WITH its fascinating backstory and intriguing sound…
I had to ask Howie Payne about his new track, Hold Steady the Wire. He talks about its origins and how he got started in music; details about his new album, Mountain (it was released on 27th October). I ask about influences and favourite albums; what his tour schedule looks like; experiences of recording in State of the Ark Studios – and how his solo music differs from that of his band, The Stands.
I learn more about Payne’s process and why a red-hot climate lent a favourable air to his new track – recording in the studio when the weather was stifling. Payne talks about his start and what he would say to anyone coming through in music at the moment.
Hi, Howie. How are you? How has your week been?
Very good, thanks.
My new album, Mountain, just came out and is going great - and I just played the final show of my U.K. tour in London. It was a cool show and we had a bit of a party after so, yeah...very good.
For those new to your work; can you introduce yourself, please?
My name is Howie Payne. I’m a songwriter, guitar player; music producer from Liverpool, England.
Hold Steady the Wire is your new song. Can you tell me about the story behind that?
I wrote it late at night on an old Spanish-style guitar. It was a hot, close night; there’d been a thunderstorm, so I had the windows open. I could hear the noise from the city in the distance and I was playing this chord sequence over and over - very hypnotic. When the song arrived, it came pretty quick. I can’t recall what I was thinking - it just came together - like there was a moment when there was no song...then there was.
Mountain, the album, is out now. What are the themes and subjects you explore on the record?
The songs are quite melodic and acoustic...
I very much wanted to keep that element to it - but then I also wanted really thick, solid grooves underneath. People are picking up on that aspect of it quite a bit, and that’s very cool. Lyrically, I didn’t set out with a subject or a theme in mind and there’s no real rule I stick to. A lot of these songs were written as collections of thought fragments where I would use stream-of-consciousness to get ideas - and then build those thoughts into patterns that sounded good or had something interesting about them - not quite cut-ups, but like it in a lot of ways.
State of The Ark Studios is where it was laid down. Was that a great space to record in?
Yes, it’s an amazing place. They have an old EMI desk down there that belonged to The Rolling Stones (in the 1970s).
It’s got all their names scratched into it and all that - very cool.
I believe the album was recorded in a few days during a boiling-hot week. That must have been a challenge?!
Yeah; four days in State of The Ark and a couple of days in Bath. I wanted to record it live, anyway - so that was plenty of time. The heat is cool: I really like it. I don’t know why but everything sounds better in the heat.
I won’t have the air-con on cause I’m just not into it - so, we just had all the doors open and the fans blowing.
Did that process/weather provide urgency and a new dynamic to the music? Was it liberating recording that way?
We were going live onto tape, so we had to make very quick decisions and, if something wasn’t cool, we all had to do it again - singing and everything - so that adds a bit of pressure. But, creation should have a certain amount of pressure involved. It adds a certain kind of energy.
Yeah, recording like that is so quick; you can hear the song as you’re doing it so you feel connected to it.
Mountain is your first L.P. since 2009’s Bright Light Ballads. How come there was quite a gap between releases?
I had some songs demoed for the follow-up to Bright Light Ballads and I was ready to go in and record them - when someone called up and asked me if they could record some of them for a new singer called Ren Harvieu - who was making an album for Universal. I’d never really thought about it before but I liked the idea of it so I said ‘yes’ (and she had a big hit with it).
After that, a lot of people wanted me to write for them; so I moved down to London; got a studio and did that for a while. I had a fair bit of success with it, too, but I didn’t really dig the system - it doesn’t prioritise creativity if you know what I mean; it can be very cookie-cutter. Around that time, I came across Neon Waltz - and they were just great. They didn’t really have it together yet so I helped them out with getting their music together; arrangements and all that. Really, it was about giving them space to be themselves, musically-speaking. I introduced them to Ignition - who I thought would be good management for them - and I stayed involved in a kind of musical and creative visionary role - which led to me producing tracks on their debut album, Strange Hymns.
During 2016, I started writing a lot of songs and got back into the idea of playing live - and did a solo acoustic tour that autumn. That was really cool and a lot of fun; so I started thinking about making a new L.P. - and here we are.
You are from the band, The Stands. How does your solo material differ and do you miss the band days?
Well. The Stands wasn’t really a band, in the traditional sense: I was a solo artist that put a band around what I was doing – and gave it a name.
So, I don’t miss it like a band - but I miss some of the guys, of course. I think my newer music has more layers; the Soul influence is a bit more obvious.
Who are the musicians that have been most influential to you through your career? What kind of music did you grow up on?
In our house, when I was growing up, Benny Goodman; Count Basie, Frank Sinatra; you know, a lot of Great American Songbook music. Rock and Roll, too: Elvis (Presley), Carl Perkins etc. My big sister got me into great Pop music, New Wave and Northern Soul when I was small. Then, I got into The Beatles, Pink Floyd and early Hip-Hop in school. When I moved to New York, I got into Jimi Hendrix, The Velvets and The Byrds; The Pixies, Nirvana; Love, The Stone Roses and all that. As I started playing the guitar, I got into Folk and Blues - especially the Chicago stuff – then, later, the more rural stuff through the Alan Lomax records.
It’s all been influential but, if I had to pick a few that come to mind, I’d say Frank Sinatra, Neil Young; John Lennon, Woody Guthrie and Miles Davis.
You are releasing an album where the quality and longevity of artists is being questioned. Do you feel the mainstream is taking over too much and the best artists are being overlooked?
I don’t see it that way...
I hear loads of great new artists around. Who’s capable of longevity? Who knows - but I see now as a very musically rich time. I don’t know about that: I’ve never really paid that much attention to it.
What tour dates do you have coming up?
I just finished a U.K. tour in London last week with a show at The Borderline - it was my first full-band tour in a while and I really dug it (and the audiences were fantastic). I’ll be doing something, soon. That’ll be really cool - that I’m pretty excited about - but it’s still a secret - so I can’t tell you about it yet...
If you had to select the three albums that mean the most to you; which would they be and why?
Love – Forever Changes
Possibly the best album ever made.
Revolver – The Beatles
On top of the world, at their highest energy peak - making it sound so easy.
Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
It’s incredible on every level: pretty much every lick could be the hook in its own tune.
What advice would you give to artists coming through right now?
Do what you do; do it good.
Christmas is approaching. Do you have plans already - or will you be busy working?
Not sure yet…
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
Whitney – No Woman
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