Rock ’n’ roll adventurers Howlin’ Rain release new live compilation
In a world of highly produced pop songs, it’s refreshing to hear a raw, live take.
“You probably shouldn’t overthink it—just let the recorder be a fly on the wall, capture some good nights, capture some bad ones, capture some magic,” said Ethan Miller, founding member and frontman of San Francisco rock outfit Howlin’ Rain.
The four-piece has released its newest collection, Under The Wheels: Live From Both Coasts, Volume 1, a kind of sonic scrapbook of tour highlights—a night at Union Pool in Brooklyn and a warm celebratory Bay Area homecoming at Starline Social Club in Oakland. The second half comes out later this fall, both as special-edition vinyl issues through Miller’s own label, Silver Current Records.
“It’s been an idea I’ve had in the back of my head,” Miller said. “Now that capturing live records has gotten so much easier, it’s still a crapshoot as to whether you get anything good,” Miller said.
The collection serves not only as a snapshot of tour life, but also as a marker of how far the band has come. Miller started the project back in 2004 while still active in noisy psych-rock crew Comets on Fire (now on hiatus) and quickly gained momentum in the Bay, eventually signing a record deal with Rick Rubin and Columbia Records. By 2015, Miller had parted ways with the major label and his full band, and essentially restarted from scratch. He put together a new lineup, consisting of Jeff McElroy, Dan Cervantes and Justin Smith, and recorded Howlin Rain’s 2018 release, Alligator Bride.
“A band has solidified again,” Miller said. “A long-lasting substantial band—with its own language that’s forming. Once a group’s got its own language, and got its own sound and loves to play together, a lot of times it’s just a matter of putting the right lyrics and vowels together, finding the kind of riffs you like to play, and the band itself, the energy is just waiting to express itself in the song. Makes things easier, in other words.”
The live album captures just that—four minds working in tandem, cracking songs wide open into thunderous jams meandering off into psychedelic explorations and returning to simple melodies and classic-rock fun.
“Nothing that ended up on the record or the second volume—none of those [songs] did we go into the evening saying, ‘We have to get this specific song.’ I think we just tried to roll through with a good performance,” Miller said.
The band is rolling through another performance Sept. 12 at Argus Bar + Patio, and in addition to featuring opening sets by Nevada City’s Horse the Hunter and locals Trox & The Terribles, the show is an anniversary celebration of five years of local vinyl-DJ and pop-up record shop Outpatient Records. The night will be Howlin’ Rain’s first stop after a round of sessions working on an upcoming full new record, so the band likely will treat the crowd to some brand-new stuff. Miller is looking forward to returning to Chico for its third local gig and what’s become a welcoming scene.
“[The shows there are] always fun, and Outpatient is killer,” Miller said. “Matt [Garcia, Outpatient owner, show promoter and DJ for the night] is a pretty great character when you look at Chico and the kind of effect he can have on the music scene and providing an outlet for the community.”