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5th February 2018

Interview: The Howl & The Hum

Bob Dylan, Fiat Puntos, Shark fantasies, and James Bond – Welcome to the fantastic musical mind of Sam Griffiths
Interview: The Howl & The Hum
Photo: Olivia White @ The Mancunion

If you could sum up the past year or so in 3 words what would they be?

Reach (for) the stars. We learnt ‘Reach for the Stars’ by S Club 7 in primary school and it made me realise I wanted to perform in front of lots of people. Also, to bring out a CD and my own music and we’ve done a lot of that this year.

Where does your name ‘The Howl & The Hum’ come from?

There’s a really amazing poem by Allen Ginsberg called ‘Howl’ which is about an artistic howl in the 1950s when things were subdued, and people didn’t feel as though they could express themselves in the right way. It’s a really evocative poem.  Also, thinking about it I guess it’s almost like on a heart monitor when there’s movement of the lines and then pauses. It also does what it says on the tin, as a band we Howl, and we Hum.

What was the inspiration behind ‘Portrait I’ and why did it then frame your second tour?

‘Portrait I’ is a weird one. There’s actually a few portraits so there’s the first one but we’re currently writing sequels, they’re all sort of coming to fruition. ‘Portrait I’ is about the way that you view things and I’ve always been really interested in the idea of perception. Like you hear of things being painted in a certain light or people being put on pedal stools. For example, if you see someone in a particular light, it’s very difficult to shake that. The portrait’s a bit like a mirror in that sense and allows reflection even of oneself.

Will the next few portraits be EPs?

They’re probably going to be singles and I’m not even sure if they’ll be released in order. Portrait II has been written but I’m probably going to release Portrait III first but they’ll all be linked thematically.

When you featured on Tom Robinson’s BB6 Radio show, you mentioned you tend to derive lots of song inspiration from short-stories? How does this sit with the songs you’ve written relating to personal experience?

It’s difficult to write songs without reference to personal experience, all of the emotions that are felt by any of the characters are emotions that I have felt to some degree. But equally, it’s nice to create characters which are experiencing something you haven’t. It’s difficult to completely make up an emotion but if you utilise it and put it in a different context or setting, it can form a really interesting song.

Where does inspiration for I Wish I Was A Shark come from?

Yeah so, the opening is ‘I wish I was a shark so I’d never know what it would feel like to stop knowing there was motion once before’ because there’s almost a little myth, I’m not sure whether it’s true but there’s the idea that sharks die when they stop swimming. So, I’ve taken that as if someone is constantly moving either from person to person or relationship to relationship or even just moving through life job to job but if they stop they’ll almost give up and die. It’s quite dark but I’m happy with it.

How did you achieve the effects at the beginning of the track?

Yeah, that’s actually quite a lot of weird stuff going on. A lot of it is reverse pianos, voices lowered and synthesised on computers, we used a lot of filters to really create the atmosphere of being underwater. We have Conor’s guitar which creates the noise you’d hear as a submarine lowers into the water

Where does The Howl & The Hum settle in terms of importance given your involvement in a swing band and your past solo career?

The Howl & The Hum is number one. I would sacrifice anything else I’m doing for that. My songwriting developed into The Howl & The Hum so I was Sam Griffiths but there became a point where I knew I wanted to be part of a band. I like the idea of gaining inspiration from people around me, almost like being in a creative bubble. But the Swing band I am in is how I earn money, it means I can work a few days a week and then spend the rest of my time writing songs. It’s a lovely way to make a living but it’s not something I’m wanting to do permanently. I used to work in a coffee shop called Coffee Culture in Goodramgate for example and that’s something I might end up doing again soon as busking wears out my voice.

What’s the songwriting process like, and does it vary depending on the song?

It’s different for every song but I have thousands of notes and voice memos on my phone. I could have little-hummed ideas or little weird poems. Sometimes if I’m drunk I’ll talk to my phone for an hour and then play it back the following morning. A lot of the time our songs are built from lyrics which may be taken from a short story.

Is the atmospheric and cinematic feel your songs possess entirely intentional? Many sound like they could be James Bond songs.

No, we’ve never sat down and thought we’re going to write a song for a James Bond film although I would love to do that and I reckon we’ve got some that would suffice. They’re just amazing songs but it’s usually just us trying to gain the atmosphere out of the lyric with our instruments. For example, ‘I Wish I was a Shark’ was about going under water and with ‘Only Other Living Creature in the desert’, we try and make our guitars growl. It’s the songs speaking to the instruments and the instruments replying. I really like film soundtracks though.

Who changed the music industry for you?

Bob Dylan because he basically invented Rock and Roll. When he went electric it was very important because his style of songwriting is vital to the way music has moved forward. It almost turned music into an art form and I think that’s amazing. It’s important to us because we love writing pop songs but we also like being poncey little nerds about it, for example, we sing about Fiat Puntos and he inspired that kind of thing for me.

Is a debut album on the horizon?

There’s a horizon but it’s a very distant one and it’s paved with various EPs. The album is so important. Take Kendrick Lamar’s albums, for example. They’re all unreal, especially in hip-hop. But albums are landmarks, we can release these EPs and they’re less intrinsic to what the band is about. An album could be a narrative, it could be a concept. It’ll come.

What can we expect from The Howl and The Hum as an upcoming band? Are arena’s what you aspire to play?

I would say no for playing arenas, but there’s always been a childish dream of mine to play big festivals such as on the Pyramid stage. It’d be amazing, but with arena’s it’s either a built-up career or an overnight sensation. The overnight sensations are usually driven in a weird zeitgeist. Usually, they’re very very pop whereas building a career of great music almost makes you feel like you deserve the arena spot.

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