This coming Sunday, January 7th, Brooklyn Bowl Philadelphia will be hosting 2024’s first must-see Rock N’ Roll show, with a sold-out show from Zakk Sabbath, which will have Zakk Wylde (Ozzy Osbourne, Pride & Glory, Black Label Society) performing classics from the first five Sabbath records. But we’re just as excited about Michigan “thrash grass” (an amalgam of thrash metal and bluegrass) quartet The Native Howl, who have been on the road with Zakk and the crew since early December and will be opening the show. Last year, The Native Howl celebrated their 10th anniversary and released “Can’t Sleep,” their second single for Sumerian Records (home of PHILTHY phriends Bones UK and Poppy, where The Native Howl signed in 2022). I recently got a chance to chat with the four guys from The Native Howl, who told me about the band’s highlights, inspirations, and future.
Izzy Cihak: I’m realizing that the band has been around for just about exactly a decade now. What have been some of the personal highlights of the first decade of The Native Howl, whether reactions your music’s gotten, experiences it’s afforded you, or anything else that really stood out? I have to admit, I haven’t seen you in the media a ton in recent years.
The Native Howl: The first highlight that comes to mind would be winning the No Cover competition. It was the single galvanizing force that gave us the bump we so desperately needed at the time in 2021. It secured us a record deal with Sumerian Records, as well as awesome prize packages from Mesa and Gibson; but more importantly, it reminded us that through our extensive touring history and our familial chemistry onstage, we have something special in our Thrash Grass brotherhood.
Another highlight would be our music video for “Thunderhead” going viral in 2017. It was such an exciting time; with the original clip getting 16 million+ views on Facebook, it truly felt as though you could strike sparks anywhere. It showed us that there is a market for our Heavy Metal/Bluegrass hybrid, that there was a hunger for the music that we make.
Also, joining Tim Borror of Sound Talent Group’s roster was a huge benchmark for us. We remember the feeling of our first big support tour with Gwar and feeling vindicated! Proving to us that we have something to offer larger touring acts! And even now, having the opportunity to open for the legendary Zakk Wylde twice, with Black Label Society and currently with Zakk Sabbath, has truly been unbelievable, and we will remain forever grateful for these opportunities.
IC: You released single “Can’t Sleep” a few months ago. How did that particular track come about?
TNH: Well, as with many of what we feel are our best ideas, it came about on tour. When we were on the road in the southern United States, we were watching the movie The Matrix as we were decompressing after our show. As the movie was playing, Alex jumped up and took his phone into the bathroom and started singing the chorus line into the voice recorder, and then re-sang the call-response vocal lines against the main ones. All the chorus and first verse lyrics came that first night before anyone even touched an instrument!
The open-ended and open-to-interpretation idea of “insomnia caused by ‘something’” came out very quickly and naturally, as did the music bed under it. After we got back from that tour, we started playing it all together and formed the current structure.
IC: How do you feel like it compares to your previous work, both in sound and the process of writing and recording it? Is it indicative of where future sounds might be headed?
TNH: It feels as though we have really honed-in on the thrash grass sound, leaning on our current musical strengths and giving this tune the utmost substance, with each instrument knowing exactly what its role is. Songwriting-wise, this one in particular pulls from our very favorite aspects of thrash metal (such as the double/full/half-time changes and double-kick bridge/chorus) and favorite aspects of bluegrass (catchy diatonic harmonies and call-and-response vocals). Additionally, we loved pushing the genre combination almost to a satirical level, with the banjo solo section having a metal backing-music bed in E minor, and the guitar solo modulating to the major III chord and having a traditional bluegrass bed.
The recording process was very different from our previous work, being our first major label release as well as our first recording effort with an outside music producer. It’s safe to say we believe the results will speak for themselves. It is quite indicative of where the sound of the band is headed, but rest assured we will always strive to evolve and surprise the listener with each subsequent release.
IC: And you just released a really cool music video for the song, which is basically a really intense performance video. How did the concept for the video come about?
TNH: From the get-go, the idea was to showcase our bombastic, high energy live performance show. We wanted to let the music do most of the talking with a visual aspect to harness that adrenaline fueled soundscape. We knew that (for the majority of the video) we would want shots of the four of us performing together and in classic Howl style, we had to have some fire thrown in the mix.
IC: The song was released courtesy of Sumerian Records, which is such a cool label. How is it working with them and being a part of that family?
TNH: It has been nothing short of fantastic working with Sumerian Records. They really believe in us and have faith that we are treading new musical ground, giving us trust and respect in our writing. They have quite a large roster of people working for them that have been invaluable in our progression. Their art team is especially great and has really melded well with our vision. We can’t wait to see what comes next as part of the Sumerian family!
IC: Do you have any favorite labelmates?
TNH: We all really dig The Smashing Pumpkins, Nita Strauss, and Between The Buried And Me, to name a few!
IC: You’re about in the middle of a pretty huge tour with Zakk Sabbath. How have those dates been going so far? I’ve met Zakk a number of times and he’s such a cool guy and brings out really amazing crowds.
TNH: The shows have been our wildest dreams come true. They have been absolutely packed every night, and the fans have been nothing but gracious to us and have really responded well to our sound.
And you hit the nail on the head with Zakk: he is truly the most badass, yet kind musician out there. He is a giant influence on all of us from his time in Ozzy, Pride & Glory (this project being the reason why we got our very first banjo in 2005 in the first place), Black Label Society, and his solo work, so we are honored to share the bill with such a living legend.
IC: What can be expected of your live show when you’re here at Brooklyn Bowl Philadelphia?
TNH: You can expect the same thing every night: We’ll leave everything we’ve got up on stage. Setlist-wise, there will be a healthy split between classic Howl repertoire and material from the new album.
IC: You’ve done a ton of touring since the return of live music in 2021. Do you have any particularly significant touring rituals, whether it be things that you do to get in the right headspace to perform or just things that make all the time on the road more enjoyable?
TNH: We each have our own pre-show routine.
Chan does stretching and warming-up for 30-60 minutes beforehand, and runs some Iron Maiden songs and scales/drills.
Zach likes to stretch a bit and twirl some drumsticks to get the blood flowing.
Alex does standard vocal warm-ups and yoga/stretching routines. Additionally, his preparation is often more mental, in that he visualizes what each song is speaking about and how audience members will receive each meaning.
Jake stretches and warms up for 30-60 minutes beforehand on banjo, and does extensive vocal/tonal exercises.
Chan and Jake will often run some tunes together before the set to loosen up the hands and voices.
About 15 minutes before the show, we all come together and talk through the set. Then, right before we take the stage, we fist bump one another and agree to “give ’em hell”… additionally, copious amounts of caffeine are sure to perish.
IC: Finally, what can we expect of The Native Howl in 2024, after these dates with Zakk Sabbath? Is there anything you’re hoping and planning for that you’re especially excited about?
TNH: First and foremost, we have a brand-new full-length album that will be released in 2024 via Sumerian Records. This is our first major label outing, and we are thrilled to see what comes! We also have new music videos on the docket, and some other irons in the fire that we can’t discuss quite yet; but keep your eyes peeled for a Howl show near you! We just may be riding into your town.
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