I'm enough of a Beach Boys fan to know a good update of them when I hear it. mylittlebrother is one of them, and Howl backs up the good things I'd read about them. There never can be enough Beach Boys updates, especially when filtered through The Wedding Present.
Will Harris, the leader of mylittlebrother, was kind enough to answer a few interview questions for me.
Will Harris: We began as a solo project. I was touring a lot, playing piano for a singer-songwriter called Aaron Wright. At that point we were touring for months on end and playing festivals every weekend. In a rare gap after a tour, my girlfriend said "Right, it's a good opportunity to do your own stuff now," so I recorded the Nosedive EP in my bedroom. Nosedive ended up being played on BBC Radio 6 Music and Radio 1, and getting great reviews, and I started getting gig and festival offers. I had known Dan for years and always wanted to be in a band with him, and we built a band around that. And the rest, as they say, is history.
AW: Who are your influences?
WH: We have a huge range of influences. For the songwriting, I'm a huge Brian Wilson fan, and I'm also influenced by the bittersweet writing of The Wedding Present and John Grant. To be honest, pretty much everything I hear seeps in and can influence me sometimes.
AW: I hear college rock, especially REM, in your sound. Would you say that's right?
WH: Yeah, I certainly wouldn't argue with that. It's not really a conscious decision, but I grew up on REM as my brother was a huge fan. They were also one of the first bands I saw live in my teens. So I think they have inevitably influenced me quite a lot, and I am still a big fan.
AW: This album was recorded in 2019. Do you think the lyrics mean even more now than they did then?
WH: Some of them certainly do. The anger on "Chicago" has a whole new level now when I shout "I'm stuck in little England and I'm ill, annoyed and down." Lots of the other lyrics on the album also seem eerily prescient of 2020.
AW: To me, the lyrics seem gentle and subtle, even when it's a put-down, like on “Responsibility” and “Janey.” Would you say that's so?
WH: Definitely. I have always been a fan of pairing dark lyrics with a catchy melody, and I also like to leave a level of subtly or a slight ambiguity to my lyrics, even when they are immensely personal to me. Howl has taken my lyrics to quite an angry place in parts, but equally I'm quite a friendly person, and I think that this juxtaposition shows a lot in the new songs.
AW: “Falling” and “Regional Saint” are good change-of-pace songs. Were they meant to be that way, or just as fun?
WH: Both, really. We recorded "Regional Saint" purely, as we were really happy with the sound we had, so we just improvised it out. We discovered "Falling" when we were producing the album. But when it came to putting the album together, we knew that we needed those changes of pace. We had other options, but those two tracks worked perfectly with the flow of the album.
WH: In “Chicago” you talk directly and clearly about how you feel about being stuck in England, unable to get back to Chicago, which makes me curious. Why can't you get back to Chicago?
It's not actually about me trying to get to Chicago, it's more a howl of "I don't want you to go home to Chicago" whilst being "stuck in little England". It's about losing someone.
AW: What advice would you give to someone just starting out in music?
WH: Keep going. You'll release things that you'll look back on and cringe at, but if you love it, keep at it.