If you’ve been missing artists that truly go for the jugular in terms of real world lyricism and real world emotions that run the gamut of feels you are in luck because Strangled Light from Less Art has it in spades. Set for release next week on Gilead Media, this post-hardcore beast hits the ground running with musicianship sharper than a brand new knife and as clear as a crisp winter morning. The band features members from Kowloon Walled City, Thrice and Curl Up and Die so unless you’ve been hiding under a rock this combination is absolutely an indication of the quality contained within. Ahead of their debut full length release we got the chance to ask Jon Howell (guitar) our set of Profile questions and as you will see he is as eloquent and gracious in his answers as he is with his music.
How did you first get into playing music and have you achieved the level of success that you always hoped to achieve?
My folks put me in choirs at a young age and piano lessons when I was 10. All that music was formative but I didn’t love singing or piano. At some point I got fixated on guitar, started playing at 14 and started writing music/being in bands at 19. In terms of achieving success: sure? I always hoped people would be into my music but I never thought I’d make a career of it. So, I guess I’ve met those expectations. With Less Art, I’m stoked that I get to make noise with 4 other rad people and hope folks dig the record/come to see us play.
What’s the most you have ever debased yourself to get your band onto a show, into a magazine or otherwise promoted, covered, debased and praised? If you don’t have a story please tell us any embarrassing story.
I’ve done some stupid shit over the years but no real debasement stories. The closest thing was when my first band agreed to a pay-to-play show in Cleveland. We didn’t know any better and it was as shitty as you could have expected. We had to cough up extra cash to the promoter because we couldn’t sell our ticket allotment while the “promoter” didn’t bother to promote the show. The promoter also assembled the bill and didn’t care who played so it was us (bad punk rock) and 2 ICP-lite hip-hop groups. This was my first local show so family came out and we played like garbage (starting the fun trend of always playing the worst shows in front of family). Both ICP-lite groups sampled that opening John Carpenter melody from Halloween and got so mad at each other about it. The whole thing was kind of funny but completely avoidable.
So, all that said; I hope bands realize that if they’re put in a position where they need to debase themselves for some coverage or a spot on a bill, they can and should walk the fuck away. When promoters, bands, club owners, etc see that you’re willing to be taken advantage of, they’ll have no problem continuing to do so. The best thing you can do in those circumstances is say no.
What do you see as some of the great things happening in metal and what are some of the worst things happening inside the scene right now?
I love that it’s getting more and more acceptable for musicians to blend metal with different musical styles. The only necessary ingredients these days are emotional intensity and volume. Beyond that, you can pretty much disregard whatever other “rules” used to exist.
The worst stuff in metal is the same as it’s always been: devotion to boring, rehashed 70s hard rock. That shit is a waste of everyone’s time.
It seems that now everyone has a passion for some cause and that those people are very open about displaying their passions. This is probably a very, very good (and progressive) thing socially. What are some of the most important issues (social/political/humorous/etc .) for you and how do you insert those issues into your music?
I appreciate that some metal musicians and commentators are publicly challenging the fascistic/racist/misogynistic trends in metal. Those conversations have been happening for a while but it seems like they’re getting a bit more play which is excellent and needed.
For me personally, I’m interested in voting rights issues like voter disenfranchisement, felon re-enfranchisement and gerrymandering. But, I’m not the lyrics guy in either Less Art or Kowloon Walled City so the only way I get to insert those issues into my music is by mentioning it to you all.
What, or who, got you into metal and how old were you? How did your family take the news?
Late 80s/early 90s MTV. 10 – 11yr old me thought Def Leppard and Poison videos were awesome. Then Metallica starting rolling out the 5 or 6 videos they did for the Black Album which really got my attention. From there, I worked my way backward and became obsessed with Master of Puppets which led to Megadeth which led to Sepultura and on and on. My parents definitely didn’t love the music but gave me the space to explore it. They refer to the time around 7th grade as my black period which is… fine? Metal and punk music might have been the first things in my life where I wasn’t looking to my parents for validation. I knew it was good and that’s all that mattered.
What advice do you have for aspiring music critics and outlets out there? How can we all better serve the genre in the eyes of a hard-working musician?
Spend more time checking out local bands and write about/elevate the good ones. Help make it clear that racism, misogyny and homophobia are not welcome in this scene by calling out bullshit behavior from metal musicians, labels and fans. We’ll be better for it.
What’s your goal? You guys thinking world domination? Maybe saving a continent? Maybe invading one? Any interest in starting a cult? Do you guys have day jobs or hobbies you want to share? Whatever it is, please let us know.
In Less Art, most of us have day jobs AND other full-time bands so the goal right now is to complete a few tours supporting Strangled Light and then see where we’re at. All of us are committed to continuing this band but, where we tour beyond this year largely depends on how the album is received. Once Kowloon and Thrice finish writing their next records, we’ll start working on a new Less Art album.
When you’re not obsessing over your own material, what are some of your favorite albums to listen to currently?
There are a bunch of great Bay Area bands that I’m stoked on right now. Once and Future Band, Oxbow, Ovvn and Tiny Head recently put out new music, all of which is great. Beyond that I’ve been listening to the last Pile, Jason Isbell and Emma Ruth Rundle albums a lot.
Summarize your band in exactly one word. (Disclosure: If you include additional words, we will select our favorite for the final publication.)
Many thanks to Jon for his time!