Please list all of your band members and their roles in the band.
Bryan Howell--vocals, guitars, percussion. The Standalones (in studio and the video for “Your Saturday Night”): Brandon Brault, drums, Matthew Copperwheat, guitars, Dan Phillips, bass.
For starters, what bands were you guys a part of prior to being The Standalones? How long has the band been around?
We were all in a variety of bands, the list is long and undistinguished [laughs]. I had a previous band, a power-pop/indie band called The Pop Shivers, which had broken up. I went the solo route and started heading more rock with my style. The drummer in that early incarnation of The Standalones moved down south. So I ended up finding an ad Brandon had put up on Craigslist, looking to play in a punk or alternative band. He was switching from guitar in a metal band called Against All Odds, which were breaking up, to playing drums. There were some hiccups finding the right second guitarist, and it took a while to get the right one. Brandon found Matt through Craigslist, and after a few trial rehearsals I knew he was the right guy, because he could do atmosphere, back me up for fronting or soloing, or tear up leads at will as the song or arrangement needed.
As for Dan, he and I had played together a few years before, but admittedly that hadn't worked out, ‘cause that band was going in a more mellow, Mazzy Star-esque direction, and I was leaning, well, rock. So we went our separate ways, and then we met by chance at a charity gig one night and started talking again, and his band then, Item 6, ended up being on the bill with us multiple times over the next few months. I kept hearing him play and saying to myself and the others, “Man, he would fit so well with us...” So when that band he was in broke up, and we needed a new bass player, I poached him! [laughs] Getting him in completed the whole lineup, and that was the first time everything clicked for me all around, and it really freed me as a songwriter and performer. We played a few shows and rehearsed for about 3 months before we started tracking Take The Risk, then played out a bit here and there afterward until I moved to Nashville solo earlier this year.
What’s the origin of that name and have you changed the band’s name before?
It started out with me being a solo artist, and then having people backing me. We went through a variety of band names, almost from gig to gig, and then we had a big sit-down where we all brought our best names to the table. “The Standalones” stuck out because I was based in upstate New York at the time, and it felt like what we were doing—this kind of hot-rodded, original rock and roll with a lot of influences in the mix being kind of sucked into the vortex and spit out in some form-—was much different from all the other cover bands and metal bands on the scene. So we went with that because it had a nice ring to it, and kind of seemed to explain how we were different, and it also had a sort of neutral element to it that meant we could pursue musical growth in any direction and develop and evolve further without being pigeonholed.
Who writes your songs? What are the main themes or topics for most of your songs and do you think these topics will change over time?
Well, as the guy with his name out front as a solo artist, it's me! [laughs] I don't know if there's one theme or topic I'm on. I'm trying to write songs about people I know, or things I myself and others are going through or have gone through. Take The Risk is a bit of a loose concept album, because it's about putting yourself out there and going for it, picking yourself up as you realize not everything in life is perfect and living the best you can anyway. I guess at this point I'm dealing with basic human themes, wrestling with ideas about being human in what I feel is both a hyper-connected and really impersonal and cold time, and through the prism of growing up in the Rust Belt and what I see in society and people around me. But that said, there are also songs that are just about classic rock and roll stuff about girls, nights on the town, and having fun. I'm sure these topics will change and shift depending on what I'm going through and what I'm seeing, but I hope I don't lose my core attitudes as an artist about the value of people and writing from the perspective I've come from, while embracing this music is also supposed to be fun and a healthy escape valve.
What bands are currently inspiring the music that you’re making?
There's so many. There's one part of me inspired by what I consider classic rock and roll and roots songwriters—Springsteen, Tom Petty, Fogerty, Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earle, as well as other songwriting duos like Hall and Oates, Strummer/Jones, or Fieger/Averre of The Knack. Then there's another part that loves all those old Sun, Stax and Motown sides, rockabilly, surf music, country, classic rock, and things like that. Then there's yet another that is into modern garage rock and indie rock with an edge, stuff from The Strokes, The Black Keys, The Hives, and all manner of bands like that. It's maybe a wildly diverse mix, but I feel like it seems to work as a pool of influences, because aesthetically and from an emotional perspective, these acts are all about songwriting, honesty and passion in their music, and that's what I'm aiming for too.
