20 Questions With Howling: The Electronic Duo on Kindness, Patience, Balance, Gratitude & Radiohead

Howling
Elliot Lee Hazel

Howling

Less an overt dance album and more a lush electronic album you can live with, Howling has today (July 24), released their sophomore LP, Colure. Layered, ambient, driving, sensual, introspective, emotive and ideal moment for a moment when music is largely being experienced in the personal confines of one's own abode, the album (out via Ninja Tune) is a dual effort from Howling's Ry X and Frank Wiedemann.

Based in Berlin (Wiedemann) and in the mountains just outside of Los Angeles (Ry X), the duo met up for late night recording sessions in Ibiza and LA to produce Colure, which follows their 2015 debut Sacred Ground and amalgamates deeply textured productions and X's haunting falsetto into what's certainly one of the best and most resonant albums to land in the dance music realm thus far this year.

Here, the duo share their thoughts on their formative inspirations, early-morning magic and how to best tend to one's self and the world at large during this singular moment in history.

1. Where are you in the world right now, and what's the setting like?

Ry X: I'm in Topanga Canyon, California, where I live. Lots of time with mornings in the ocean and hiking the mountains at sunset, diving into studios here on my property every day in creation and taking care of body and spirit and close family always

Frank: I’m in Berlin at the moment, being a dad more than I’ve ever been, which is bliss even though I miss the stage. And creating as well in my studio alone or with friends.

2. What is the first album or piece of music you bought for yourselves, and what was the medium? 

Ry X : I got to buy [Nirvana's] Nevermind as the first CD I ever owned. And my parents bought me a CD player. I think I was maybe 9 or 10. Was a big moment for me, in independence and also in the influence of music. But I grew up with my dad's record collection from a little kid too, so that informed me creatively as much as anything else

Frank : The first record I got as a present was Weather Report's 8:30 Live. Their music, and Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock, influenceD me a lot in my youth. The first record I bought myself with my own money was Prince's Sign 'O' The Times, though.

3. What did your parents do for a living when you were a kid, and what do they think of what you do for a living now?

Ry X: My mum was then and still is a yoga teacher and ran businesses going to Bali and buying beautiful things to bring back and sell. My dad is a sustainable planner, environmentalist, and permaculturist.

Frank: My father used to be a professor for traffic engineering, and my mum a school teacher. So I’m a teacher's kid, which some people consider being difficult. But my father also played trumpet very well, and my mother did run a jazz club in my hometown for many years. That’s how music came into my life and surrounded me all the time.

4. What was the first song you ever made?

Ry X: I was in grunge and punk bands as a young teenager. We would get dropped off at a field where there was a shack with power and write and play all-day.

Frank: For me that was probably the opposite or you, Ry. I played and composed jazz-rock nerd tunes.

5. If you had to recommend one album for someone looking to get into dance/electronic music, what would you give them?

Ry X: Oooohhhhh, tough one. Non-dance related electronic, maybe something like Kid A from Radiohead, or an early Björk record, or Massive Attack. Something that bridges the gap between worlds and touches so many places, creatively and emotionally. Purely dance-related it's such a broad spectrum…maybe something like a DJ Koze remix record or some Four Tet or Floating Points.

Frank: Indeed, hard to decide. Matthew Herbert, Isolee, Theo Parrish maybe to be added to [Ry's] list from my side.

6. What’s the first thing you bought for yourself when you started making money as a DJ/producer/musician?

Ry X: Surfboards and more synthesizers. Then, and still now.

Frank: I was blessed with the fact that my father always had some synths, drum machines and even multitrack recorders at home. The first Synth I bought was an Ensoniq ESQ-1. But the big step came for me when I bought that E-MU sampler and a Technics 1210, which must have been around 1994/95.

7. What’s the last song you listened to?

Ry X: I actually just listened to a remix from Kelela that someone sent me. "Santa Muerte Bluff 94 BPM."

Frank: "The End," by the Doors.

8. What’s one song you wish you had produced?

Ry X: To follow a theme from an earlier question, maybe "Everything in Its Right Place" by Radiohead.

Frank: Kraftwerk, "Trans Europe Express“

9. How are you filling your time during quarantine?

Ry X: So much creativity in my studio and putting my body in the seas and under trees, and being connected to family and dear friends and doing some self study and growth too.

Frank: Except for the sea part I can totally see myself in Ry’s description.

10. What’s distinctive about the place you grew up, and how did it shape you?

Ry X : I was born on an island of 200 people in Australia, so it affected me in so many foundational ways -- in the way I see the world, the way I create art, and the way I still like to live, to be immersed within nature and the sea.

