Interview: Ian Craft of The Howlin’ Brothers

Formed in 2005, The Howlin’ Brothers are a 3 piece ole’ time bluegrass and country band based in Nashville, Tennessee. They consist of Jared Green who sings lead vocal and plays acoustic guitar, Dan Swan plays upright bass and Ian Craft who sings lead vocal and plays fiddle, mandolin, banjo and the bass drum. My friendship with The Howlin’ Brothers began during their first U.K tour in October 2014, when they were put up by my Dad and a friend of ours for a few nights whilst they played shows in and around my hometown of Wrexham.  I was lucky enough to set up an interview with Ian Craft after he had just finished playing fiddle for 4 hours at Layla’s on Nashville’s Honky Tonk Highway.

You’ve only toured in the UK once before correct?
We’ve done 3 now in Europe. We’ve toured around Europe 3 times and have toured through the UK one time.

So you’re probably not the biggest household name in the UK, would you mind giving me a brief overview of the history of The Howlin’ Brothers for anybody who may not have heard of you?
Myself and Jared Green (guitarist) went to college together back in New York. We were both studying music. He was studying to become a recording engineer and played guitar, jazz and classical and I played percussion in school. We ended up getting together and he taught me folk music on the guitar. We decided in about 2005 to move down to Nashville together and that’s when we started The Howlin’ Brothers. We’ve been going at it ever since. Just chipping away.

Throughout the years of the band, there’s been a couple of different line ups – yourself and Jared have been the real main-stayers, however you’ve been through a number of different bass players, is that correct?
Yes, we did a record with a bass player called Jake Cox back in 2010 and then there was the Ben Plasse era for about 3 years after that and we also did a record with JT Huskey , who also played with us for about 3 years, he went off and did other things for about 6 years or something and then he just recently came back about 2 years ago and toured with us for about 2 more years and now we have a guy called Dan Swann.

Have the different bass players affected your song-writing?
Not so much, but they have changed the sound, the record with Jake Cox was much more bluesy, and the records with Ben Plasse (‘Howl’ & ‘Trouble’) have a very unique sound, but I wouldn’t say they have affected the overall songwriting, that’s always come from me and Jared.

Having listened to a lot of your music, I’ve noticed a clear difference between every album in sound. When you did ‘Howl’ and ‘Trouble’, you were signed to Brendan Benson’s record label. I noticed a difference in sound between those albums and the albums you’ve produced and released independently, they seem far more raw and traditional.
Yeah, I think absolutely. Jared and me recorded on Corey Chisels’ album and we became such good friends with Brendan that he wanted to record and produce our next record and he ended up signing us to his label. Brendan has an amazing sensibility for pop music as far as writing and production goes, and I think that definitely came across on ‘Howl’ & ‘Trouble’. Usually it’s always just been us we’ve never had a producer, so those two albums are our only instance of having somebody else’s opinion. Now I feel like we’re getting back to the traditional sound and writing and producing our own songs.

One thing I’ve really been impressed with whilst listening to your last album ‘Cannonball’ and ‘Still Howlin’’ which is being released today, is how you cater to a wider audience. Tracks such as ‘Sweetnin’ a Lie’ off of ‘Cannonball’ and ‘Hard Luck & Troubles’ and ‘Quiet Town’ off “Still Howlin’’ move away from the traditional Bluegrass and take on more of a catchy americana and folk sound, is this something you try and work towards when you’re writing songs?
No, that’s not really something I’ve ever thought about whilst writing songs. I remember when I very first started writing songs was that I was very good at writing pop songs, I just had a knack for it, but I never really wanted to be a pop guy, so when I found out about Lead Belly I kind of went down that other track. It’s just like; if an idea comes and I can flesh it out into a song then that’s it basically.

What have your musical influences been coming into this record? Are you taking influence from modern day artists or are you mainly just listening to the traditional greats?
Yeah, it’s funny, I don’t hardly listen to the new stuff, man. Sometimes I’ll catch it on the radio, there’s a really great radio station here (Nashville) called WMOT, they play a bunch of great Americana stuff, but when I’m home I usually just listen to a lot of Doc Watson, Lead Belly, Brownie Terry and Sunny Mcghee, just older stuff really.

Yeah, it’s funny you say that actually, when I was listening to the album, I noticed that some of the tracks had a Lo-fi Mississippi blues vibe to them
Yes, for sure. The blues has always been one of my main influences, Jared as well; we absolutely love that delta blues sound

I’ve noticed a different production than what I’ve heard in the past with your music. It sounds a lot grittier and a lot more natural than your past records.
A lot of that has to do with Mark Thornton and his studio where we tracked this new album. He played guitar with Jerry Reed for the last few years when Jerry was alive and he’s a super nice guy too. I think a lot of the sound came from his studio and his vibe.

Did you pick to record with him for that reason?
Not for that reason, but because we knew he has awesome ears and we wanted to work with somebody who had good opinion. The guy we used to record with has just moved to Oslo, Norway with his wife, so we kind of needed to find a new home base as well so Mark ended up being that for us.

Lets talk a bit about the recording process, was this album all recorded live?
All live! There were a couple of overdubs but it was mainly all live, just me, Jared and Dan in a room

Recorded to click?
Nope, no click.

When you’re writing your music, do you guys generally write alone, or do you collaborate with each other during the process?
Lately, Jared and me have been trying to write a little more together, and we co-wrote a few of the tracks on this album but usually it’s just by myself. I feel like you touch on some quite intimate and personally things when you’re writing a song.

So with the release of the album mow, what’s your plan on promotion and your gigging schedule for it?
A lot of our gigging schedule is just around Nashville for the next few months, but around July, August & September, we’ve got a few more tours planned, but as far as the next few months go, we’re just in town, were playing The Station Inn and cool stuff like that, but yeah, we’re not doing a whole lot of big wide touring.

The Howlin’ Brothers new album ‘Still Howlin’ is out now on all streaming platforms.



Ian Craft of The Howlin' Brothers - discusses band history and new album 'Still Howlin'

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