A HOOTIE NEW ALBUM : DANIELLE HOWLE ROCKS
by Michael Buffalo Smith
Danielle Howle is an amazing performer. Based in Columbia, South Carolina, she first rose to prominence as a member of the rock band Lay Quiet Awhile, before forming an equally impressive ensemble called Danielle Howle and The Tantrums. She tours tirelessly, writes songs that are like individual works of art and spreads good vibes (in the day I would have written "groovy vibes") where ever she goes. We caught up with Danielle to talk about her music and her new album, Thank You Mark.
Where were you born and raised?
My family is from what they call the Flatland, or the Peedee region of South Carolina. My Dad was in the military and I was raised up by Southern people in the military and hung out with my family but got to live all over the place.
Who were some of the earliest musical influences that you remember?
One of the first shows that I ever saw was Duke Ellington, because my mother was very pregnant with me. That was in New Orleans. We were in Hattisburg, Mississippi at that time. Both of my parents were musicians. We listened to everything.
When did you first start playing the guitar or were you writing songs first?
I have been writing songs forever, and I didn’t even know that was what they were. Just putting down words and music all the time .I didn’t really play guitar until I was 21. I kept a journal from 3rd grade until 10th grade pretty diligently and that is where I worked out most of my songs. I didn’t really play anything. They were just songs in there and I would have to remember them. Then in high school I had a Casio keyboard and would work them out on that.
Do you still play with the guys from Greenville?
I play with them on occasion and then I have another band that lives in the northeast in New York that I play with in that region. There are some other folks I get with in other areas depending on what region I am in at the time.
Tell me a little brief history of the group you had called The Tantrums and some about Lay Quiet Awhile....
Lay Quiet Awhile already existed and I took them into a new direction when I joined them. I happened to get them a record deal. The Tantrums had a drummer from Lay Quiet Awhile before I was in it. He is a very dear friend of mine, Troy Tague who now plays with Iron and Wine. When The Tantrums stopped playing we never really broke up, just quit playing. We were all good friends and everyone just got busy doing other things.There were some guys from Blightobody and the old drummer from Lay Quiet Awhile. I tell you, everyone got along together very well. We all worked very hard and were dedicated. You know when you hear about people being in bands with their best friends, I definitely got to experience that in this situation. It was a fantastic musical and business experience. The guys were bringing all of themselves to the situation 100% and it was fantastic.
At one point you were associated with The Indigo Girls and their label right?
Oh yeah, they put out 2-3 records for me and I am good friends with Amy Ray and the label is still in existence. I am going to tour with them on the West coast and in the Midwest in July. That association continues and they are very generous.
Tell us a little bit about those ladies...
Well, they are fifth generation,Southern Atlanta women, both of them. Amy started that label a long time before we met. I just happened to get a call one day from Kevin at The Music Farm in Charleston, and he said that if we would come down there he would get us on 98 Wave and we could open up for the Ellen James Society. I told him cool but I didn’t know them, they were this band on Damon Records. We got down there and were very excited. We play and there is this girl in the audience that happened to be Amy. She introduced herself and said she wanted to sign Lay Quiet Awhile. I didn’t know that stuff like that really could happen and we got a distribution deal with a company overseas and we toured over then with Indigo Girls and it was pretty fantastic.
One thing I found out today when I was scouring the internet on you, all of a sudden there you are in Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine...quite a glamorous shoot too...
Oh yeah, I have been in there twice. I had a publicist, named Felice Eckhart and they worked for Girly Action Publicity. They are awesome. They would find little things like that for me to do. At the time the roster was me, Napster, Elliot Smith, Ben Folds Five, and it was an insane roster. I did end up doing a tour with Elliot Smith in my days when I was putting stuff out on Damon Records and that was really cool too. I was around him a lot before he got fancy and famous. We were touring buddies.
How do you feel about the state of the music business today, and I know that is a lot to answer, but there is allot going on with digital and there is a lot happening with the big record companies and independent seem to be in my opinion coming out of the wood work... what’s your opinion...
Well, everything goes in phases and when I started out there were lots of indie labels and they went away and now they are back again. Some have stuck around and I don’t really know what that means for anyone who is like me, an individual with a mind and a reason and nothing else but mere existence alone for putting out music. The reason that I exist on this earth is because I make music and because I am lucky and that is what I was put here to do.
Although, indie labels are good for someone like me because there are lots of us out there and it makes me feel like I belong to a family that I don’t even know. That whole thing about interesting interest stuff like iTunes and other stuff are a good thing and that gets people in touch with the artists. As far as what the big companies are doing, I am not really interested. Good luck to them and it seems that the power is going back to the people and it’s easier than ever to find music and not have to work as hard as folks did back in the day. I remember having to really work to find new stuff. I have no idea what this business will do, maybe it will eat itself and explode. (laughs) Whether it is down home indie rock business or large companies, and it doesn’t make any difference to me. I am still going to play music,because I keep showing up and doing it. I keep doing that and try really hard to make the show work out. It doesn’t make any difference to me about people making money off of other people’s dreams... because you know I think that the good stuff flips up to the top. People like you and me or folks that are running things that matter- it ends up getting into the right hands. It may not be as many hands, but what is enough?