Frank: I was born in a not so big town in south Germany. There was a lot of sun, great food and nice nature around. It must have been nice enough that I spent 37 years there. But I’m happy where I’m at now.

11. What's the first dance music set that really blew your mind?

Ry X: Definitely one with Frank somewhere...maybe Panorama Bar in Berlin where Dixon was playing, and he played [the 2015 Howling song] "Howling" for the first time I had seen it in a club. It was morning by then, and they opened the shutters for a moment to let the daylight stream in. Seeing people in such deep connection with one another and the music...a very special moment.

Frank: When I went the first time at [the nightclub] Robert Johnson in Offenbach and understood how there can be a whole night of straight kick drums, and it’s not getting on my nerves. This was late '90s, the DJs of  [iconic record label] Needs (Not Wants) were playing, and they opened my mind.

12. The world is going through a dark time right now, with the pandemic, racial inequality, politics, etc. In this challenging moment, what gives you hope, and what do you do a personal level to achieve peace of mind?

Ry X : It is a very important balance of getting deeply engaged in your beliefs and staying grounded and centered individually at the same time, so that you can place your full weight and energy behind causes and actions of meaning and worth with sustained connection and vitality on a personal level.

It can become easy to get swayed in many directions, especially now. And it becomes ever more crucial to make sure you are taking care of yourself in body and spirit along the way so that you make conscious loving decisions at every step. I use the sea, yoga, mediation, nature, communication with dear friends and self-reflection as centering tools that also bring peace and clarity

From that place, I then lean in to support causes of equality, justice, awareness and compassion. I get engaged on many levels, from the streets to studios in pursuit of creating meaningful change on as many levels as I can

Frank : I try to not get crazy, enjoying not to travel, healing my body, seeing these times as a chance for change. And the only one I can change is me, so I start here.

13. What is the first thing you do when you get back to your hotel room after a show?

Ry X : Mellow ambient music on, a long shower, make some herbal teas, melt in.

Frank: Pardon, what is this… "a show“?

14. What is the craziest thing you’ve ever seen happening in the crowd during one of your sets?

Ry X : Ohhh, there have been many strange moments. But our crowds are pretty connected and present with us, and that means a lot to us as we play for them.

Frank: It still amazes me to see light in the eyes of this audience, get their reaction, feel their connection to us and our music. That’s maybe not crazy, but pretty magical.

15. Your music is often described, rather nebulously, as "vibey." What does that word mean to you?

Ry X: It's too broad a word to really set in stone, but I think in our case it means it sets a specific world for people to swim within, whether that be at home, or in venue and club contexts. One that’s warm and explorative.

16. Peak electronic music experiences are often described as "spiritual" or "religious." Is there anything you guys consciously do with your music and during your live shows to help audiences (and yourselves) achieve this state?

Ry X: There is so much that can go into this, but most importantly is the music and the context you’re in when you experience it. So, we pour our time and energy into creating beautiful live visuals and place it within special buildings and venues as often as we can. Then it's about creating the connection to self and to the music you are playing. That needs to be there for others to touch that too.

Frank: Also rhythm, groove, sounds, repetition -- all things to dive into and get lost in.

17. I imagine that making this LP album involved a lot of sending files back and forth between yourselves, which is a process that seems like it could go on forever. How did you know the LP was finished?

Ry X: Art is always hard to define as a finished product. It's really intuitive. When you listen through, and it swallows you up in its journey without you thinking about any more technical details, that’s probably when we think it's done. And we created all of this together in the same rooms, except for aspects of arrangement and some vocals, so it's a real balance of being together to create the original pieces and then we form and refine them as we go.

18. Given that you can't currently tour the album, what's the ideal setting for people to listen to Colure?

Ry X: We think it's a record that can live in many different spaces, but it's definitely one to dive more deeply into, however that feels resonant -- headphones, moving body on walks at sunset or dancing in living rooms...whatever feels best.

19. In the wide spectrum of electronic music, what niche does Howling fill?

Ry X: We are committed to making art and music together that is defined by our inspirations, intuitions, and our time together, so I think that niche will always grow and change, and that's so much of the beauty of the journey we’re on. I think we have trust with our community and our audiences, and that is a niche we will proudly keep working to fill.

20. One piece of advice you'd give to your younger selves?

Ry X: Be patient, be kind, lean in your truth and your vision. Seek to always find balance of work and life and find joy and gratitude in every day.

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