San Francisco Bay Area-based power quintet Howlin Rain’s third album The Russian Wilds passionately protests the currently popular notion that heroically conceived and executed rock music is a thing of golden ages passed. Having been formed by bandleader-singer-guitarist Ethan Miller in 2004, as a melodic offshoot of blazing new-psych innovators Comets On Fire, Howlin Rain soon caught the attention of uber-producer Rick Rubin, who signed them to his American Recordings label and involved himself deeply in their subsequent musical evolution thereafter. Rubin worked closely with Ethan for over a year and a half as he shaped and perfected the material being written for The Russian Wilds. Finally, the band entered the studio with producer-engineer Tim Green (The Fucking Champs, Nation of Ulysses), tracking at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, as well as at Trilogy Studios and Hyde Street in San Francisco, recording most of the overdubs at Green’s Louder Studios in SF, where Tim mixed the album with crucial input from Rick.
The Russian Wilds is a sprawling, Pynchon-esque labyrinth and a colorful, feeling-filled catalyst for hungry minds. It’s the masterwork earlier studio sets and Howlin Rain’s barn-burning live shows have hinted at given blood and bone by a group in their fighting prime. “There was a point when we were really trying to blend Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland, Steely Dan’s Gaucho and Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness On The Edge of Town,” says Ethan Miller. “I love the Boss’ singing, where he’s just blowing out his voice even when it’s just a pop ballad moment. And we were inspired by some of the grooves and close mic stuff on Gaucho, and by how Electric Ladyland runs the gamut from super long jams to blues numbers to drifting psychedelic pieces. There’s a sense of audacity to these records – a band chasing down strong, invisible connections – and there’s moments like that on our record. We didn’t always do the smartest or safest things [laughs].”
Besides Miller, Howlin Rain comprises Raj Ojha (drums, percussion), Cyrus Comiskey (bass), Joel Robinow (keyboards, guitar, vocals) and Isaiah Mitchell (guitar, vocals). These musicians have drawn upon the basic vocabulary of classic rock but then stretch and reshape it to more arcane and ambitious ends. The results present a unique aural vision that expresses the fantastical and the practical in equal measure, resonating quite nicely with the work of kindred spirits such as Assemble Head In Sunburst Sound, Wooden Shjips, Chris Robinson Brotherhood and Vetiver. This New Cosmic California movement shares an exploration of song-grounded, psych-touched, emotionally charged boogie and blues; they are, in short, the next generation to carry on the viscerally charged spirit of the musical pioneers that once rendered the Fillmore and Winterland stages magic in decades long passed. Where Howlin Rain differs from some of their compatriots is their penchanct for conjuring simmering soul grooves in unexpected places, marrying blue-eyed soul influences to strutting highway-ready rock. In addition, their latest work reflects increased focus on sophisticated harmony vocal arrangements, adding exciting new dimensions to their ouevre.
Howlin Rain has performed at major festivals in the U.S. (Bonnaroo, Outside Lands, Bumbershoot) and in Europe (Green Man, All Tomorrow’s Parties, Azkena), and has toured with The Black Crowes, Queens of the Stone Age, and Black Mountain, as well as sharing bills with Mudhoney, Roky Erickson, Terry Reid, Okkervil River and The Meat Puppets. After their period of intense woodshedding over these past few years, Howlin Rain is looking forward to seeing this new music blossom on concert stages around the world!