Get to know: Howling Owl
Bristol’s Howling Owl Records sure do love to do things just a little differently - we chat unusual formats, ornithology and Sheffield Wednesday
How did the label start and who were your inspirations to get things going?
We've worked together on a number of projects over the years; zines, bands, horrendous comics etc so this felt like a natural progression. Moving to Bristol really kicked things off because we met so many bands/artists that we fell in love with and who we felt the world needed to hear. We never envisioned that we'd still be doing it a year on as it was just meant to be one tape compilation along with a zine, but word spread, bands started sending demos, and so we thought ‘why the hell not?’ In terms of other labels, people like Big Scary Monsters, Marshall Teller and Sub Pop are obviously big inspirations; we are absolutely nowhere near that kind of level, but it’s nice to know good things do happen!
Where exactly did you get a name like that from anyway?
We had this conversation last week actually. The owl was always going to be in there due to my love of Sheffield Wednesday and Adrian’s moonlighting as an ornithologist, plus the fact that owls are pretty fantastic in general. I think the 'Howling' came from a ten-minute text tennis brainstorm. A good friend of ours said it was terrible so we probably kept it out of spite, but other people seemed to like it.
Is there any particular ethos behind how you guys run the label and choose the bands you work with?
Definitely. The first rule was – and still is – not to throw a stupid amount of money at something when it's probably not going to work out, so staying realistic is a big must. We've had friends who’ve started labels and sent off for thousands of CDs for a band that no one knows and now they can't even give them away, and the banks don't care if it’s a great track or not: they want the loan paid back. The main ethos is to do everything with 100% heart and effort. We have to be really into any band we work with; otherwise it would be difficult to have the enthusiasm to stay up all night folding cardboard and stamping records. It’s not just the music, too; if a band doesn't care how their release is going to look or feel then there’s no point in them releasing stuff with us as they can just send away for a cardboard sleeve to be printed on or do a digital download themselves. Doing things the way we do isn’t the easiest, but it makes sense to us and we're happy with the way it’s going.
What have you got coming up that we should be excited about?
First of all we have the debut single 'Veils' from Tidal Wars – a band that sums up Howling Owl perfectly, musically and aesthetically – which is coming out on a USB stick, housed in a matchbox alongside many bits of miniature art. Following that is another debut single, 'Lionheart', this time from GuMM who are one of those bands who are too good for their age and are hard not to fall for. We're also putting out a tape EP for Oliver Wilde who plays Sparklehorse-inspired dreamy noise. Before though, we have our two biggest releases to date: the new Towns EP on 12" (a real game changer for them) and then a debut release proper from Velcro Hooks, also on vinyl, which I think is going to be huge. We may also be releasing our first international act at some point soon too; the two of us have our work cut out!
You guys also play as Spectres, has that influenced the way you run the label?
To a certain degree, in the way we've set up Howling Owl to be the sort of label that we as a band would’ve loved to have been part of. Also, if it weren’t for being in Spectres, we probably wouldn't have met half the bands we now work with on the label. Running the label has probably influenced the band more than the other way round, because surrounding yourself with all of these great groups and artists makes you want to keep up with their greatness and makes you have to work harder to justify being among them.
Who’s been playing on the Howling Owl stereo recently? Any good tips?
Within our nest, you need to listen to these:
Lets Kill Janice - Parker!
The Naturals - Finishing Moves
You're putting this party on this Saturday (August 18) - give it a plug!
This is going to be pretty fantastic. Five of our loudest and most intense bands (The Naturals, Towns, Spectres, The Big Naturals and GuMM) all playing in a crypt underneath a graveyard just down the road from my house. After that we're having Velcro Hooks playing downstairs at The Mother’s Ruin in the centre of town, which may well be the sweatiest gig on record. I'm not one for hyperbole but I think this is going to be one of the best things I have ever been part of. For two bloody pounds. If you live in Bristol, you have to come to this!
Anything you’d like to add?
Just a thank you to all the bands we work with, and anyone who's ever bought a Howling Owl release, whether they're from Japan, America or Milton Keynes, as the customers are literally funding this label. Obviously, Bristol as a whole too for being inspiring enough for a couple of dorks to be able to set up a label like ours; Bristol is looking pretty good right now.
Our man Alex Cull runs through some of the other bands from the Howling Owl roster...
Featuring Howling Owl main men Joe Hatt and Adrian Dutt, Spectres were clearly dragged kicking and screaming from the same primordial rock ooze as Sonic Youth, Fugazi et al. Discordant guitars coalesce with pounding, tribal drums to a state of total audio catharsis.
With more than a passing love for 90s alt rock, Towns’ recently released new single ‘Just Everything’ is the logical answer to the question of what would’ve happened if shoegaze had gone from strength to strength 20 years ago and crashed head on into Britpop.
The Big Naturals
Bringing a much-needed sprinkling of all things psychedelic, progressive and krautrock to proceedings are The Big Naturals. To describe them as loud would be an insult; these guys transcend noise, crafting a cavernous, primal black hole of sound that’s not for the faint-hearted.
Check them out on Bandcamp.
Howling Owl’s prodigal young bucks. GuMM’s metallic, canyon-reverbed guitars form painterly brushstrokes across a ludicrously loud, vivid sonic canvas. Basically, if you’re forced to mix that many metaphors, you know you’re listening to something pretty damn good.
Listen on SoundCloud now.