KING MIXER – Hang On (interview)

Please meet Eric Howell . As King Mixer he just released Hang On: 11 songs, 11 different styles, one specific sound. NICE!! Being a creative, being independent, being Eric Howell … Read the interview you will learn a thing or 2 (or 3 … or 4 …) … about what that is like.

If you want listen or buy first, go here

Hang on is also available on iTunes, Amazon en Spotify.

 

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You wrote a very nice article about ideas that change while/during recording, writing, mixing the album (read). Can you give an example? Did you enjoy the “making” of Hang on?

This record, Hang On, is my second album.  For the first record I more or less did all the heavy lifting. That is to say, writing the songs, producing and mixing it myself, arranging all the parts, over many many years, and I also made a feature length documentary about the process, particularly focusing on my life in music and the fifteen year journey
that became that record (“Eric Howell’s Greatest Hitch! Vol One). That record was about closure, and making room for new sounds, new attitudes and ideas.

Flash forward a few years and suddenly I realize how time has once again gotten away from me and I hadn’t recorded any new songs in a while. I had been playing lots of “survival gigs”, corporate wedding band type stuff, bread n butter gigs to pay the bills, and I was not very pleased with myself artistically. I was sort of in a creative funk.

However through playing in the wedding band I met some of Chicago’s best musicians, guys who can really play their instruments (certainly a lot better than I can) and as I began to dream up a new game plan for a new studio recording, several of the players from the wedding band wound up in a rehearsal studio working on King Mixer songs with me. And I wasn’t going to tell musicians who were really such solid players HOW to play their
parts.  It was more a matter of suggestions from me and letting them
create on top of my ideas.

So from the dead end corporate gigs came these relationships with great musicians who became my friends and we made this record. A lot of the songs on Hang On were incomplete upon heading into the studio, which is something I almost never do.  Even though I’ve only got two records out, I’ve been in and out of various recording studios
since I was nineteen years old, and by and large I’ve always seen the
recording studio as a place to really have your shit together before going
in.  Always watching the studio clock, etc.  I’ve gotten terrific results that way, but with this album, I decided to crowd fund it via GoFundMe.com, and through that platform I raised what I felt was enough money to be able to leave the songs unfinished, take some musically creative chances and leave the door open for more spontaneous creativity
while the clock was running.

This led to a sound and attitude on this latest record which I never would’ve achieved had I gone my tried and true traditional route of having the band well rehearsed before going into the studio. Plus I had an excellent Producer in Christian Cullen, and he
offered me two options when working with him:  1) he would produce the
record from a technical standpoint but not offer up any arrangement
suggestions on the songs themselves or 2) he would make his opinions known
about where he saw the songs heading, editing decisions, additional vocal
lines as well as entire beds of music etc and basically become an integral
part of the creative process.

Christian is very very good, and we’re old pals and I’d never worked with him before on a record and I wanted the full Monty out of this crowd funded record, so I chose option 2, without hesitation. The record would’ve sounded entirely different had I chose the
first option. I find people are reacting positively to a lot of the spontaneity we allowed to come through.

So that happens when you set out to make a record. Particularly in my case
I didn’t have a band in which I’d been playing live with for months if not
years, so a lot of the way this album came together (or not) had very
little to do with musical ability and more to do with scheduling.
Scheduling was a bit of a challenge on this record.

Songs which were begun with a certain set of players might take months to complete because I had to wait until the other guys were back from being on the road with their
main band, or whatever. I left a lot of space for the other guys to come
back and finish their parts, or in some cases I wanted them to come back
for another session and create brand new ideas on top of what me and
Christian had dreamed up.  I didn’t want to finish the songs in a flurry
of overdubs between myself and Christian in the studio, so I’d wait on
other players…and wait some more…and more waiting until eventually it
was like, “fuck it, I’m playing guitar on this album!”

But it wasn’t my intention to do so.  It was just the tricky bit about scheduling the
players.  But it all works out. People have said that one of the main
differences in this record over my first album is the guitar playing, that
my playing has really developed and so on. Little do they know I had an
absolute killer guitar player named Grant Tye tapped to play on the entire
album but Grant was on tour with Robbie Fulks during much of my studio
sessions and consequently he only ended up playing guitar on four songs,
and I had to play lead guitar on the others.

