eaving the security of his high-profile bandmates in A Perfect Circle was a bold move, but welcoming the unknown is what keeps Howerdel inspired. The jump was worth it: Although Keep Telling Myself has surprised critics by bearing little resemblance to APC, listeners and fans have sent the first single, “The Stone”—with its floating melody, charging guitars, and vaguely Eighties feel—to #7 on Billboard’s Hot Mainstream charts. Thankfully, the media’s repetitive inquiries about the future of A Perfect Circle haven’t obscured the fact that Keep Telling Myself It’s Alright is an extraordinary record that candidly exposes Howerdel at his most vulnerable.

    On the new album, 38-year-old Howerdel mixes the visceral vim he brought to APC with a fervently youthful hunger, so it’s appropriate that he’s joined by a cast of fresh, virtually unknown talents: Jeff Friedl on drums, Matt McJunkins on bass, Andy Gerold on guitar, and Adam Monroe on keyboards. The album has been released, the bus has been packed, and an anxious crowd awaits the arrival of a new musical creation.

GX: What inspired you to go out on your own and do a solo album?

BH: It’s always been something I’ve wanted to do. Even when I first started making music, I knew I wanted to make a solo record. Maynard has really been motivating me to do it for a long time, and recently, things aligned and it seemed like the time to do it. It’s really tough coming out of the shell of Maynard and APC, but at the same time, APC afforded me the chance to do this at this level.

GX: Do you feel vulnerable going out on your own?

BH: Definitely. I didn’t start this thinking it would end up as it has. Maynard, Jeordie (White, bassist), Josh (Freese, drummer) and I planned on doing this record a while ago, but we’ve always had to share Maynard’s time with Tool. It does feel a lot more stripped down for me, though.

GX: Is it nervewracking to have your voice right up front?

BH: I’m really just beginning to prepare for this. I’m sure the more I do it, the more comfortable it will feel, but singing and playing have been tough. I’m getting it.

GX: How would you describe the mood of the album?

BH: Hmmm… (thinking) I can’t find the words right now—maybe that’s a good thing.

GX: From your perspective, what is the best thing someone could say after hearing this music?

BH: That it’s honest. All the music that I love is brutally honest.

GX: What was it like working with [producer and Nine Inch Nails member] Danny Lohner on this record?

BH: He’s one of my best friends and we really don’t work together—it’s more like hanging out. I started shooting ideas back and forth with him and then he got really involved with the process. I’ve never talked about material more in my life than I did with him for this. It really helped me.

GX: Did you approach the writing process differently than you did with APC?

BH: It’s all the same to me. I wrote all of this material with a five-piece in mind just like I did when I was writing for APC.

GX: And how did you write the songs—did you create the riffs on an acoustic guitar?

BH: Yeah, I tried to write as much of it on acoustic guitar as possible, taking the route of most good songwriters. I really hope that comes through on the album.

GX: Would you say that this album is one cohesive piece or more of a melting pot?

BH: I don’t think it’s that eclectic. The cornerstone songs were there and I pretty much wrote the rest of the album around them. I worked on it by myself, and that really helped get it all out there for me. There’s definitely a running theme musically and lyrically; I just wouldn’t say it’s all part of a big production.

GX: What propelled you to make “The Stone” your first single off the album?

BH: At the end of the day, I let my management choose the single. It wasn’t going to be “The Stone,” but I trusted their judgment.

GX: Do you feel that a listener can get a feel for the album from “The Stone”?

BH: Somewhat. It’s a nice peak, but there’s so much diversity in the album. It’s hard to tell.

GX: How did you end up signing on to Island Def Jam?

BH: I was really surprised by how it went down. Antonio “L.A.” Reid signed me without even hearing a note of music. It feels really good to have that kind of respect, especially going into a project like this.

GX: What urged you to scout for your band rather than use your well-accomplished circle of friends?

BH: It’s nice to build from the ground up, almost starting over in a way. We saw so many people during the tryouts, but in the end we got some amazing players out of it.

