Interview: Howl Griff
Published on September 3rd, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
Rocksucker was really rather taken with Howl Griff’s new album Fragile Diamond, so we spoke to lead singer/guitarist Hywel Griff and guitarist/singer Gary Parkinson about fin-de-siecle womanising, hybrid animals and interfering with public transport…
Congratulations on a terrific new album. Were the songs all written close together or do some date back further than others?
HG: Most of them were written in the last couple of years, but a few have been hanging around for a long time. “Radio Revolution” and “FÜßßBÜKKËR” were demoed back in 2006 but never made it to an official release. We liked them and thought it was time they saw the light of day. “Fragile Diamond” was a song that was originally written in mine and Nick’s previous band The Occupiers. The lyrics were never quite finished so we tinkered with that and simplified the chords and structure a bit.
GP: Griff’s got a million ideas so we had a lot of options for what to record but these were the ones that most appealed to us all. Some of them are comparatively old friends but that just means that it made them easier to record, and to build on.
How would you describe the album to those who haven’t heard it yet? And why did you decide to title it Fragile Diamond?
HG: It’s a smorgasbord, tapas, spirit rack or mini-bar of sounds and styles. If you had chips and beer every day it would get boring wouldn’t it? Well, with this album you can have the whole buffet! We decided to call it Fragile Diamond having initially thought of titling it Sharkfins in the Sky. We kind of all agreed on that one.
GP: The thing that strikes me about the album is how disparate it is. Particularly on the second side – and yes, we programmed them as sides – you get a different style of music on each song. As for the title, because we now do three-part harmonies with bassist Steve joining in, I quite fancied calling it Tritone, which is a musical term for an augmented fourth, the “devil’s interval” that was at one time banned by the Church. This idea somewhat floundered when I realised everyone else hated it.
What’s with the duck on the cover? Are you subtly imploring us to duck and cover?
HG: Ha ha! Well, as it was going to be called Sharkfins in the Sky we got Nick to draw something to convey that. Why he came up with a duck I don’t know, but he does live on a riverboat. When we changed the title we decided to keep the artwork. We were also unable to come up with something for Fragile Diamond…
GP: Griff’s playing himself down, he came up with some really good designs for Fragile Diamond, but we decided to stick with the animals theme that we’ve used on a few covers. He’s technically known as Sharkduck, and he’s best friends with Catdog, from our first album.
What does “FÜßßBÜKKËR” mean?
HG: It’s spoonerism. It’s onomatopoeic. It’s also very Spinal Tap.
GP: Heh! And Krautrock. When we first rehearsed it we were in a fairly heavy mood and decided it was the most evil thing we’d ever created, and needed a suitably Germanic title. But we couldn’t think of anything that made sense. And yes, we’re aware that you don’t get two of those German double-S things together…
Is “Rose of Emily” in any way a nod towards The Zombies’ “A Rose For Emily”?
HG: No, afraid not. I’m aware of the Zombies song “She’s Not There” but not this one. A relative of mine emigrated from Wales to America in the early 20th century and I’d heard that he was a bit of a gambler and a womaniser. He was also killed in a gunfight in Oregon. So it’s about him really. Nick Moore our drummer has a small boat called ‘Emily Rose II’, so that’s where the name comes from. The Emily Rose is the ship that he boards to emigrate to America. He’s going to find his love but dies en route.
GP: That’s off The Zombies’ Odessey & Oracle album, isn’t it? A warning from history never to trust designers to spell correctly… it’s a lovely song and album but no, not an influence on this tune. I think we were more influenced by Blazing Saddles…
It felt lazy on our part making comparisons to Super Furry Animals, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Ffa Coffi Pawb in our review of the album, yet somehow unavoidable. Are you a fan of these bands? If so, any albums in particular?
HG: I’m aware of the Super Furry Animals and seen them live and have a few albums which I really like. Gorky’s I know very little about. I used to go to the same school as Dewi Emlyn, the bass player from Ffa Coffi Pawb and was good friends with his younger brother Gareth. I was at college in Birmingham while they were getting successful in Wales so was pretty unaware of what was going on. During one summer holiday I saw them play at The Boars’ Head in Aberystwyth, which I think was their last gig.
GP: High harmonies, guitars, a left-field approach and occasional Welsh lyrics – I can understand it, and there are worse comparisons to be had. Albums like Phantom Power stand their ground alongside most music.
Has Lauren Laverne been supportive beyond playing you on 6 Music?
HG: I don’t think so. She’s probably quite busy.
GP: A few tweets, some nice quotes, but we try not to stalk her.
Have you started thinking about your next project(s) yet or is it way too early to be asking?
HG: Personally, I’ve been playing on Emily C. Smith’s forthcoming album. She has a single called “Fight Against You” coming out in September and that’s already been played on 6 Music. Toby Couling of The Noisettes is on drums. Please check it out. Other than that, I have loads of songs and ideas that I need to get out. I have about 20 unrecorded songs in my head at any one time and boxes of 4-track tapes that I need to sift through. The internet means that they can be online and easily accessed. Something might get discovered one day. Howl Griff are four friends that will continue to put albums out.
GP: We’ve had a few ideas – we’ve considered hiring a lovely old venue to record a live EP for a CD and video – but for now we’re trying to focus on this one: you can wish your life away chasing the future. There’s a few gigs, interviews, festivals etc for this set yet…
Are there any obscure and/or up-and-coming artists that you’d like to recommend or give a shout-out to?
HG: Well, there’s Emily C Smith of course. A band called Houdini Dax from Cardiff that I like. There’s also a South London band called Fat Whites that are exciting. They have great songs. If the song isn’t there I lose interest.
GP: I’d agree with those, and also Golden Fable, who are a gentle delight.
Finally, if you had to spend the rest of your life with the entire works of just five different musical artists, whose would you choose?
HG: I guess I need to choose artists with big back catalogues. So, David Bowie, because of the variety of music. Paul Simon when I need to chill out. AC/DC with Bon Scott for when I’m drinking. Guided by Voices for their best songs. Kraftwerk for something German.
GP: Wow, that’s a question. [scurries off for 10 minutes’ fevered scribbling] The Beatles, fo sho. The Jam, my first love and tutor. Elvis Costello, for breadth and revivifying anger. Stevie Wonder, for soul. And Loudon Wainwright III, for honesty and humour. But I could keep an acoustic guitar, right?
Oh, go on then! Howl Griff, thank you.
Howl Griff’s album Fragile Diamond is out on October 15th but you can hear it now at HowlGriff.com, where there’s also gig details and free downloads.