Howlin’ Rain promises to bring a monster mash to Vancouver

Vancouver Weekly interview with Howlin’ Rain’s Ethan Miller

Photo by Kristy Walker

Vancouverites may feel like they’ve seen enough rain in the first week of the January to last the whole year, but fans of the underground indie rock scene know better.

This Wednesday (Jan. 9) the Astoria will be hosting the Oakland, CA-based psychedelic blues rock band Howlin’ Rain as they kick of a West Coast tour that has them playing 11 shows in 11 days between Vancouver and  Los Angeles.

The band’s founder and lead singer, Ethan Miller, scoffs at the idea that this is anything out of the ordinary for the foursome.

“We did 21 performances in 18 days on our last East Coast tour. So this one will feel pretty laid back!” he told Vancouver Weekly.

Miller says Howlin’ Rain isn’t the type of band that likes to spend a lot of time sitting around in a motel room watching TV.

“I think we all live to hit the stage. If we can fill an evening on-stage playing music, drinking a few beers, hanging with folks in some other city and earning a bit of money, well, that’s the whole point of hitting the road, right?

The band is supporting their newest and most ferocious album to date, Alligator Bride, which has received accolades from Rolling Stone Magazine, NPR Music and Relix.

Photo by Kristy Walker

Since it’s inception in 2004, Howlin’ Rain has had bandmates come and go, all the while receiving critical acclaim and underground fame. But in 2014, Miller found himself without any full time band members to play with.

“I usually rely on the [rotating] band in any given period or album to be the flesh and blood and the character of the music. I consider myself more of the spirit curator,” said Miller. “I really didn’t have any musical structure at all around me as far as Howlin Rain was concerned and I decided to make that a strength and play with it.“

Miller came up with the concept of doing a trilogy of albums. The first of which was Mansion Songs, the lyrical, beat-poet driven compilation that preceded Alligator Bride.

“I imagined it like a Frankenstein scenario, where I was conceiving of the monster in the first album. The listener is in the lab, they see all sorts of rough chalk board drawings and body parts and cables and stuff everywhere … but that first album is about the abstract, the deconstruction of a rock and roll monster. It isn’t the experience of the monster itself,” said Miller.

He imagined the second LP in the trilogy would be a progression of this evolution and creation, where he’s close to having a fully functioning monster.

“But there are still lingering elements of the abstract and raw ideas that haven’t fully come to completion.”

That second LP is being called  “a thundering exaltation” and is drawing comparisons to Neil Young and Crazy Horse.  It is a rambunctious collection of songs that inspire rebellion on a primordial level.

Miller says he is still unsure how the third album will play out conceptually, as Alligator Bride ended up being much of what he thought the third would be.

“This conundrum of theoretical trajectory I find more intriguing and inspiring perhaps than having just known what I was “supposed” to do,” he said.

For the time being, the band is looking forward to bringing their live show to West Coast fans.

“You are standing in the middle of a great power station of human energy and basically plugging that audience energy right into your nervous system and spirit and psyche. It’s the gateway to another level of function of being as a musician, a performer and a human being.”

Howlin’ Rain plays Vancouver’s revamped Astoria Jan. 9. Tickets $14, doors open at 8 p.m.