GX: Wow! What draws you to these acts?

BH: Again, it all goes back to honesty through music. Cat Power and Fiona are especially vulnerable and honest with everything they do, and it gives them such a daunting presence. It’s kinda funny—I saw Fiona Apple backstage at a show and was so shaken that all I could do was walk up and say, “Hi, I’m in a band that you have greatly influenced, and I love everything you do.” And I just walked off. I couldn’t even face her to see her reaction. I felt like a little kid.

GX: That’s amazing. How important to you are your musical influences?

BH: When you’re truly engaged with an artist that grabs you, it’s like being in a movie you never want to end. My influences and mentors have all played a huge role in fueling my passion to get to where they are.

GX: What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned so far from Ashes Divide?

BH: Well, I’ve learned to take some risks for the good of the outcome. At this point, I’m just glad to be done with the lyrics. That was the big obstacle for me: How do I explain myself?

GX: And finally, what has been your biggest musical accomplishment to date?

BH: This is absolutely it. The process so far has been such an effort; it has really made me look inward and ask what I’m really saying through music. It’s been my biggest challenge, but the most rewarding. At least until my next venture.     -GX-

GX: And what made you decide to bring Adam Monroe into the picture?

BH: I caught wind of him playing some Tool and APC songs on YouTube and was blown away by him. I’ve always loved the idea of breaking kids from their bedrooms, because growing up, that’s always how I dreamed of making it. I love the mentor/student role, and I feel like it’s a mutual learning process with this group.

GX: What can we expect from your live show?

BH: Some shows are in support of radio festivals that are in broad daylight. I certainly didn’t write this material to be played at noon on a hot stage, but we’ll adapt. It will make playing the headlining shows more gratifying.

GX: Do you find it difficult to be away from your family when you’re out on the road?

BH: This will be the first time I’ve done this away from them. It’ll definitely be something that I struggle with a lot. I keep trying to talk myself out of hitting the road, but I know this is something I have to do. That’s how passionate I am about this music—I can tear myself away from my family for this.

GX: What do you do with your time away from music?

BH: So much of what I do is music; I really can never fully pull myself away from it. Even in my off time, I’m always working on something involving music.

GX: What albums have you been listening to lately?

BH: Cat Power, Band of Horses, and Fiona Apple. Listening to an album from front to back is a lot to ask, but those are three artists that I listen to on repeat.

GX: And where did you write and record the material?

BH: I did it all from home. I’m lucky enough to have a nice home studio, so I utilized it.

GX: Have you changed any components of the guitar rig you used in APC?

BH: My amp has always been the same—Marshall head, Marshall cabinets, the same Les Paul; I can’t get away from that. I just got a Fractal Audio Systems guitar processor. I actually just messed with it for the first time right before this phone call. I read about it and had to order it.

GX: At this point in your career, you’re a certified guitar icon. How do you perceive yourself as a musician?

BH: It’s what I’ve done my whole adult life, and it’s all I really care to do. For me, it’s taking all of my experiences and melding them into a pot. I’ve definitely been lucky in my career to learn from so many amazing people. Working with Nine Inch Nails and Trent Reznor taught me to work my ass off to get the results I want out of things. Working with Guns n’ Roses helped me understand how to work things out in the studio. Every experience has really sculpted what I do today.

GX: What inspires you to make music?

BH: In the beginning, it was different than it is now. Back then it was about the love of getting so much from the music. I was always an obsessive fan and when you’re a crazed fan, you eventually have to pick up a guitar and make music of your own. Now it’s been more about getting my ideas out there.

GX: And what have you learned while making the transition from obsessive fan to being a musician others obsess over?

BH: Stay humble. There’s always something to learn. Always listen.

GX: What things outside of music inspire you?

BH: Movies certainly move me; they can change your whole perspective by the time you walk out of a theater. I love that. Music should ideally do that, too. Lyrics inspire me—music and lyrics are two entirely different things.


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