Listening Rig

I finally had to buy an external hard drive to house my music library. (I’d replaced the old Mac Mini’s internal one 5+ years ago.) Below is my current daily listening rig.

Intel Core 2 Duo Mac Mini (circa 2007)
1 TB WD Elements external HD
OS X 10.5.8
iTunes 10.6.3 (<– a version that’s still good!!)
160 GB iPod classic (<– best ever!!!!!!!!)
Library: 35,000 items; 100 days of music end-to-end

The iPod will die some day – it’s already been through a few total fritz-outs and and full re-syncs – but that’s survivable. (This will probably be the event that prompts me to enter the smartphone era.) I’m not sure I can go on living without iTunes 10 and my library, though. I probably need to investigate some kind of solid state drive machine that will boot Leopard.

Or maybe there’s library management software on Linux that could replace iTunes.

“Utopia Parkway” 20th Anniversary

The other week as I read the liner notes for Fountains of Wayne’s Out-of-State Plates while importing it to iTunes (yeah, still do that) I realized the 20th anniversary of their album Utopia Parkway had come and gone this past April, and I hadn’t seen anyone mention it.

Below is a lightly edited version of the email conversation Cory and I had about it.

Continue reading “Utopia Parkway” 20th Anniversary

Monotribe Modding

A couple months ago I impulse-bought a Korg Monotribe synth. It proved even more fun than I expected to play, but its variety of sounds are necessarily limited.

After a lot of googling, planning, and testing, parts arrive tomorrow for a suite of modifications that will expand the Monotribe’s palette in some moderate but meaningful ways.

Enhancements include:

  • Hi-hat, Bass drum, and drum mix (snare when the other two are used) direct outputs
  • Hi-hat and snare noise decay toggle switches
  • Bass drum and snare frame decay knobs
  • Drum mix momentary mute button
  • VCA de-click trim pot and toggle switch (the Monotribe’s amp envelope is notoriously clicky)
  • VCO mute toggle switch
  • VCF touch-sensitive cutoff control

Together, I hope these mods will take the Monotribe from the top end of the “fun-to-mess-around-with” bracket into the lower end of “serious instrument” territory. I fully intend to make a Monotribe-focused Night Mode record or two, and make it the centerpiece of a travel/jam synth rig with a very small footprint (think briefcase).

My hat is off to Korg for this incredibly creative and inspiring design. There are a lot of features that may not be obvious from the front panel, but that make the Monotribe incredibly musical, including:

  • The various LFO modes
  • Per-part active step (polyrhythms!)
  • Gate length and amp level automation
  • Wide mode on the ribbon controller
  • Flux mode on/off on the VCO sequencer
  • The interaction of the sequencer and the VCO active steps, which allows some really distinct sequences to be made easily

I could go on. Nothing could replace the MS-20’s place in my heart of hearts, but for instant playability I don’t know what beats the Monotribe.

Nash on Songs

“Songs, they have to be recorded or they drive you crazy just being inside your head.”
— Graham Nash, summer 2019

What pushed Graham Nash, the quiet one, to record his solo masterpiece

Rings true to me.

Sometimes it’s not even songs; it can be synth patches, or guitar sounds, or circuit ideas. Wrestling ideas out from the imagination and into the world.

Today it’s a drum beat, and maybe some synth mods.

Who knows what it might be tomorrow.

Neighboring Artists

My music library makes for some interesting bedfellows. Here are the real alphabetical neighbors for Mr. Furious artists:

Big Star

Cool Drugs
Cory Kibler

Cosmic Ground

Echo & the Bunnymen
Econoline Crush

Gift of Gab
Girl Talk

How to Destroy Angels

Maroon 5
Mars Lights
The Mars Volta

Pat Benatar
Pat Bradley
Paul and Paula

Robin Pecknold
Robot, Creep Closer!

Saint Vitus
Sally Ride
Same Old Crap

Shabazz Palaces

h&s Sound + Vision Dates

This is more for my reference than anything else, but I recorded drums for V for Voice at Sound + Vision / Lawrence Public Library on September 22, 2016, and March 6, 2017.

I remember both dates clearly, and it doesn’t seem like the September one could have been three years ago. At all.

I had some nerves, both about whether I’d play well and about being in a new studio. I can feel the weight of the drums as I walk up 7th street from my parking spot to the library’s front entrance. I feel as at-home on those streets now as I did on the streets of my hometown growing up.

Anyway. The recordings went pretty well those days. The tracklist was basically set already, so on the first date I played When Breathing through Beams, then the rest of the record on the second date.

Time is deeply strange.

Full Interview with Caitlyn Nelson

Below is our full email exchange with Caitlyn Nelson of The Crete News on August 10.

Caitlyn Nelson: You both are from Crete, correct?

