Fireworks Magazine Online 49 - Brian Howe


Brian Howe has had a long career in the music business, resulting in several classic albums, but now it seems that might have all drawn to an end. The Portsmouth born singer-songwriter first came to prominence as lead vocalist on Ted Nugent's 1984 release 'Penetrator', before achieving serious recognition when he replaced the legendary Paul Rodgers in the reformed Bad Company, alongside original members Simon Kirke and Mick Ralphs. With Howe, the band had a more AOR approach than the bluesier Rodgers era, upsetting some die-hards but winning plenty of new fans. After 'Fame And Fortune', the band found their sound on 'Dangerous Age', and Howe's writing partnership with producer Terry Thomas spawned three top ten hits. The follow up album 'Holy Water' went platinum with another string of hits, but acrimony between Howe and stalwarts Kirke and Ralphs signalled trouble. After one more album 'Here Comes Trouble' and a live record 'What You Hear Is What You Get', Brian left Bad Company. 1997 saw him release an contemplative solo album 'Tangled In Blue' and all went quiet until he exploded back on the the scene with the magnificent 'Circus Bar' in 2010. Now he has a new EP out called 'Emotions' - but announced these songs would be the last recordings he would make. Delighted at the quality of the new EP, but disappointed with Brian's decision to leave it there, James Gaden got in touch with the vocalist to find out why...

We'll cover the positive stuff first - we had a thirteen year wait for 'Circus Bar' - when I spoke to you after that album came out, you promised us new recordings much more quickly. You've done just that, with your new EP 'Emotions'. I think it's great - it reminds me of the more introspective vibe of 'Tangled in Blue', with the song writing feel and style of 'Circus Bar'.

Yeah, it's a really true record. I know how I'd describe it, but I can't get too personal about it because it's a difficult situation. I've reunited with an old girlfriend of mine, the love of my life actually. I was thinking about writing some more after 'Circus Bar' and she contacted me, out of the blue, because of that record. We started talking, met up in Atlanta, and we've been together ever since. She was the inspiration behind all of these new songs, with the exception of 'Drinking' - that was about a friend of mine who sadly died. He always claimed that if he could have reunited with his first girlfriend, he would have stopped drinking. But no, that's the excuse people use, because you know you never are going to reunite. Sadly he died and I tried to write a song about how drunk people will lie to themselves, saying they drink because of this, because of that, because they hurt, you know? That's the only song not related to my girlfriend. Even 'Christmas', which I released as a single last year, just before last Christmas, I released that because it was a rush job and I didn't want to wait a whole year for her to hear it. I like it, it's a really good Christmas song, and I'm amazed at how Christmassy it feels, without having silly little jingle bells in it. It has a Christmas feel to it, which is hard to capture without the right sentiment.
So I'd done that one, then we have 'I'm There' which is obviously about this young lady. 'Runaway Train' was how our relationship was going, it was all a bit out of control... it's all factual and about real emotions, so there was no other title I could give it, other than 'Emotions'.

Was this all written with Brooks Paschal again?

Yeah, Brooks and I wrote everything. It's great working with him, he's so clever and so talented. It's a joy. I think we might write together again, but for other people... sorry, I don't want to move too quickly on to topic number two. It's just I'm a little bit disheartened. I know the music business has changed an awful lot and I know records don't sell the way they used to, but I still think an artist should be able to recoup their money. Unfortunately, with 'Circus Bar' in particular, I was shocked - two weeks before the record was out, it was on download sites. That can only mean it's come from journalists with promo copies, or from someone at the record label. There are no other sources. I can't see it being the label, putting it out on download sites stops them generating back their income further down the road, that's silly. I got disheartened with all that.

I can understand that, I had a similar tale from Joe Lynn Turner with his second Sunstorm project. He told me that his girlfriend found it on illegal download sites before the album had been released too. He came to the same conclusion that it is probably journalists with promos. If that is the case, I'd dearly love to beat the shit out of them. If I get an album in advance, from people like yourself or Joe, it's a privilege. I've been a fan of both of you for years, so to get the chance to hear your stuff early, then talk to you about it, it's fantastic. Then I buy the album anyway to support you. Why anybody would think "Oh, I'll just stick this on the internet so people can get it for nothing" is beyond me.

Yeah, right! It's so silly. Until they come up with another system for recording and storing music, it's gonna get worse. There is literally no point in me making another record now, other than from the artistic point of wanting to write songs. But I can do that anyway and let someone else get ripped off. I know how much I put into records and I know that I'm fussy. I spend more than I should do, and the public won't even realise it. They won't know what it takes to make a particular record, what I've done when I could have put out something inferior. I can't do it. I have to do the best I can, I'm a fuddy-duddy with that and I spend more than I should. I spent twice my advance Frontiers gave me to make 'Circus Bar'... in fact, I'm actually closer to three times the advance. So two thirds of the money for 'Circus Bar' came from my pocket. And yet, I have no chance of recouping it now, especially as people can, and will, download it for nothing.

This is the sort of thing I like to try and put across in the interviews - so many people have no idea what goes on. They think because you have a record deal, you must automatically be loaded. That's simply not the case, and that simplistic mentality is used to justify downloading for free - they say "Oh, they won't miss my ten quid".

