Howler's Jordan Gatesmith is the first to admit he and his bandmates are adept at what the Brits call "taking the piss." If you've ever read anything about the band—and it's more likely you have if you live in England, where the group has so far received greater media attention than it has at home—then you've seen its Strokesian guitar pop described using such adjectives as "snarky," "snide" or "sarcastic." That's what happens when you have songs like "Beach Sluts" and "You Like White Women, I Like Cigarettes." Not that Gatesmith takes offense to the characterization.
"We're kind of a whole bunch of—what's the word? We're not dicks. I don't know, we're weird," the 20-year-old singer-guitarist says while en route to his first South by Southwest in Austin. "We have a strange sense of humor. There's no image thing. It's just, this is who we are. We like to fuck around, and we bring it to the music as well."
Youth, attitude and guitars: It's the stuff the British music press eats up like figgy pudding. No wonder, then, that Howler has caused a minor frenzy across the pond. Aligning the Minneapolis five-piece with other young-and-reckless buzz acts like the Vaccines and the Drums, the NME not only declared the band one of the best new artists of 2011, it also included the tall, lanky and permanently bed-headed Gatesmith on its list of the year's "50 coolest people." And that was before the group released its hook-heavy full-length debut, America Give Up, the title of which has certainly endeared the band to English critics even more.
Given Gatesmith's admitted penchant for fucking around, it's hard to trust some of the things he says about Howler's origins. Like how he and keyboardist Max Petrek met while waiting for their respective girlfriends in the lobby of a Planned Parenthood, bonding over a Ronettes song that came on the radio. Or how the band cut its teeth live by playing local farmers markets. ("We cleaned up, actually," Gatesmith says. "We made more money than we do now.") Nevertheless, the story of the band's overnight rise is certifiably true: A journalist from the U.K. caught Howler at an early club gig, and was impressed enough to send a copy of its EP to tastemaking London-based label Rough Trade, which signed the band immediately.
America Give Up is Howler's chance to prove itself against the hype. With hand claps, backing harmonies and fuzzed-out riffs, the album twitches and kicks like a surf-flecked Is This It, with Gatesmith singing about boring make-out sessions and bloody romances in a voice pitched between Julian Casablancas and Joey Ramone. Are the songs as snarky, snide and sarcastic as the reviews suggest? A little. But Gatesmith confesses that's mostly a defense mechanism.
"They're all kind of personal, but at the same time, I don't want to give too much away," he says. "I like to show myself a little bit, but hide it in some other bullshit."
SEE IT: Howler plays Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave,, on Monday, March 26, with Yellow Ostrich and Appetite. 9 pm. $12. 21+.