This dynamic forced me to clean up my chops a bit because I didn’t want people to hear the finished record and say, “Wow, great guitar playing on THOSE FOUR SONGS! Not so
much on the others”  LOL  So I was forced to step it up a bit, in a way
thanks to Grant NOT being available!”

I enjoyed making this record immensely with an incredible team of
musicians and recording engineers in top flight studios.  But when you’re
spending gobs of money making what essentially is an indie record to be
played live in small clubs there’s a bell curve, a period where trying to
make it sound as if you’re signed to Warner Brothers makes no sense. It’s
easy for the project budget to spin out of control and the next thing you
thinking is, “well, the album artwork should look as good as this is
sounding”.

So budget for the artwork started skyrocketing.  Had to bring
that under control. Then of course the record has to be mastered properly.
This proved a major challenge. I’m pretty sure the album was mastered five
times in an attempt to ‘get it right’. There goes a lot of money as well.
Then there was some sort of technical snafu in the actual CD duplication
process, wherein I got all excited when the UPS delivery truck dropped off
a thousand copies of the album…and I put it on and it was all sped up,
like “we represent the Lollypop Guild” in The Wizard Of Oz! All one
thousand copies were useless. The manufacturing company ate the cost and
promised to issue another run of thousand copies once I sent them a new
master. So I decided this was an opportunity to fix all the little things
that still bugged me about a few of the mixes.  So I remixed the entire
record, secretly, and sent THAT master to be duplicated, which is now how
the record sounds today. But these were all costly learning experiences
and it takes a toll on your psyche and your will to get the record “out
there”.

I’m super happy with Hang On and the early reviews have been solid and I
learned a lot from the experience and wouldn’t change a thing. But my next
record is going to be a folk album, recorded for $500 bucks with one set
of musicians over one long weekend!!! Enough of this “two years to make a
record” crap.
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Hang On contains a lot of different styles, all combined in a very specific King Mixer-sound. It’s one of the reasons why I like the album so much. What do you think?

I appreciate you saying, “specific King Mixer sound”, Patrick. Because
it IS specific, but I suppose it’s because it’s coming from one central
songwriter. That’s the only specific thing about what I’m doing. I wrote
all the songs. The rest of my approach is basically to ‘throw the
spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks” as far as the SOUND of the
record. So it’s deliberately all over the map, sonically. And you know
what? People advise you in the music business to be “one thing” or “one
sound” so that the public can decide if they like you or not. But none of
us are just “one thing” or “one sound” anyway. No true artists are,
anyway.

People will either like you for having a certain sound or dislike
you for having that same sound. And everyone just grabs and shares files
these days anyway. Its very hard to get people into the cult of
personality, anymore. So why not make your sound a LOT of sounds? Why not
make The White album your mission statement? So in the case of King Mixer,
yes. I deliberately mix it up, running a variety of styles up the musical
flagpole, for a specific result. And that result is to create music from
one central creative force that sounds like several bands for the price of
one! It’s like those old five CD players’ member those? With King Mixer,
everything’s on shuffle. On this latest album you get power pop, a bit of
ska, a bit of Americana, some guitar rock, some brit pop, some solid gold
70s’ type stuff, a ballad, then it gets damn near “jam bandy” and also
some soul horns combined with a bit of EDM are happening at one point. All
on one record, folks! This may not end up being the case with every album,
but so far, with my first two records, “The White Album variety” has been
the goal. And I believe that goal has been achieved to astonishing
results, he says, immodestly! But don’t take my word for it, have a listen
for yourself, people.
If we want to know you, which song do we have to listen to? And why?

Well,, that’s hard to say, since I wrote all the songs it seems the only
answer is: If you want to know “me”, listen to all of ’em! But who listens
to music to get to know an artist who’s music they’ve scarcely, if ever,
heard before? I certainly don’t. The idea is, “which songs of mine most
remind you of YOU? Or someone you know?” That is the question. It’s only
about me when I’m writing the song in my little room with a guitar. It
should cease being about myself after that, and if the songs are well
written they should connect with YOU, on a level that doesn’t require
knowing or caring much about me, personally. I don’t always write about
myself, a lot of it can be snippets of conversations and one liners that
other people say which sound like good song titles and I’ll run with that.
And it can certainly go a lot deeper as we get older.  I’m listening to
what a lot of friends are going through with regard to their families and
trying to  put food on the table while holding down questionable jobs in
an unsteady market these days.