Was there a particular band/artist or concert that inspired you to start a band?
In the beginning, I was just a young child, one late summer night, watching TV with my parents. The station showed a bit of what I now know is the opening of The Kids Are Alright, with The Who on the Smothers Brothers show playing “My Generation” like mad, and then everything blowing up and being destroyed. It scared the absolute bejesus out of naive innocent little me, but it was also so many things: catchy, fascinating, dangerous and exciting. I needed more of that, even if I didn't understand what the hell it was or why for many years. On top of that, my parents owned literally hundreds of LPs and CDs, across every genre, and they would play music for hours and hours in the den on weekends, and only take breaks for us to have dinner. So all that got into my marrow too.
I was initially intimidated by the guitar, because it seemed like whenever I heard it played it was in what is now frequently referred to as a “classic rock” context, and everybody seemed a virtuoso. So I just thought, man, there's no way I could do this. The bar seemed so high, almost mystical. But —and my Mom hates me telling this story, she's always worried the powers that be are going to track me down and demand the $50 or whatever I owe for this [laughs]--my roommate got me into a Springsteen show for free, in the General Admission section, because we crawled under a gate and….well, anyway, the show was religious in its intensity, over 3 hours, and I was struck by the passion, energy and high quality all the way through, and also by the fact that Springsteen was a killer guitar player, that wasn't even the main focus. I realized then the most important part of playing guitar was songs, and you didn't need to be on fire the whole night if you could play in a unit and just focus on making great music. I dove headlong into the guitar after that, and it was like this thing that swallowed my life and changed it all entirely, but in reality it had been just waiting in the shadows the whole time for me to connect everything together. And now if I ever meet Springsteen, I gotta make sure I have some cash on me!
What do you do to prepare for a show? Any flexing, exercises, etc …
A few things. I try to focus on just my music and my performance beforehand. That can come off as shallow on a bill with multiple acts, or kind of quiet when people want to chat, but I've realized I need to be in my own head, and to some extent kind of introverted right before the start of a set. So I'll step out, go for a walk to meditate and start stretching my legs, because the performance is going to be really physical and intense the whole time, and taking up a lot of mental and emotional space, so I need to be all warmed up for that. I do a variety of stretches and some vocal exercises, and then I focus on making sure that everything needed is onstage—extra sports drinks and water to stay hydrated, set lists, and so on. After that, it's just a matter of plugging in and going for it.
What has been the biggest highlight of the band’s career so far?
Making Take The Risk has been an absolutely nutty ride. All kinds of life stuff was happening to everybody while we were tracking it and building it up here and there over a few months, and I ended up going into this semi-zombie period, where it seemed like all I did was eat, work at the studio with Jeff, and then drive to and from it, and I remember little else but a blur doing that time period making the album. So then we came off of that, and then got into mixing, and everything was flowing well, even if it was exhausting. Then the mastering of the album turned into a major ordeal and snowballed beyond that, and at one point I wondered if it would ever be done, and if I would ever get my master tapes back….but that's a whole other story. And in the meantime I was in the process of moving to Nashville and between two worlds in a lot of ways. So to have gone through all this, and a lot more besides, and then be able to finally get this thing out and have people respond as positively as they are….that's been the highlight so far for me.
If you could tour with any bands, past or present, who would they be and why?
Man, that's tough. There's so many. The Clash. The package tours of Stax artists with Booker T and the M.G.s backing them. Springsteen and The E Street Band, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. Led Zeppelin. Bon Scott-era AC/DC, just to hang out in the hotels and bars with them after, though those shows I'm sure would be killer every night. I'd love to tour with The Black Keys or The Foo Fighters too, I think those would be great shows and tons of fun backstage, and hopefully we could sit in on each other's sets in some way and do some neat stuff that way too. I'm sure I'm missing a lot. There's just so much good music, I could name bands all day and night!
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Just a big thank you to your site, and everyone else who has supported us so far and helped get the word out or say good things about the new album so far. Also, we will be back onstage again soon, so we're really excited for that and getting the live show in full gear again! Lastly, a quick note on where to find us online: www.bryanhowellmusic.com , on Facebook if you search for Bryan Howell and The Standalones, Twitter at @BryanHowellRock, and Instagram at bryanhowell_standalones .
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