If you’ve ever seen The Heavy Guilt play — and, given the group’s knack for drawing big crowds around town, chances are you have — you’ve probably noticed songwriter/multi-instumentalist Al Howard. In the past, we’ve had this to say about his captivating stage presence: “Attacking his collection of chains, wooden boxes, bells, shortwave radios, and sheet metal like a hyperactive, long-limbed marionette, Howard single-handedly doubled [The Heavy Guilt's] onstage energy.”
When he’s not pulling Heavy duty, the tireless musician can often be found applying his talents toward other creative endeavors, including writing for Owl and Bear or SoundDiego. And as if all that weren’t enough to keep him busy, Howard has also started a new band called The Black Sands.
“In the craziness that is life I find that making music reduces the fever pitch to a whisper,” Howard says. “I decided to start a second band to occupy my mind and capture some passing thoughts before they could slip away.”
A recent Kickstarter campaign enabled Howard to fund the recording of The Black Sands’ first album, entitled 1977, which features appearances by San Diegans like John Meeks, Greg Peters of Dead Feather Moon, Ian Tordella, John Mailander, Chris Davies of The Penetrators, and more.
The Black Sands will release 1977 on May 4 during a special show at the Griffin with The Heavy Guilt and The New Kinetics. In celebration of the album’s successful funding, Howard was kind enough to send us a list of his influences, which includes well chosen legends like Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, and The Beatles. You can read the full Poetic Memory below.
Al Howard Poetic Memory
1. Radiohead: Apparently I saw these cats on the Pablo Honey tour when I was 15. I remember it as an epic and life-changing event. But when I ran into my high school friend who was present on said epic evening, she informed me that I merely got drunk (on stolen Zima) and yelled “Play ‘Creep!'” and then after they played “Creep” continued to yell “Play ‘Creep!'” My sincere apologies to the greatest modern band of our time. When OK Computer came out it completely changed the way I listened to music. And when they were able to do this on each subsequent album I realized just how important this band was.
2. Neutral Milk Hotel: When delivering pizzas in Tahoe City, “Oh Comely” is the exact distance to any delivery. I listened to that song a lot. In fact, I went through a pretty obsessive phase where they were the soundtrack to all my actions when I first set foot in California 13 years ago. Was gonna get the Aeoplane Over the Sea album cover tattooed on my arm, but my car got stolen and I ran out of money. Fuck the eight people who dislike this video:
3. The Beatles: I’d be lying if I said otherwise. Right now I’m on an obsessive Paul McCartney kick. Especially his first two solo records and the song “Junk.” Such nice melodies. What they were able to do and the time in which they were able to do it is nothing short of astounding.
4. Pink Floyd: I did a lot of drugs in the 90’s. They were a fitting soundtrack. Dark Side is the best, but Meddle and Obscured by Clouds strike a chord with me. Piper at the Gates of Dawm gets me in an altogether different way. My mom, who’s experimentation peaked with a half a Colt 45 in the mid-70’s, is obsessed with Pink Floyd. She got into them about a decade ago, so I guess they did a lil somethin for everyone.
5. Tom Waits: I’ll take his crooner smoky bar jazz and his avant grade gravel-voiced barn stomp any day. He’s a seamless chameleon and his fevered word play is inspired. He’s been one of my biggest influences both with his lyricism and his percussive usage of found objects and unusual instrumentation.
6. Leonard Cohen: I live in San Diego, but I’ll never be able to relate to any music inspired by rolling waves, 70 degrees and palm trees. Beach pop sounds like choking on bile. Bring on the gray day morose balladry and he is the best.
7. Townes Van Zandt: When I first heard Townes that was it. Dylan was always the obvious choice for lyricism, but Townes had something rawer and deeper (at least to me personally). The first album I got was Our Mother the Mountain and I felt that rare feeling when music hits on such a personal level. I felt every word as if I had written them myself.
8. Company Flow: Right before I started my first band, the K23 Orchestra, I had fallen into a huge hip-hop hole. Then I started performing spoken word and tried to listen to totally divergent stuff from what I was doing. But when it was hip hop, Company Flow was as good as it got: gritty dirty metaphors, politically charged and every listen revealed something new. Got to give mention to my brothers Digable Planets, Aesop Rock, Cannibal Ox, Immortal Technique, Mikah 9 and Saul Williams.
9. Nirvana: I was 13 when Nevermind came out. Before that it was all Motley Crue and Guns N’ Roses (GNR should actually be on this list, but I’m trying to keep some assemblance of cool). I even had a Technotronic cassette and wore a neon pink Nike ball cap. It was a different time. That was the album that opened up the flood gates, not only for their peers, but their predecessors as well. Suddenly I was listening to Mudhoney, Sonic Youth, Screaming Trees, The Pixies, Dinosaur Jr, Earth, and Soundgarden. Good times.
10. Godspeed You Black Emperor: I love their approach to instrumental music. It’s a big band, but each player has distinct parts. Sustained crescendos and soundscaping. Changed my approach to the intrumental sections of what we do: less soloing, more gradual and collective builds. Do Make Say Think, A Silver Mt Zion and Explosions in the Sky fall in a similar circle.
I’m just gonna list some others so I can sleep at night without feeling like I forgot someone important: John Coltrane, Dylan, Jenny Lewis, Alice Coltrane, Nina Simone, Mark Lanegan, Curtis Mayfeild, Wilco, M Ward, Bright Eyes, Black Heart Procession, Hendrix, Shuggie Otis, Modest Mouse, the Make Up, Jason Molina, Neil Young, The Heartless Bastards, Can, Spiritualized, and too many others.