Analogue Music | De La Noche

De La Noche

By Matt Conner

Ivan Howard was tricked into joining his latest band.

The man best known as one half of The Rosebuds has created music under a few monikers over the last few years, from joining Justin Vernon and 20 others in Gayngs or putting out his own work as Howard Ivans. This time, however, Howard says he was targeted and tricked as his friends hoped he'd join them for a new endeavor to sing songs that were not his own.

Howard's friendships with Brian Weeks and Robert Rogan stretch back for decades, back to his college days in Wilmington, North Carolina. They'd discussed working together at various points over the years, but it wasn't until a recent summer season that Howard found the time to join in. De La Noche was already a finished project with a singer and songs, but he was brought on board anyway.

On the verge of releasing Blue Days, Black Nights, we caught up with Howard to hear about this latest endeavor with friends, the joys of singing someone else's songs, and the trio's wait-and-see approach with it all.

Analogue: You've got yet another musical outlet now, this time as De La Noche with Robert Rogan and Brian Weeks. How did the trio come together in the first place?

Ivan Howard: I've known Brian and Robert since I was 18 years old. Brian is the guitar player and I was in a band with him before The Rosebuds. I had a couple versions of bands, one put out a record and one didn't, but he was in both. We've been going in and out of each other's lives for the last 20 years. On a couple of the last Rosebuds tours, he would actually play guitar. Brian knew Robert from back in the day and we all met through mutual friends.

Robert was an actor and a songwriter back in the day in his hometown of Virginia. He got signed to a major label with a publishing deal. I don't know the story well, but it fell apart for him and he moved to our town and was doing some acting. Our town was so small that when anybody did anything creative, we all hung out together. So we all became tight friends and were in and out of each other's lives after all these years.

I don't think there was a Rosebuds show in Wilmington that Robert didn't come to. He's always been part of my life as well as Brian.

Analogue: Was this something that you and Brian had at least discussed in the past?

Ivan: Yeah, we had. When I moved to Wilmington in 2002, he had another band called Somerset and I'd played guitar in his band. We'd fooled around but he would never ask us to sing for one of his projects, basically. I think Brian wanted to do his own thing. He's got his own voice and I think he might have thought that'd be overstepping the bounds, like I'm doing my own thing and he's doing his own thing and Robert has too for all these years. Being able to sing in The Rosebuds and Gayngs, I think he thought that Ivan's got his thing and I've got my thing.

For De La Noche, Robert is the one who actually wrote most of these songs. He would sketch them out and take them to Brian. They worked out pretty much all of the words and all of the melodies. Their original project was for Robert to sing it. He's got a good voice, too, so when I doing my Howard Ivans project, we played some shows in North Carolina and we got De La Noche to open up for us. Robert and Brian and sung at that time.

When this record started to come to life, they sent me a song that had Robert singing on it. I told them it sounded great, but they asked me to give it a try. I was like, 'I don't think I should, but I'll give it a shot.' I really liked the song and these guys are my buddies, so it's a no-brainer. It was the song "Run" on the record. I had a blast with it and I didn't realize the whole time that was their plan was to trick me into singing for their band. [Laughs]

I thought it was awesome. The songs were already fully formed. They just needed some tweaking here and there. Then I got my friend Matt Douglas, who plays for the Mountain Goats, to play sax on the songs, so it turned into its own thing by the time we'd finished it. I loved singing it because it was like singing a greatest hits record that doesn't yet exist. I didn't have to do the hard work but I still get to sing these songs. It was a blast!

Analogue: You've always sung your own compositions. Was it a challenge to sing these songs that came from someone else?

Ivan: At first it was a challenge because a lot of Robert's vocal melodies are different than mine. There was a learning curve at first. But once that happened, then it was the most fun ever. I was completely another person. It was cool because I've had so many projects where I'm the lead, the singer writing all the songs and lyrics. You get trapped in a mold sometimes with the way you shape your words and your melodies. This knocked me out of my comfort zone in a good way. It was a lot of fun and I really loved it.

De La Noche Album Art
De La Noche Album Art

Analogue: Was it hard for Robert to help shape the songs at the end to make them something of our own? Or was he anxious for you to do that?

Ivan: [Laughs] I think he was pretty anxious for me to do that. I kept making sure he was okay with it, but once those guys heard the first one, they were all on board with it. Robert should have way more confidence in himself than he does, so I think it was a relief for him that he didn't have to sing them. At the time I thought they were great songs as they were.

Analogue: When you get a span of time to work on something like this, how do you even know which way to turn? Like which project to further or pursue, let alone to start a new thing?

Ivan: This one really just fell into place. Brian and I had always wanted to do something together ever since our very first band. There were no plans to do this De La Noche record; I wasn't thinking of any record. I didn't even know what was going to happen to the set of songs even once we'd finished recording. I didn't know if they were coming out or anything. It was really organic the way it happened.

Analogue: These songs are pretty personal to Robert. How do you relate to a narrative like that when you're the one singing?

Ivan: I was thinking about that, but even as a kid, I would sing these lovelorn songs from the radio without knowing what they were talking about. I liked the way they sounded and the melodies. I didn't care what people were saying, you know? So with these, I've been inhabiting that role as the guy who sings those songs all my life. [Laughs] It's all pop music.

I didn't really think about what Robert was going through while he wrote them. I didn't want to. I told him once, 'Hey Robert, once you hand the songs over, it's not about that anymore anyway. Everybody's going to interpret those songs through their own lives and they don't care what they went through.' For anybody who writes new songs, that's what makes the songs good is that people can hear their own life in them.

Analogue: Given that you have other creative outlets or pursuits, what does support for this look like?

Ivan: It's hard to plan. Robert is a full-time English instructor. Brian has two kids. I'm also in school right now. It's hard to find time to actually do the tours. We'll do some shows on each coast. Honestly with a new project, we want to see how people interpret it. We've gotta keep a real world view. It's not that we're 20-year-old kids who can just wing it. [Laughs] But our friends are putting it out. We've got a good publicist. We're going for radio, which is really nice.

I'm really happy to do this for these guys. Throughout my career, I've had songs on the radio and articles about us. Those guys are always there supporting me from the outside, so I'm really happy that they now get a chance to get their songs on the radio and people share them and write about them. They're just as talented as I am. I just got lucky early on. That's fun to be a part of.

VISIT: De La Noche