This record seems to have more than a few songs that address the passing of time, and perhaps being on the losing side of Father Time’s agenda but not giving up without a fight. Songs like “One Too Many” and “Days That Used To Be” address these issues, for sure.
We did a single, which is not on the album, called “45”.  Someday I’ll put
it out as a 7″inch but for now it’s only available digitally on bandcamp,
and maybe itunes, I think. It’s got a Cheap Trick meets Foo Fighters vibe
about it but it’s also a bit throwback with a psychedelic 60’s element to
it. And lyrically I’m singing at the top of my range about aging!
Hahahaha! and it’s a jam! We will not go quietly into the long goodnight!
So, yeah, I suppose the song that is most relevant and autobiographical on
the record is one that’s NOT on the record but is definitely, at the
moment, most like myself, and probably like you, too.  “45”. Sometimes I
can’t believe I’m still alive.
The music industry has changed a lot (or so they say). What did it bring
you? And what not?

 

 

I found an old copy of Rolling Stone a few weeks ago. On the cover it
said, “Why The Music Industry Is Over!” or some such drivel. This
particular issue of Rolling Stone was from 1998 or something. So they’ve
been selling us this perpetual lie that “the music industry is in trouble”
for 20 years. Clearly we’re still here and major industry is still putting
together major tours and people are still paying absurd prices to see
their glory days bands in stadiums or at festivals. It didn’t die, it’ll
never go away.

I think what’s happened in the sea change of technology is
that the music industry has been humbled, but it”s not “in trouble” and
it’ll never be over. Adjustments have to be made.  But on a very personal,
attainable level the advances in technology and internet platforms are
what’s allowed me to crowdfund my latest effort, it’s what allows artists
to reach their audience and build upon that audience, hitting everyone
with the same message at the same time, instantly from wherever an artist
happens to be when they hit “send”, without any number of record company
middle men to muck it up, or save your ass.  That is cool.  The fact that
everyone and their grandmother is doing the same thing, people who are not
artistically minded posting to Instagram and calling whatever they had for
lunch an “Event” worthy of the same kind of attention I want you to give
my music….not so cool. Let’s move on…

She tells you she will decide on a 5-song-mix tape if there is going
to be a second date. Which ones would you put on?

 

If they have to be my own songs, I’d be sure to give her:

1) Zookeepers

2) Gravity

3) Somethin’ Else (people have been known to weep openly upon hearing it so I’ll score some emo points on this one, maybe)

4) Days That Used To Be (cuz it sounds fun…but there’s a message that all women of conscience will pick up on!)

and finally…

5) And That’s All  (because we always close with it at club shows and it’s good to go out with a bang and not a whimper!).

If they don’t have to be King Mixer songs, it will be

1) She’s The One (Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band, from Born To Run.  If she doesn’t like Springsteen, I will eventually kick her to the curb before the third date anyway)
2) Tom Petty –  Even The Losers (ditto to the above criteria)
3) New Radicals – You Only Get What You Give (a spectacular “feel good” song which features the greatest drum ‘flam’ in the history of recorded music. And if she catches that without any prompting from me, I will propose to her, on the second date, instantly).
4) The Revivalists – Wish I Knew You (let’s assume she’s significantly younger than me on this date in question. This song adroitly handles a potential deal breaking dynamic)
5) Badfinger – Day After Day (If she doesn’t dig this melancholy gem, she’s got no heart)

What’s up for the next couple of months?

 

I’m actually starting to sift through my considerable barrage of demo
recordings, seeing what grabs me and what might have the makings of the
next record for King Mixer. There’s all kinds of crap on literally fifty
to sixty tapes and gobs of song farts of files, all just rough ideas,
sputtered drunkenly into a recording device. That’s how I typically start
my process.

By the time Thanksgiving rolls around I hope to be back in
the studio, working with an entirely new set of talent in an entirely new
way, to make entirely new King Mixer music. Oh and I’m heading to Newport
Beach, California on a gig in a couple weeks, and then to Hollywood. I do
get inspired when I’m out west.  It’s ridiculously beautiful there from
the weather to the ocean to the people. I totally get Brian Wilson’s sense
of melancholy mixed with hope and adventure in all those Beach Boys songs.
Last time I was in Newport I must’ve come up with eight to ten song ideas
just staring out at the waterline, strumming my guitar from a window view.
And they were all crazy good pop songs, baby!