While rock is a general term for any band to be labeled, with sounds ranging from blues, Americana, country, and even psychedelia, Angela Perley and The Howlin’ Moons are hard to label. Originating in Columbus, the band consists of singer/guitarist Angela Perley, guitarist Chris Conner, bassist Billy Zehnal, and drummer Jake Levy. Even though their range is broad, it works to their advantage; they still maintain a distinct sound. The band rolled into Athens on February 16th as part of their tour and we sat down to have a quick chat about how they do what they do.
In the prior works of The Howlin Moons, Chris Conner does not shy away from the blue notes and pentatonic licks. While still maintaining a heavy dose of bluesy lead in newer works (Hey Kid, Homemade Vision) there is an exploration into more reverb and delay-heavy spacy instrumental sections that provide a somewhat more dissociated atmosphere as opposed to their more energetic and climactic bluesy leads.
I find these sections to be especially enjoyable, particularly the parts in which Billy Zehnal is throwing down grooving basslines in conjunction with the spacy guitar. This can be noted in the piece Electric Flame from their newest album, a song reminiscent of Jefferson Airplane and David Gilmour but with a rocking and heavy chorus.
The bass on their newer stuff reaches farther from the country vibe in the verses while still incorporating bounce and country walks. Angela Perley’s vocals are powerful yet not overbearing, standing in front right next to Conner’s guitar—equally as melodically expressive on most songs. When comparing the recordings of Homemade Vision to Hey Kid, Perley’s vocals stick to the higher of her register, resulting in a slightly less aggressive sound.
With a band that features so much instrumentation and vocals, I was curious to know what the writing process looked like and how it had changed overtime. Angela writes the songs and the melody, and the band composes and finishes the arrangements. “Everyone writes their own part so it’s pretty organic in that sense.” Angela says.
The band met in Columbus through a shared friend who was helping to put together Perley’s EP through studio musicians. “At first it was kind of more singer/songwriter oriented. Once we got to know each other and everyone’s influences, and how everyone plays, I kind of leave a lot of the songs open. I think more of the band when I’m writing.”
The band’s instrumental sections are something that stand out a lot. When asked about if some of the parts had been made through jamming, Zehnal answered “More or less…There’s a lot of areas where we collectively had one brain, and when we’re touring night to night, we’ll keep expounding on that idea.” “A lot of our communication is onstage,” Perley added.
Conner described what seemed like their most efficient music writing process. To begin, Angela creates the general idea for songs on an acoustic guitar. “We’ll record it on our phones and archive them and then at some point, she’ll start emailing them around for everybody.” Conner says. “So, we start listening to them, then we’ll get together, and we’ll play them. There’s a couple songs where we’ll just play them live for a while, and everybody will just start trying different things, to see if something sticks. Maybe doing something a little too much just to see if it fits, and then maybe backing off on it. Seeing if the song has a mind of its own as far as the arrangement, then inevitably we might just settle into what we think it should sound like on the record.”
When asked about the inclusion of more experimental effects and what prompted them, Angela responded, “Some of my first little solo demos, I would experiment, I had a lot of crazy delays… It was very psychedelic. But then I really got obsessed with folk music, and roots, and old country when I was in Athens.”
Conner went into more detail about their tone decisions, “There’s a lot of delay on the guitar, so it makes sense to put delay on the vocals. We listen to Black Sabbath sometimes, Ozzie’s got some really cool reverb and delay going on.” Perley nodded in agreement, “Lots of Black Sabbath. The year of Black Sabbath.” This is something I certainly noticed live with Conner’s heavy distorted and bassy tone working together Zehnal and Levy to create a pounding rhythm section.
When asked about their fan reaction to the evolution of their music, Perley describes, “I think it just depends. I think a lot of people have been with us since the beginning and they like to see how the band has evolved. We never really think about the audience directly, it seems like everybody likes to see what we’re up to and how it’s evolving.”
“You can’t please everyone,” Zehnal added.
The show on the 16th was truly a banger, but the band is not stopping anytime soon. Check out their website for tour dates this month.
With a spring tour in full swing and an upcoming album this fall, Angela Pearly and the Howlin’ Moons are continuing to put out great music and don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
Photo taken by Andrew Maughan