Analogue Music | Howard


By Matt Conner

The tension of 'Together Alone' wasn't a thematic exercise to Howard Feibusch. It was an, at times, personally agonizing struggle to connect—to his creativity, to his bandmates, even to you.

As Feibusch set out to follow up 2015's Religion with another longplayer, the man behind the band that bears his name struggled to find his footing. He lacked a musical "North Star" and technological innovations within the music industry and social media left him cold and isolated. The pressure to stay connected actually fed a season of loneliness.

Howard's latest release, Together Alone, is the resulting beauty from the internal conflict—an inventive new album that charts our longing for each other. The journey to release it might have been painful, but the end result is compelling from beginning to end. Now Feibusch only hopes you'll consider spending the time to connect with it—and him.

Analogue: This new album's theme of connectivity or a lack of it—how much of that is a working thesis for you before you even start writing and recording?

Howard Feibusch: I really try not to think of a box to put all of the compositions into, but I think 50 or 60 percent of the way through is a good time to reflect and look at the overarching theme to see what's working and how things can begin to work together. You figure out then how to make the rest of the compsitions work within this idea. So I'd say the first half is not being confined to any boundaries thematically but then the second half is reflective and trying to work within those confines.

Analogue: Were you surprised by the themes emerging on this album?

Howard: After our first album, I was having a really challenging time personally and artistically. One of the things that was salting the wounds was being on social media and observing the world from that space. That caused a level of isolation and frustration. I'm not entirely surprised that this theme came out of that.

Credit: Sonya Kitchell

Analogue: Can you go into that a bit more? Is that about a comparison culture?

Howard: I think the comparison culture is a good way to say it. I'd finished releasing music and was working on a new album. For me, that artistic space and the writing space in particular is an area where I don't want to have the pressure of what the final product will be. Yet you're constantly exposed to products coming out, people who are doing this or that. I was feeling a lot of jealousy, fear and doubt. It charged me to get loose from that and break free.

Some things actually suffered from that. You have to be present on these sites to stay relevant. If we'd had another team member helping in that area or a manager, maybe things could be better on that end. But now I'm getting back into it right now and it feels good.

Analogue: Could you tell a difference when you pulled back?

Howard: Definitely. It was only then that I started to find my own kind of vibe in writing. Leaving social media, I pretty much stopped listening to music. One of the bigger issues for me was also Spotify and coming to terms with how digestible music has become and the inflation of hype around music. Now there's a whole thing like, "Oh my gosh, this record is out today. Everyone listen to it." Then it's the same thing three days later.

I was thinking about my own history of listening to music and I've never heard anything the day it's come out. That could even be true of the year something came out. Things take a long time for me to digest. I was just feeling incredibly overwhelmed based on how much people were sending me. That was one of the most overwhelming parts to me. I didn't feel I had any sort of grip on what the zeitgeist was anymore.

Analogue: Putting myself in your shoes, I'm wondering if there was a crises of even what you're doing. Was that a part of your process?

Howard: Absolutely. Music is essentially worthless in terms of being a product at this point. Someone posted on Facebook the other day that they're now able to get all music through Amazon for only $4.99 per month instead of $7.99 over here. I think people are interacting with music in a different way. The ability to skip songs is even different than it was with CDs. Songs aren't really a product anymore; they're really a marketing tool. You can't make much off of a song unless you're part of a select few.

I also don't want to sound like a downer about the industry. I just had to come to terms with what it was. The band and I have put years into this. It's weird to encourage someone to go and listen to it once because they saw an Instagram post about it. Then you know that person will forget, as opposed to having someone listen three or four or even 10 or 11 times to a record that came out years ago.

Analogue: You've been able to make some music for film or TV. Has that been helpful for you creatively to have that outlet?

Howard: Yeah, tremendously. The film and TV work has been incredible forcing me to finish things and try new ideas, arrangements and instrumentation. Once I started getting more of that work, the album actually started to come together a lot more quickly.

Analogue: What were some of your newer influences that make their way onto this new album?

Howard: I think it's actually a lack of influence that shaped this record. When I was making Religion or Recycle, I had a clearer North Star of bands or influences that I wanted it to sound like. It was a rough few years for me finding that new thing or band, so I was really depending on a certain feeling I would feel when things clicked. Obviously I got into some new stuff. I was listening to a bit more Miles Davis and Everly Brothers. I was going back to old school stuff rather than the new school stuff, since it's all changing so rapidly. But mostly it was about that feling. Maybe that's why it was so difficult because that North Star wasn't there to influence the sound.

Analogue: Were you aware of that in the moment—that you were lacking that North Star?

Howard: Yeah, and it was terrifying because I didn't know what the hell it was going to sound like or be like. I worked closely with the band and Alex Chakour (Charles Bradley, Sharon Jones) who does some of the co-production and mixes the record... we were just existing in our own sphere. That was weirdly the hardest part is that I wasn't excited about any outside music at the time.

Analogue: What were your bandmates saying through some of these creative struggles?

Howard: My bandmates were amazing because they stuck by it and me and the band and my writing. I think we did 14 versions of "Made Up My Mind" and probably 20 versions of "Mother's Wedding". Some songs had four or five different versions of lyrics. Their willingness to come back and revisit and try new ideas was so encouraging. There were times we disagreed and I didn't think something was good enough or they didn't think something was good enough—waiting until everyone agreed really paid off.