Ten years on from their eponymous début album, Australian four-piece Howling Bells are gearing up for the release of their fourth longplayer, Heartstrings. With just over a month until its release, we sat down with lead singer Juanita Stein to talk about the new record and how the band have grown over the past decade.
How long have you guys been in London?
It actually happened about a decade ago. We picked up and left Sydney, where we all lived, and figured we had to do something brave and drastic to make a change – so London it was. We’ve recorded in a few different places, but for the most part we’ve been here.
Your fourth album, Heartstrings, is coming out soon – how you feeling about it?
Fantastic. We’ve kind of had a couple of years off and it feels nice to of had some time, get some perspective, creatively refresh and I kind of feel like everyone has pressed the reset button. So it feels very enthusiastic right now.
How did the album come about?
It just kind of happened. Song by song trickled through, and it was more of an onslaught of creative energy rather than sending a song through once every six months. It just more or less happened in a couple of weeks. All of the songs were written and then very fortuitously there was a studio and the producers were available – it kind of all happened in a month, written and recorded.
How did the process compare to the previous three albums?
We tend to have this really time dependant state as a band. I feel like we’re constantly waiting for people and places and the earth to open up, and I think by comparison this one happened with light-speed accuracy. It was incredibly fast compared to anything we’d ever done.
Was that quite a relief?
Fuck yeah! I’d be happy to do it like that every single time; it’s just, unfortunately, when you’re making an industry of art there’s many more forces you have to rely on.
How comes you worked with Catherine J Marks and Alan Moulder on the album?
With Alan Moulder, he was kind of top of our list and there was no other reason than he is brilliant and everything he touches seems to turn to gold, sonically. What more could you want as band of our sonic landscape? As it happened he was mixing something else at the time and he responded favourably to the songs we sent him, and kind of introduced us to Catherine – who was producing the album with him.
What was their involvement with the record? Were they quite hands on?
Yeah, Catherine was. She was very hands on, very excited, very enthusiastic – she worked us.
It must have been a stressful process
Yeah, you need a taskmaster.
You’ve been together for ten years – how would you say you’ve changed as band in that time?
Inevitably we’re different people: we’re older, we’re wiser, we’re more confident of ourselves and our sound – just a lot more intuitively honest. As a young band you can very easily be lead astray, and that’s totally understandable, and then you hit a certain age and become a lot more assure of yourself. It’s not just with music – it’s with whatever you do.
So do you feel more in control as a band now ?
Yeah, I do feel a lot more in control and a lot more relaxed, and OK about things I was never OK with. I think that comes part and parcel of letting your guard down and losing a little bit of control, which is pretty integral.
Would you say your sound has changed as well?
In a lot of ways the new album feels like the first record we made – which was very direct and very raw, and had streaks of a dusty Americana sound about it. There are elements of that in this record, and I think again that comes down to just being very comfortable with ourselves and our sound. Being OK with sounding the way we do, oppose to trying to challenge ourselves epically and trying to sound like something we’re not.
Yeah, you changed things up in the past – do you feel perhaps that wasn’t something you were entirely happy with?
I don’t know what your personal situation is, but it would be like asking you why you dated that girl five years ago and how have you learnt and grown from that? It’s inevitable, and it’s the growing process – you have to date that girl to know that you want something else.
You wrote and recorded the album in London – would you say it has an anglicised feel?
Yeah, I think this one more than anything we’ve ever done, because the first record was written predominantly in Australia and then we moved to London. The last record was written on the road, a lot of it was in America and stuff like that, and this one was written literally in the basement of my house in London. So you can’t get much more London than that.
How are you feeling about getting back on the road? Looking forward to it?
Yeah I really am. It’s part of the job. It’s kind of foreign to me to not have been on the road or played shows for so long now – you don’t get one without the other. I feel like it’s a very symbiotic relationship: you need to record, you need to perform, you need to connect with audiences. It would feel very strange to have one without the other.
Will this tour be the first time Heartstrings has been played live?
Yeah, we haven’t played any of these songs. I’m looking forward to it and I kind of feel like our audiences will really appreciate the new songs. They’re a lot more instant and little bit more aggressive than the last couple of records – and I kind of feel very excited to be that.
Is there anything from the past ten years that really stand out?
I think for us, as with most bands, your high points are always the height of connection. The biggest and most ecstatic shows we’ve ever played were the high points for me and the low points are the ones where you’re tested – and you’re tested often in bands. Especially in this band. I feel like it has been extraordinarily pushed and tested, and it’s remarkable to me that we’ve come out the other end and released a fourth album. It’s difficult for anyone, let alone a band that doesn’t play stadiums and earn millions of dollars a year.
Finally, what have you got planned for the rest of the year?
They’ll be more touring towards the end of the year and hopefully we get back to Australia later in the year and Europe – just tour the shit out of these songs!
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Howling Bell’s new album Heartstrings in released 2 June and the band embark on a full UK tour in May – tickets are available here.