Americana Roots: Howlin Rain


Americana Roots highlights the freshest and most original Americana and bluegrass from across the pond in the US.  It covers everything from brand-new, just out of the box bands, to cult favourites, to established acts who have yet to reach the UK’s shores.  Sounding like The Faces let loose on a drunken, cross-country, road-trip through the American heartland on acid is San Francisco’s Howlin Rain, whose live shows are a mind-bending journey with attitude to spare.

Name: Howlin Rain.

For Fans Of: Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Wilco, 13th Floor Elevators.

Hometown: San Francisco, California, USA.

Band Members: Ethan Miller  (vocals, guitar),  Jeff Mcelroy (bass), Dan Cervantes (guitar),  Justin Smith (drums)


Discography:  ‘Howlin Rain’ (2006), ‘Magnificent Fiend’ (2008), ‘Wild Life’ EP (2008), ‘The Good Life’ EP (2010), ‘The Russian Wilds’ (2012), ‘Live Rain’ (2014), ‘Mansion Songs’ (2015), ‘The Alligator Bride’ (2018), ‘Under the Wheels, Vol. 1’ (2019)

Background: Howlin Rain formed in 2004, and is one of a number of bands, including Comets on Fire, Heron Oblivion, Feral Ohms, and The Odyssey Cult, that prolific songwriter Ethan Miller has fronted over the years.  All of Miller’s bands have their own distinct sound and allow Miller ample room and many avenues to craft his exploratory, thoughtful, songwriting.

Howlin Rain is the most straightforward, rock-sounding of Miller’s projects.  They started seeing immediate success in their San Francisco Bay Area home with their countrified, psychedelic, guitar-assault.  A sound and style that evokes Neil Young & Crazy Horse at their ragged best.

Over the next four years Howlin’ Rain released two-full length albums, ‘Howlin Rain’ in 2006 and ‘Magnificent Fiend’ in 2008, along with two EPs, ‘Wild Life’ in 2008 and ‘The Good Life’ in 2010, and were signed to legendary producer Rick Rubin’s American Recordings.

Howlin Rain spent the next four years working on their debut album for the label, writing 150 songs throughout the process at the request of Rubin.  For Miller it was an experience he says, “Altered the course of my life.”  He was on a major label, with a big name producer, and able to quit his day job, but, the time of the band’s signing was at a time that Miller calls “the crumbling of the cliffs of the old major label industry paradigm.” The rocky relationship produced one album, 2012’s ‘The Russian Wilds’.  It was an album that while garnering some positive attention failed to truly capture the true essence of Howlin Rain.  The band saw their relationship with American Recordings come to an end a short while later and left the label.

Following the end of Howlin Rain’s tenure with American Recordings, Miller regrouped Howlin Rain with a new line-up and set out resurrecting the band.  They released a live album, ‘Live Rain’, that served as an exorcism and found the band clearing the decks and getting back to the swirling kaleidoscope of jangly, blues-boogie, southern-rock, guitar that defines their live shows.  Since then the band has rediscovered their soulful, roots, garage-rock howl and crafted two albums 2015’s ‘Mansion Songs’ and their latest 2018’s ‘The Alligator Bride’, that signaled a rebirth.

The release of the live album ‘Under the Wheels Vol. 1’ in August of 2019, and the creation of a planned series of regular live releases aims to capture the improvisational, intensity which is much of who Howlin Rain is as a band.  “My intention with the live series is to open a spigot between the fans and these captured live adventures,” says Miller, “and to leave it open as an ongoing conversation about our spiritual dance together.”

What They Do Live:

About Tim Newby 59 Articles
Author of books, writer of words, enjoyer of good times. Often found with a beer in hand and barefoot at a festival somewhere. Author of 'Bluegrass in Baltimore: The Hard Drivin' Sound & Its Legacy' (2015), 'Leftover Salmon: Thirty Years of Festival! (2019). New book 'Pete Browning: The Life & Troubled Times of a Forgotten Legend' due out in 2023. Follow him on twitter @Tim_Newby9 .
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Paul Kerr

Love the demented solo on this song,