitch Chakour was my teacher for a long time and Michael Shapiro is a friend and once manager who watched me develop over many years. My bandmate and co-producer Alex has taught me almost everything I know about recording and mixing.
- THE LIVE SHOW
Would you say that your live show informs your recording process? Or that your recording process informs your live show?
For this album, the record has definitely informed the live show. I think it’s more fun, educational, and out of the box that way.
What equipment do you find particularly useful on stage?I am using a modded Fender Excelsior. It is a cheap low-wattage amp that I have swapped out some of the stock components–specifically the speaker and transistor. It breaks up nicely without being too over-powering.
I also use the SP-404SX to do a lot of the sample triggering from the album.
- BEING A BAND
What in life brought you to the bittersweet world of being in a band?
When I learned to play guitar, I played and practiced by myself exclusively. I remember when I was in high school I ‘started a band’ with some kids from the grade older than me. They were cool and smoked cigarettes while I was shy and quiet. I remember the feeling I had when I finally plugged in with a drummer and bass player. It was SO COOL! Then it began to really come together in college when I formed Orange Television. I was finishing pre-med at the time and even scored well on the entrance exam to med school but stupidly decided I’d rather pursue music and ditched it.
What’s the songwriting/arranging process in the band? To what extent is each band member’s role defined?
I mainly write in isolation. I then show the ideas to Myles (bassist) who gives me confidence and helps me expand them. After it’s somewhat fleshed out, I show it to Chris (drummer) and have him sonically masturbate over it in every style he can, while I record it and edit it all to make sense. Then I give it to Alex (co-producer) who just knows how to make everything sound good. He’ll know if it needs to be built up or broken down before mixing it.
Are bands ever true democracies? What about yours?
Only in the way thats its leader was elected democratically.
How do you guys deal with the inevitable conflict of egos?
We wear pink jumpsuits at rehearsal.
- BEYOND MUSIC
How did your single “Money Can’t Buy” end up getting more than 2 million plays on Spotify?
I’m not really sure. The Spotify gods must enjoy it.
To what extent has this digital love translated into real world love?
It has dramatically increased interest in the band and I hope it serves as a tool to explore the rest of the album. I think every song on ‘Religion’ stands on its own merit.
Are there any vintage formats that you’re interested in pursuing for the band, like, say, vinyl or cassette? If so, why?
We pressed a run of vinyl for the record. I’ve never done that and I am happy with the results. We did some cassettes in my old band, Orange Television. It’s cool but I don’t think they sound very good unless you start with tape and stay with it. The digital to cassette transfer is kind of lame.
With bands doing more of everything themselves these days (recording, performing, self-promoting, etc.) and the evermore multimedia nature of the world, how much effort do you put into the visual component of your band: fashion, styling, photography, graphic/web design, etc.?
I put a lot of thought into our aesthetic. I went to art school so my design background has influenced the web presence of the band. I did different artwork for each single, created the logo, etc…
Any comments about the current state of music and art in NYC?
It’s amazing. I’ve met so many talented and interesting musicians since moving here and I felt it an easy community to become a part of.