Now, I walk into the room and show up and people are there to hear me. Maybe I would like to have more people to play in front of, but it doesn’t really matter, because I am fulfilling my destiny, doing my job, I am happy and a person who is viewing the world who is watching history and writing about what is going on around me. So I am really doing my job and couldn’t ask for more. Even though people want a little more all the time. I guess I would like to tour with other artists that I enjoy and meet people that really love music and perform for them. But back to that industry thing, and I know there are a lot of people that do worry about that, I did in the past and probably to the overkill, but now I am thinking that I am aggressively fulfilling my destiny. I don’t know what is going to happen with that music business, and I do watch it all the time. I read up on music people that work for the Future of Music Coalition, and what they do to ensure our rights as musicians, and there are all those new ways to download and I am seeing that everything reinvents itself.
When the Gutenberg Press came out, mass communication tool, there were lots of problems but it doesn’t really matter, because if you can get something going on and have something to say it will get out in the world anyway. Things go as they go. You can work on something to death, and then there are others that walk up and start things going. There is something bigger out there. It might just be the force of life. Sometimes I do get angry about some of it, and I am not leaving it all up to metaphysics, but there is a time when you should be smart and keep doing what you are doing. May the best man win, when it comes to that capitalization of others dreams. If you are wrong, a group of people will get together and straighten it out. There is power in people banding together and not let bad things happen to people. I am all about the power to the people thing.
This feels like the 60s again. (laughs)
I am a country person once removed and had a farming commune type of mentality. Everything is pretty straight up in that community. I have stayed away from politics pretty much but it seems like as everyone is walking around in fear.
Could you give me some thoughts on that, Bush, the war... our country....
I love our country and the people in it. Growing up military again, you see the need for things. I don’t take a political side, because I am a "may the best man win" type person. I have not joined a political party and I just vote for who I see is the best person for the job, male or female. What is the state of affairs of the person standing in front of you. The question I am asking myself is that what am I doing today? Am I being right? Am I listening to others and having compassion for others? Am I being true to myself and nice to others? Am I being fair and respectful? Am I being true to myself? Then I feel like after I ask those questions I am doing fine and others will too.
I don’t have to get concerned about the state of nothing. It seems like there is a lot of finger pointing going on. We must stop that. I love this country. I do think everything cycles around. Didn’t the Byrds write that "To Everything, Turn, Turn, Turn?"
Yeah, and I think that is actually out of the Bible...
Those cats coming out of the 60’s was when the media was a big deal and rock and roll was coming... I don’t think I can keep up with all the wrong and right doings of others because all I can really do is take care of where I am coming from. Mostly I have strong opinions about how am I behaving today. As long as I am not acting foolish then maybe I will be wise enough to vote for the person that can do the most for others. I don’t keep up with politics because there is a lot more than goes on behind the eye...I am not joining any of their damn teams, man. I am just country and old school, man... I know you know what I mean...(laughs)
The other thing is what is coming up for you in the immediate future... I love your new album... tell us about it and what else is happening...
Well, that record, me and Mark Bryan from Hootie and The Blowfish made it of course, I had all these songs and I didn’t know what I was going to do with them, I was just picking and playing in some folk venues and occasionally meeting up with the not so average rock star opening up some of the shows, just feeling pretty lucky and struggling by like everyone else. It has not been a bed of roses, but I do know that this is what I am supposed to do. It has taught me much about life.
Some people are writers and some grow plants, and others are lawyers and we all pick something and hopefully it is something that we like. I have had a lot of jobs in my life that I did not like, I have worked in stock rooms and been a professional maid for seven years, and I have done all kinds of things that you would not believe. They all taught me something though. Maybe that I wanted to go back and do music whenever I can. We got this group of people together and made this music on a porch in front of a large body of water that acted like a huge reverb tank. The band sat in the living room and I looked through the window and helped to direct them. I got that coming out and I am in a super creative period in my life where the craft is starting to get to me. I know enough to get myself in trouble now. I have to watch out for wanting too much. I am a very ambitious person. I have all that going on, and this Valley Entertainment thing has been a blessing. This work needed a home and no wonder I waited for awhile. These people are as enthusiastic as I am about it.
There are lots of things I want to do, and many records I want to make. I am glad to get out into the world and listen to others songs. I am influenced by it all. I hear music everywhere and I see magic all the time.I like that and sometimes it does get in the way when you are trying to balance your checkbook. I just feel lucky.