Sound Youth

17 July 2012 | 8:45 am | Benny Doyle

“If we start playing the new songs too long before the next album comes out then we will really want to kill ourselves about nine months into our second album tour."

Twelve months ago, few people had heard of the band Howler, and fewer people would have been expecting them to be crisscrossing the world, playing big festival slots and sell-out headline shows. Gatesmith, the band's 20-year-old lynchpin, however, is not one of those people. Not that he exactly predicted to be headlining The Garage in London, or heading to Japan for the second time. When you sign to a label like Rough Trade though, things start to happen for you.

Ever since the quintet inked a deal with the iconic London imprint mid-last year, momentum has been building at a steady rate, culminating in the release of their debut album America Give Up in January of this year. With wave-driven guitars duelling, drums keeping square rhythms and a slacker drawl delivering thick slabs of loose-lipped attitude, the band have pulled a slew of comparisons to New York City's finest, The Strokes. But the 11 tracks of their first release show more than an act in the shadows. They show a confident band with their feet firmly planted, and a frontman with a healthy cynical streak. Understated confidence is the glue that holds America Give Up together, and it's a virtue Gatesmith isn't short of himself.

“For some reason I felt that I'd be at this point at some stage during my life,” he admits, almost downplaying the envious position the band currently find themselves in. “I've never wanted to do anything else apart from be a musician and tour, but I set up way more hoops for myself, y'know, to do that and do this, because I felt as though I was always going to make it to this point, I just didn't realise how fast it was going to be. I started playing rock music when I was about 14 and by the time I was 15 it was decided, Yep, this is what I want to do'.”

When most American kids their age are using fake IDs to buy liquor, Gatesmith and his gang of raggedy rockers are enjoying their own rider. While the same kids are bumming Lucky Strike cigarettes on the street corner, Howler are lampooning the logo on their album cover. It's this combination of American culture and youthful charisma that the singer thinks has helped establish the band on a global level. “I think it definitely encouraged the attraction,” he agrees. “I will say that we were a little surprised, but by that stage [January] we were fairly used to surprises, just the whole six months before had been a huge surprise for us. But it [the reaction] was definitely a pleasant shock for us and we were glad it was well received.”

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

Although track names like Beach Sluts, Free Drunk and Too Much Blood might give off the vibe of all-night keggers and holiday fun, America Give Up is an album born moreso from necessity and locality. “The songs which were taken from the EP,” Gatesmith drawls, “those were written a little earlier than the rest of the album. Those were created during the summer before Howler was put together and they were simply written as songs to go out and busk with around the city. I'd just take my acoustic guitar and I'd go and busk, and they were specifically written so I could make some spare change – I did pretty good actually. So it kinda started there, but then I wanted to explore some different angles, but it's all definitely been born from growing up in Minneapolis and being a real part of the city in the last few years.”

It's also an album that adds yet another notch to the Twin Cities' musical folklore. Gatesmith talks fondly of the new wave of bands currently breaking out from his hometown scene, conceding that there is an unstated level to uphold. “There's definitely been a few very influential bands that have come from Minneapolis, especially from the '80s,” he says. “I think everyone from the city recognises that, and there is guidelines y'know, as how to act as a band. Right now, there is a really strong push of young bands in Minneapolis. I hadn't seen anything big come out of the city in a while but now we have Howler doing our thing, we have Polica which seems to be taking off, especially in the States right now. There is Night Moves which are signed to Domino [Records], they're pretty cool. So there is a few bands that are doing it; Elite Gymnastics is another one that's kinda blowing up too, so there is a whole new scene of bands that are getting out from here.”

It's been mentioned more than a few times in the press recently that the band are keen to strike while the iron's hot and put out a sophomore long-player soon. Gatesmith confirms this, although his blasé nature regarding the idea does suggest that the plan is still being formulated. “We would like to,” he confirms. “There hasn't been a lot of time, but we have done a few things here and there. I won't say that it's a massive amount of songs yet, but there is definitely stuff that we're working on right now and this summer we do have some time off, so we'll be in the studio doing some stuff.”

Gatesmith continues, explaining that the band are excited about the possibilities of leaving the nest to try new things. “We have a couple of other places where we will be recording. [Obviously] we'll do some work in Minneapolis, I'll be in England doing some recording, and I think we're going to head to New York and do some work as well – it will just be all over the place.” But as far as delivering a scoop on who will be manning the desk for the record, the American remains tight-lipped. “I actually can't disclose who it is but yeah, we're really excited that we've got someone cool.”

An excited air underlines Gatesmith's voice as he discusses the future, but the singer soon pulls it back, his focus firmly on the now. And although he quickly puts the kibosh on hearing any new music, by doing so he makes it clear that Howler are here to stay. “You can't expect the new songs just because we don't want to play the new songs just yet,” he dismisses. “If we start playing the new songs too long before the next album comes out then we will really want to kill ourselves about nine months into our second album tour when we've already played those songs thousands of times. We really just want to start fresh on that second album. But [on this tour] we'll be playing all the America Give Up songs, probably some stuff off our first EP, and maybe we can teach our drummer Brent [Mayes] just what rock'n'roll is.”