Australian indie-rock group, the Howling Bells – who have played with everyone from The Killers to Placebo – are back in the UK with their new album Radio Wars. t5m’s very own Ben Cohen caught up with them backstage at their gig at the Bristol Fleece earlier this month.
t5m: You have a new album, Radio Wars, can you tell us a bit about it?
Juanita Stein: It was written while we were touring the first record, which we toured for a good 2 or 3 years, and we would spend a lot of time, on and off the road, writing music apart and together, and that’s where all the songs for Radio Wars came from. Then we got together in a place in Australia and chose the ten or so songs to go on the album and then we recorded it in LA. It sounds swift, but at the time there were a lot of delays and red tape to get through.
t5m: The influences appear to be quite different from the influences and atmosphere that you wrote your last album in – would you say that’s fair?
JS: The first record was written during a very ambivalent stage of our lives. We didn’t have a record label, we didn’t have anywhere to live, we didn’t have any money, we didn’t have anything! We had moved to London and had to wait a whole ten months before we even got into the studio, so we were incredibly frustrated by this time. Plus it was recorded in the heart of winter, and it was snowing in Liverpool where we recorded it, so it really was very apt, and I think that it all really affected the sound of the record. It’s a very wintry record and this one is the polar opposite. Radio Wars was recorded in LA in summer, and there was a very strong political climate with Barack Obama coming to prominence, and there was the writer’s strike, and we had just changed labels and management, so everything was very very different this time.
t5m: Since you have been touring your new album, how have people been taking the new material?
JS: I think they’re confused. It’s an interesting transition for our fans, either they’ll choose to come with us, or they’ll choose to stay in the first record. But there was no way that we were going to make the second record again. It’s like asking you to wear the same clothes as when you were 16, it’s just not fair.
t5m: Congratulations on selling out the gig tonight! How long do you plan to tour this album?
JS: We are just going to see how it goes. In a couple of weeks we are going to Australia to play a festival, and then we are off to Japan, which I am really looking forward to.
t5m: What have you been listening to recently, and in the time between albums?
JS: Oh god, too much to mention. A lot more electronic stuff that I guess you can hear on the new record, and right now we are all getting into a lot of psychedelic 60s stuff, so a lot of Syd Green (ed. – an Aussie session musician and solo artist) and early Pink Floyd stuff.
t5m: What’s the next step for you after this album?
JS: I think we’ll tour for a while, and then we have already gotten a bank of songs for the next record. At the moment we are basically just really impatient.
t5m: Is there one theme on Radio Wars that plays through the entire album?
JS: A sense of who we really are. Who we are as individuals and who we are as a band. A lot of lyrics were written over a similar period of time. For the first record the lyric writing responsibility was way more personal, more just me sitting in my bedroom, whereas this album has been more of a collaborative effort.
t5m: Do you see yourselves as more of a studio band or a live band?
JS: Both. You just can’t have one without the other. The studio nurtures the creative experience while the live aspect nurtures your expression. You need both to stay sane! (laughs)
t5m: With your new label, Independiente, do you have any more freedom than before?
JS: We have always chosen labels that give us a lot of freedom. With this record, we had the option to partner with a major label, but I don’t think that that would have worked very well, because we are too opinionated, too bossy!
t5m: So far what has been your favourite venue to play at?
JS: It was in Middlesborough, believe it or not! This venue had all the walls covered with one of my favourite artists, Alphonse Mucha, it was the biggest shock in the world, it was like in the middle of fucking nowhere, it’s bizarre, it’s like some kind of ode to him. Having said that, the last time that we played here, there was this guy in the audience who came up to me just before his favourite song, and asked me to propose to his lady on stage. He gave me this note on stage, so I have really fond memories of this venue.
t5m: Did she say yes?
JS: Yeah, she said yes! Which I was kind of relieved about.
t5m: Yeah, that could have been an awkward situation. What brought you over to England originally?
JS: The weather…actually, no, the weather and the food (laughs). No, it’s more that we just speak the same language. England can provide the environment to create really beautiful music, and I just really want to be a part of that.