It's very sad. I have never downloaded a song illegally, I always go to iTunes. I've got about 5,000 songs on my computer here that I've bought. That's a substantial amount of money, but I never felt I should rip the artists off instead. There's no logic, it's a false economy. Eventually, everyone will feel like I do, nobody will make any more records, then there will be no more music. Guess why?

This will probably make you laugh, but you said about you being a bit old fashioned - as soon as you announced you had a new EP out on iTunes, I bought it, downloaded it, and the first thing I did was burn it to a CD and do some artwork for it to put in a case.

(Laughs) It's funny isn't it? There is something about that! There is - we are lacking something. I'm sure, eventually, there will be a new way of having music presented. A foolproof way. I can't imagine what it will be, but it has to happen, otherwise the music industry will die. It's on it's last legs now. Taylor Swift is selling records. Justin Bieber, who I wish a hideous death, he's selling records. I cannot abide him, I absolutely detest everything he stands for. I hope he dies in a fiery car crash - but that's just me! (laughs) Taylor Swift - she's amazing. Her songs, they are so mature and so well put together... she's not the world's greatest singer but she doesn't have to be, she's just a really talented, nice girl. Everyone I know who has worked with her or met her, they all say she is the nicest girl in the world. No falseness, no pretence, she's just plain nice. And that's nice to hear. People who have worked with her say that... she'll come out prior to shows and hang out with her crew. That's genuinely nice. I have nothing but respect for her, and I'd like to marry her. (laughs)
The record labels are at fault. They knew the digital age was coming, but they didn't take any steps to put in any safeguards, they didn't do anything. Now, there has to be something new, something pirate-proof. Otherwise the entertainment world will come to a crunching halt. It's not just music, you can download movies, TV shows, you name it, it can all be obtained for nothing. Luckily I can earn a living still playing live, but I have to say, that's only because I was in Bad Company. I don't think enough people know who Brian Howe is. I have relatives who don't even know who I am! (laughs) I can't go out as Brian Howe, I have to be former Bad Company singer Brian Howe. Thankfully, for all the grief of being in that band, I'm very grateful. I'm proud of the records I did with them, proud of my solo records, I'm happy with that and I'll be happy with whatever I do, recording wise, next. It won't be me recording, you won't hear my dulcet tones anymore... unless something incredibly unique happens, or someone asks me to appear on their record. I wouldn't mind that. I was talking to Fiona a couple of weeks ago, she's got a new record out. She kept it pretty quiet, I talked to her not so long back and she never mentioned it. She spoke to me about maybe doing a duet for an overseas release - I've not heard back yet about that, but I've always been a fan of hers, I think she's a lovely girl. As for a Brian Howe album, nah, I don't think there are people waiting for a Brian Howe record! (laughs)

Some people are, but not enough to make it financially worth your while. What about a project? Like I mentioned Mickey Thomas and Joe Lynn Turner earlier, they've done albums where the label sets up the band and picks the songs, and the vocalist just has to give his voice to them. You've got a great voice, would that be something you would consider - a lot more cost effective if it was more like a session for you? Then you wouldn't have to worry about the writing, footing the production costs... there are fans who would miss your voice, me being one of them.

Well, don't get me wrong, I love Joe and I think he's a cool cat, but Joe does a lot of stuff, he appears on all sorts and there's no exclusivity. A lot of singers from the genre do a covers CD, which is not something I'd want to do, or appear on tribute albums. Why would someone as good as Joe Lynn Turner do tribute stuff? It doesn't work for me, I wouldn't want to do a record just for the sake of it. It has to mean something to me. It has to be better than what I've done before to interest me. I don't want to knock out songs someone has sent to me, I've never felt able to do it if it's not connecting with me. For me to ever record again, it would have to be because I thought I could make the best record I'd ever made. I don't foresee it, it would probably kill me, it would be so time intensive and it would have to be better than anything I'd put out before. That takes time and thought, planning and writing, and of course money. So no, I don't want something out unless it's like that, I've never been like that. I don't need to compete with anybody, I compete with my own insecurities, that's tough enough.

Nobody can say you haven't got integrity, you stay true to yourself and that has to be admired.

Yeah, some artists want to go to all the parties too... you won't find me at a rock and roll party. There are some guys who will attend the opening of a fucking envelope. I won't do that, I won't do that L.A game, that New York game. Having to attend every fucking award and show... even when I was in line for a Billboard award, I didn't even fucking go! I don't care! It's one big fucking jolly up, everyone slaps each other on the back and then talk bad about them behind their back. I can't be fucking arsed, I'd rather be out in a boat fishing, or hanging out with my dogs, be with my girlfriend... no, I'm not chasing that illusion of fame and fortune, that's not me.

Fair enough. Well thank you Brian, entertaining as always. I hope your EP does well for you, it deserves to.

Yeah, make sure you plug it son, because that's gonna be it! (laughs)

Read the full double page spread where Brian talks more about the making of his new EP, Bad Company past and present and discusses the music business in more detail in Fireworks #49.

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