A Southern Rock & Roll Revivalist Movement
Bred from a state whose dive bars are haunted by decades of movement-starting genres, Atlanta-based The Howling Tongues have been born into the ingenious – yet highly stigmatized – world of Southern music, and they’re not exactly psyched.
“Atlanta’s kind of rough,” says The Howling Tongues’ drummer T.J., aka Tylor James. “There’s all these people trying really hard to put Southern twang in their music that it doesn’t need. When people think of the South they immediately think of old Southern rock bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd that we’re not big fans of.”
But The Howling Tongues can’t escape the influences of their homeland, and they’re admittedly not trying too hard to hide their Southern pride. They formed in 2011 when guitarist Taylor Harlow took a 3 a.m. summer drive and asked friends T.J. and guitarist Nick Magliochetti to start a band. A few months later, keys player Thomas Wainwright and bassist Zach Smith joined. What followed was The Howling Tongues, with an intrinsically Southern attitude of play-‘til-your-fingers-bleed rock-and-roll and the inescapable humidity of stomping blues in their first record, Keep The Dust Down, self-released this spring.
It may just be a six-track EP, but it’s a record with a hard-slapping pulse, the kind of devilish rock that comes alive as it crawls through the stereo. The Howling Tongues’ songwriting process is no less intense.
“Our practice is not super structured,” says Harlow. “We’ll write five songs all the way through, and then trash them in rehearsal – that’s when the best songs come out, when you’re not over thinking it. You’re just playing with the band and listening to each other. So we have a lot of fun and go crazy.”
“We all ride that same roller coaster together,” says Wainwright about rehearsal, which takes place in T.J.’s backyard “barn-esque” bar. “It’s the perfect environment for us. It’s rock and roll. We can be as loud as we want. The process is definitely a long one, but what will come out of it is that we have something worthwhile.”
The songs they found worthwhile were recorded onto the album in five days of studio time, thanks to producer/engineer Tom Tapley (Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam). “I don’t know how you can get better than that,” says Magliochetti of their producer.
“About 80 percent of the album was recorded live. We kept guitar solos that turned out to be good because it was in the moment. That’s what we were hoping Tom would be able to help us with – we had no idea how to record like that. We thought we sounded like crap, but it sounds like something pretty decent when we’re together.”
Magliochetti’s modesty is overruled by their sold out shows in venues around the region. Even before their record came out, The Howling Tongues enjoyed the Southern hospitality in the realm of music fandom. “The main thing right now is focusing on building a fanbase in the South, to plant our flag,” says Wainwright. “The South is super dedicated. If they love something, they love it wholeheartedly. That’s part of why we have fun with great bands from the South.”
In building both a Southern fanbase, The Howling Tongues have found additional support through a community of musicians, rendering the PR usually taken care of by record labels unnecessary. “[Other] bands have been very charismatic when it comes to spreading the word about our band,” says Wainwright. “They’re pretty dedicated. We’ve worked with some awesome friends who show up and invite their friends. Word of mouth spreads pretty damn fast.”
One of the greatest artists they’ve befriended, says Harlow, was Foxy Shazam, who played for The Howling Tongues’ record release party. “We were so grateful to be able to play with them,” he says. “It was tough because it was on a Wednesday night and it was hard to get a lot of our people out, but we let Foxy bring their people and it turned out to be an awesome show. Those are great dudes. They let us trash their stage.”
The Howling Tongues’ shows can get a bit unruly. But it’s all a part of the revivalist movement, to violently shake a crowd into remembering why rock and roll made a mark on this world in the first place. “When we first got into the rock and roll music scene as individuals – at a lot of shows – at the most, fans would bob their heads,” says Harlow. “And that kind of – for a lack of a better term – annoyed us. We wanted to create something that is almost impossible not to move around to and scream and have a really good time.”
Georgia has been the first stomping grounds for musicians from Ray Charles, to the B-52s, to Jerry Reed, and now that The Howling Tongues are leaving their footprints in one of the country’s most musically innovative regions, they’re not just following the path of the past. “We have a different kind of sound,” says Harlow. “I think people will appreciate that and find a different pace from the typical rock band that you hear in Atlanta.”
Whether The Howling Tongues want to be associated with the South or not, the band has the Southern blues in their blood and it’s seeping into their sound. And the tug-and-pull between their roots and contemporary innovation is what has the fans and fellow musicians backing them. “I don’t know what our sound would be like if we weren’t in the South,” says James. “At least with a couple of us there’s probably some Southern pride in there. We’re just trying to make something that’s timeless, but we’re not trying to conform.”
And with gear that will make you weep (like Magliochetti’s 1972 Gibson ES-325 or Smith’s 1976 Fender P-Bass), the guys are now on their revivalist movement to re-focus rock and roll in their own way, backed by the fanbase that are already selling out venues. “There are the classic rock-and-roll groups like Queen and Led Zeppelin that we look up to,” says Wainwright. “We want to continue on a path they would have been on if rock didn’t derail. We want to place it back where it’s supposed to be. It’s an old sound, but people love rock and roll. They just don’t know it yet.”
photos by Phil Sanders