Band of the Week: Howlin Rain

Music Features Howlin' Rain
Share Tweet Submit Pin

Band of the Week: Howlin Rain
Hometown: Oakland, Calif.
Fun Fact: Frontman Ethan Miller also does mic duty for psych monsters, Comets on Fire.
Why It’s Worth Watching: The band takes listeners back to a time when “jam band” meant something other than Phish.
For Fans Of: Comets on Fire, Sunburned Hand of the Man, The Allman Brothers

Sometimes, when artists are faced with a period of downtime, they see it as a vacation period, a welcome respite from performing and writing. Some see it as a chance to rest on their laurels and take their leisurely time before releasing a new album. Ethan Miller, singer and guitarist for Comets on Fire, saw it as an opportunity.

“There were some things I wanted to do that I didn’t think were right for Comets on Fire,” he explains. “Things that were my own, rather than something that we in the collective would try to invent.”

So, when Miller’s regular band found itself in a gap between touring and recording, the songwriter called up drummer John Molony from Sunburned Hand of the Man and bassist/banjo player Ian Gradek to record some of his own songs under the moniker Howlin Rain. Diverging from the more intense psychedelic rock of Comets, Howlin Rain’s self-titled album recalls the '60s drones and rattling bones of the great jam bands, such as The Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers and The Band. “I love those groups,” Miller says from his native Oakland, located just across the bay from San Francisco, where Haight and Ashbury meet. “They were just really well-studied, dedicated scholars of rock and roll who put everything together in a melting pot to create their own sound.”

Miller himself is something of a scholar, citing influences as disparate as The Replacements and Van Morrison. “I’m very ecstatic in my enthusiasm about something. One week I’ll be like, ‘I gotta go out and buy all the Canned Heat records right now.’ And then a week later I’ll say, ‘I don’t ever need to hear Canned Heat ever again.’ But at least then it’s in you. It’s latched onto your DNA.”

One of the people that Miller listened to records with in his formative years was Gradek. “Ian and I learned to play music together; he and I were in our first band together in high school. He was actually more into the Dead than I was. But it was good roots in those early days to fulfill some of this Howlin’ Rain stuff together now.”

Miller asked Arik Roper, whose striking psychedelic designs are usually associated with metal bands, to do the artwork for the album, tour posters, t-shirts and website. Miller gushes when asked about Roper's talent. “I’ve always loved his work, and I don’t personally know a lot of visual artists I admire, so it’s an extra thrill for me to work with someone on a level that I really don’t understand. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to get Roper for a Comets on Fire album, because it’s almost too perfect. I mean, he could do a super crazy psych cover for us and we’re a super crazy psych band. But Comets have always been about defying expectations.”

Last year was a productive one for Miller: Howlin Rain was released in May and followed by a tour, then, in August, the latest Comets album, Avatar, was released to wide acclaim. Indeed, Miller’s energy in creating music seems only matched by his enthusiasm for listening to it. “I’ve kind of gotten to the point where there’s almost no music where I don’t like something about it. There’s something great in every piece of music; it’s your perspective that’s skewed.”