Howler’s rise is the product of NME hype, no doubt about it. Barely out of infancy, the Minneapolis garage rockers are riding a wave of success both fragile and phenomenal, which began when a freelance NME writer saw their EP launch in the United States last year. The writer sent a missive home about it, setting off a chain of events that saw Howler signed to Rough Trade and listed as #3 Best New Band of 2011 in NME, with lead singer Jordan Gatesmith named one of the 50 Coolest People of 2011.
When asked why he chose to champion an obscure nascent indie band from Minnesota, the NME journalist said he was particularly impressed by Jordan’s stage presence. Their music was rough but full of potential. Jordan, on the other hand, was ready to explode. Since their catapult into the spotlight, he has become Howler’s main talking point.
“He's known for not giving a fuck and hating his hometown,” their publicist explains, comparing Jordan to Julian Casablancas, swinging from the microphone with a bottle of Jack in hand. The description, along with NME’s dubious ‘cool people’ credit, is designed to impress 12-year-old boys and would-be tween groupies. It’s not actually cool to act like a petulant dick – even 20-year-old Jordan Gatesmith knows that.
“I’m not a cock,” he laughs. “I’m a decent human being, I swear. There’s nothing rock’n’roll about me. I can be a dick in interviews sometimes, but it only happens every once and a while and it’s mostly because I’m cranky or I didn’t get a nap that day or something like that. I had a great nap today. I slept for hours and I feel so nice.”
Jordan’s not sure how he came to be known as a home-hater (he seems to have blocked out the Minnesota Public Radio interview where he joked that Minneapolis is where dreams go to die), but his reputation as a burgeoning enfant terrible is easy enough to trace. He’s not bad, he just struggles to take everything seriously.
“I guess it’s good to have some sort of image,” he muses. “The Jordan being portrayed in live performances, in Howler, is actually completely different from who I really am. It’s actually kinda nice having two identities, I think. I can hide from my press identity and just be a little private with my own affairs.”
So who is Jordan Gatesmith when he’s at home?
“I love the faith, the homeless, I volunteer at youth group, I volunteer at the humane society from time to time, I’m just a godly young man,” he says, utterly deadpan.
If Jordan takes up a lot of the spotlight, it’s because Howler is Jordan’s creation, the product of many furtive, fertile years spent ignoring his high school teachers and forming dozens of failed high school bands.
“I never really paid attention in class,” he says. “I’d just sit there and sing different melodies to myself, or think of different beats and put melodies and beats together in my head. These ideas were constantly flowing through my mind, and I needed to channel them; I needed people around to channel them with me. After school I’d find people who played an instrument and ask them to jam with me, and I started a lot of different groups with a lot of different people, just trying to find new people to play with, deconstructing bands, reconstructing bands, kicking people out, adding people. I was writing lots of music very quickly and I needed lots of people around to help me with it.”
Ironically, his first successful project came from isolating himself, being more reflective and recording music alone. Jordan birthed Howler in the bedroom and then brought the other four members in to form the live band – this is why when he talks about songwriting, he only talks about himself. On stage, it’s a different story. The band members riff with each other like seasoned professionals, witty and goofy and having a great time in their own little self-amused fun bubble. Jordan seems to have found a very sympathetic crew to bring his music to life.
“No,” he laughs, “I don’t like them at all. We got off this last tour and the consensus was that we were never going to talk to each other ever again. It was respectful. It was kind of like, ‘That was terrible and I hate you all. Let’s shake hands and forget this ever happened.’ I’m sort of kidding but I’m also not. It’s complicated. Band relationships are a very complicated thing.”
The boys of Howler do agree on one thing, however: groupies are more trouble than they’re worth.
“We try to stay away from that sort of thing entirely, because it never ends well. It always ends up awkward, so so awkward,” Jordan smiles, “Bad idea, every time.”
With a debut album fresh on the shelves, feted performances at SXSW just behind them and American press following the British lead, Howler are young, hot and hip, well placed to enjoy the spoils of rock’n’roll success. But Jordan Gatesmith isn’t interested; he’s on a much more serious mission.
“I want some day to have that one song that can resonate with a large group of people,” he enthuses. “I’m bored with the musical landscape. We’re definitely part of some weird hipster bullshit scene, but I’d like to erase myself from it and be my own. I’m going to do a lot of studying of music, I’m going to do a lot of writing, and when something good hits – I know when something’s good and when it’s shit – I’ll know it’s really worthy. It’s almost like falling in love, you know. When you hear a song that’s so powerful and really resonates with you, it’s like you’re falling in love with that song. I want to make people feel that way.”
This goes a long way towards explaining Jordan’s bad boy reputation; it is classic attention seeking behavior. Remember this, before you judge him too harshly: the snarky, grinning kid swinging from the microphone with a bottle of Jack in hand only wants your love.
BY SIMONE UBALDI
HOWLER’s debut album America Give Up is out now on Rough Trade through Remote Control. They play their Splendour in the Grass sideshow at The Corner on Tuesday July 24 alongside Zulu Winter.