Interview: Howie Reeve

howie reeve
This article originally appeared in The Herald newspaper (Scotland) on July 26, 2013.

You draw conclusions when you’re listening to music. You may deduce, for example, that an unplugged bass mantra called Stalks and Stems on Howie Reeve’s debut solo album alludes to his DIY aesthetic, his knack for organic, visceral music, and his fertile take on grassroots culture that embraces post-punk, hardcore, free-jazz, and avant-folk.

But then you discover the song in question is actually named after Reeve’s local greengrocer. “Yeah, it’s about some thoughts I had while I was in there, but I think any interpretation is really valid,” explains the Glasgow-based former Tattie Toes bassist, who has just self-released his first solo outing, Friendly Demons. “The songs on this album are really personal, really intimate, and I know what they’re about, but I think that good music should lead you to your own thing; should give you the space to feel your own feelings.”

Reeve has long been celebrated for his divergent bands and collaborations, including Shlebie (with Jer Reid and Long Fin Killie’s Luke Sutherland) Maxton Grainger (with members of Eska and the James Orr Complex) and Balkan-folk miscreants Tattie Toes, who recently “petered out naturally”, and whose erstwhile members also perform with Alasdair Roberts, The One Ensemble and Hanna Tuulikki. But Reeve is revelling in a new, and freer, lease of life as a solo artist. “I’ve loved the bands that I’ve been in before but it’s never been more meaningful than what I’m doing right now,” he says. “It’s a really wonderful feeling – going solo is doing me the world of good, and I can play gigs whenever I want, I’m playing live all the time now. I’m really enjoying that.”

Friendly Demons reflects and celebrates this liberated spirit. “I’ve not thought too much about any of it,” says Reeve. “Head, heart and gut have all been in it at the same time. Because I self-released the album, I could put it out really quickly, so that even the oldest song, Your Equilibrium, is less than a year old.” The album’s 12 largely unaccompanied acoustic bass instrumentals are populated by string creaks, deep breaths and fret-buzz, not to mention the odd ingenious and absurd vocal refrain, such as that on the beatific Dragon’s Eyes. (“Look into my eyes, tell me what you see? ‘Nothing, your eyes are like wee dragon’s eyes. No offence.’”). The songs are roundly expressive, evocative and intimate. “It’s very personal, yeah, but at the same time, I don’t think it’s precious” Reeve offers. “It runs a gamut of emotions, but they’re all on the same continuum.”

Reeve’s move from electric to acoustic bass has also galvanised his artistic expression and self-sufficiency. “I bought an acoustic bass two Octobers ago, and I didn’t really do much with it at first, other than just tinker,” he recalls. “But then suddenly I started writing tunes. It’s really empowering, and there’s also that thing where – it’s not that I was held back by the others in the bands before, but now I can say, and feel, exactly what I want, and that’s a really important thing as an artist. I think that in this day and age, in consumer culture, if you want to reclaim your life, you’ve got to do what matters to you and not compromise, and you should try to do it in a sort of joyous way.”

A song named in tribute to a Pollockshaws organic store is about as consumerist, as corporate-minded, as Friendly Demons gets. The album is DIY and community-minded throughout: it was recorded entirely in Reeve’s living room with Foxface alumnus Michael Angus at the controls, and released on Reeve’s own Sausage Shaped Lobster Records. Reeve funded the album with a kickstarter page and a fund-raising show at Glasgow’s Glad Café, which saw him serve a meal and play a gig for 26 people, supported by mercurial singer-songwriter Finn LeMarinel. Oliver Pitt from Optimo techno-punk deviants Golden Teacher did the album artwork; promoter Fielding Hope from Cry Parrot has been “amazing”, says Reeve, while Chemikal Underground’s Alun Woodward – with whom Reeve co-promotes Platform’s impressive Frost and Fire series – has also provided support.

“We don’t all sing from the same hymn sheet, but there are plenty of people who care about community and who care about creative expression,” says Reeve. “And a lot of us also seek to reach out, try not to keep it clique-y, because it’ll dry up, won’t it? It’ll lose oxygen if it’s just underground, and kind of closed off, and only a certain demographic can see it.”

For all its low-end thrills, melodic openness and sonic warmth, Friendly Demons is defined as much by its ethos as its music. “All the bands that have inspired me – like Hubby [recent Scottish Album of the Year Award winner RM Hubbert], the way he’s done things, and bands like [US hardcore dissidents] The Minutemen or [Dutch anarcho-punks] The Ex – they all, to quote Steve Albini, ‘get their fans one fan at a time’. And a lot of people I really respect have been great about the album, like Mike Watt from The Minutemen has been in touch saying how much he likes it, and that’s really meaningful. People are getting it, and it’s great that you don’t have to worry about it.

“You just put the record out there and see what happens,” he smiles. “I think that’s what makes doing this so life-enhancing.”

Friendly Demons is out now; Howie Reeve plays the Music Language Festival, Glasgow, September 6-8.

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