Howie Howard: Yes. I was born here and lived here until I graduated from Doane in ’04. Scott, if I remember right, was born in David City but his family moved here while he very young; not sure of his exact age but before kindergarten I’m pretty sure, maybe even as an infant. 

Scott Morris: I was two when we moved to Crete.

CN: When did you and Scott start playing together?

Continue reading Full Interview with Caitlyn Nelson

V for Voice Writing

Writing the songs for V for Voice spanned a decade and a half, most of which was spent without any idea the record would ultimately happen.

The origins of several pieces on the album date back to 2002-04, after near and far and when I was writing the signs.comets material.  Following that I slowly accumulated song ideas here and there that never fit on other records I was doing.  At different times some of these songs had been penciled in for echoes, The Sleepover, and Sally Ride.

In 2014, as I prepared to pitch Scott on making an album, I went through my demos and notes like a curator, putting together what I thought would make a satisfying, diverse-yet-cohesive tracklist.  Little changed from then; one song was newly written and added (“Usually on a Battlefield”), and a couple “maybes” were affirmed or dropped along the way as we figured out what worked and what didn’t.

Looking back, writing can be divided into three phases:

  1. Ideas from 2002-04 that weren’t completed during our original h&s run (3-4 songs)
  2. Ideas from 2005-14 that weren’t composed specifically for h&s (8-9 songs)
  3. Arranging and writing lyrics for the ideas above after committing to the record, plus one new song, 2014-19
  Music Lyrics
When Breathing 2002-04 range, likely 2004; I have early lyrics on a page along with a to-do list for my visit home from Minnesota for Thanksgiving that year Started along with the music (opening “When breathing in…”, first verse and chorus rough ideas), added to and revised 2015-18, finished 2018
Gabriel Speaks 2002-04 range 2015-18 (though “Gabriel Speaks” was the working title from the start)
We Are 1nes Possibly as early as 2002, but I think more toward 04-06, echoes era.  But then, why didn’t I put it on one of those EPs?  So, could even be after Be A Ska Rat Same as music
Khreap Corbz Smarggh The first demo I have in iTunes was created March 21, 2012.  There’s a demo of the vocal melody from July 12, 2015.  The Sleepover recorded the Believe… EP in August 2011, and I remember after that Cory and James invited Scott and I to write new Sleepover material if we wanted.  This would have been my #1 choice to contribute if we’d stayed together.  I have a clear memory of demoing the drums in my old carriage house 2017-18
Traveling Mercies I’ve searched hard for this demo, and can’t find it.  An instrumental was there and ready when I set up the V for Voice recording sessions in February 2016; memory says it’s from several years prior to that Finished 2018, though the first verse is from earlier
Beams 2002-04 range Started along with the music (mostly scratched; the ending melody may be all that made it from the original vocal ideas); added to, revised, and finished 2018.  “Beams” was the working title from the start
Usually on a Battlefield 2016; Cari Ann gave me an Electro-Harmonix Pitch Fork pedal for Christmas 2015, and I wrote a ton of riffs in the weeks that followed. 2017-18
Let Them Land 2002-03 (I think 2002. I wrote the music and working title in Ghana – memory says on my first trip – but I’m not sure) 2016-17
After The Rain August 28, 2011 (I sent myself an email and printed it instead of handwriting the first page, so it’s date-stamped) 2018 (though “After The Rain” was the working title from the start)
When Breathing (Stops) I remember playing it at a St. Peter’s event the week I wrote it, so 2005-06ish Same as music; this one was written all at once
200Y The demo file in iTunes was created December 8, 2012 The phrase “In two hundred years…” and chorus melody came with the music; the rest of the lyrics are 2018.  Verse melody somewhere in between
Private Eisley iTunes demo file created October 9, 2011 (for all of these demos with iTunes dates, it’s possible the music was written months or even years prior) 2018
Stay In Time Fall 2004; I remember writing the melody and the rough lines of the chorus at Wayzata Community Church family camp.  The bulletin from the service I was in (and obviously not paying attention to) is in my notes somewhere, with the actual date.  Would have been Sept-Oct Started 2004; added to, revised, and finished 2018

The connections between “When Breathing,” “Gabriel Speaks,” and “Beams” and near and far/comets-era h&s are clear to my ears.  What’s interesting are the ways old ideas echo more subtly in much later stuff:

  • “Usually on a Battlefield” feels spiritually reminiscent of “After Hrs War” and “Mightier Than The Sword”
  • The free introduction of “Let Them Land” (an otherwise edge-pushing song for us) is straight off of something like “Under My Protection”
  • “200Y” reminds me of “Hymn for our T.M.D.” for more than its 6/8 time signature
  • The strum of “When Breathing (Stops)” hearkens back to “Nexus” and even “Spectrum”
  • “Private Eisley” is straight old-school genre exercise like “I’m So In Love”
  • The whole record has an end-of-Blues-Or-Astroblue everything-and-the-kitchen-sink quality, much more so than I planned, but welcome