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Every Soul Hears it Differently: An Interview with Al Howard of The Heavy Guilt

Because I just can’t get enough of The Heavy Guilt and because Al Howard of the Guilt is made of awesome- I present my Valentine to San Diego’s music scene: my very first interview (unless you count when I used to ask my mom where babies came from, why I wasn’t a unicorn, and how Santa got down the chimney.)

Al Howard Making Guilt Magic

First things first, the name- The Heavy Guilt- what’s the story behind it?

When I was listening to our first recordings, “the Guilt” came to mind. Our earlier songs were very morose and moody pieces that dealt with guilt, loss, longing and regret. The internet told me that there was already a band called the Guilt. After a quick listen on myspace (there used to be this thing called myspace) I thought that our Guilt was heavier than theirs. And with that sentiment a name was born.

What is your favorite thing about being in a band? Is there a least favorite?

Favorite thing about being in a band…. sometimes you’re at the market buying rotisserie chicken and a lady will come up to you and say “hey, you’re in that band right, the Guilt party or something”, my least favorite thing about being in a band is sometimes you’re at the market buying rotisserie chicken and some dude will come up to you and say “hey, you’re in that band right, the Heavy something.”

I think generally people are accustomed to singer-songwriters or they’re under the impression that singers write their own lyrics. With Erik Canzona singing lead and you writing the words- are you always satisfied with how he delivers the lines, is it strange to have someone else sing those personal writings, or is this the dumbest interview question ever crafted?

By the time I met Erik I was pretty certain that I had met all the close friends I would ever know in life, I had a quiet job and after the demise of my last band I was content to watch Breaking Bad and never play another gig in my life. After about a year the silence started to get deafening and I wanted to make music again, Josh Rice (keyboardist) and I started writing songs and eventually looked for someone with an actual voice to sing them. My singing voice sounds like an elderly man unexpectedly farting into a pleather loveseat. Josh’s voice is a little better. Erik was the first and last person we tried out. His voice sounds like what I hear in my mind when we’re writing and we get along unusually well. We’re all roll players at camp Guilt, my job is lyrics, the percussion thing is less than an afterthought and Erik’s voice has so much confidence, power and can express frailty in the right places. His delivery gives those words meaning (though if he gets a word wrong I slap him with a wooden spoon.)

Hear that, Canzona?

The homemade instruments…How did you come up with them and when did you start making them?

Necessity is the mother of all invention, being broke may be the mother of mine. I work at a record store and I’ve heard a lot of sounds on albums that I’ve wondered how they made, especially Tom Waits and Beatles albums. I was also spending my weekends at the Swap Meet looking for vinyl for my store and myself. Every once in a while I’d see a rusty chain, or a short wave radio or some other piece of junk and wondered if it could conjure up the sound I was envisioning. So I snatched em up. Tin Can Alehouse provides me with bottle caps and my buddy Jesse Fox makes crazy circuit bent gadgetry and lets me test it out. I have a lot of fun with the stuff, in my last band I was a vocalist, so it is really refreshing to do something completely different.

On the subject of the current Guilt six-some- how many iterations has THG gone through and how do you feel about the current line up? Could you see adding more members? [Unrelated side note: I can play a mean triangle.]

Ahhh, the 6 piece band… A commitment to a large wall of sound and a side of poverty. The Guilt has been the same line-up for two years, but in our first year of existence we gave Spinal Tap a run for their money in the drummer department. I think 5 in about 6 months. In fact, the craigslist acquisition of Jenny was really a sonic turning point of our band. Up until then we had been looking for more delicate players who could gently anchor our slow songs. Jenny can be delicate, but she brought some needed rock and youth to our outfit. We started adding different kinds of songs to our setlist, plus she can quote the Simpsons like no other. As far as additional band members goes, we only have six seats in our van, so unless some generous soul wants to drive separate and not get paid, probably not, but we have some friends we like to collaborate with in the recording realm. John Mailander plays violin on our last album, I met him on craigslist when he was 13 (get your mind out of the gutter, I was buying an amp), but he’s a brilliant young talent who will hopefully play with us in the future. Chris Davies plays a little guitar on a few songs, he’s from legendary San Diego band the Penetrators we work at a record store together and he’s turned my on to more music in recent years than anyone else. Heather and Johnny from my other band, The Black Sands (shameless plug) lend some guitar and vocals to our last record.

Are you currently writing new material? Do you write anything besides songs, newsletters, and really great Facebook updates?

The Guilt is constantly creating we have a ton of new songs that you’ll be hearing out and about. I write lyrics for a band called the Black Sands who will be releasing an album in April, really cool stuff, it’s like the Guilt but with an awesome female vocalist. I wrote an album for a psychedelic r&b band called The Jade Element. I write lyrics for pop singer Justin James. I recently released a book of poetry with my mom and I write music reviews for the Reader and sometimes Owl and Bear. Plus two untitled music projects. [Editorial side note: Holy shit. As a “writer” I feel shamed. That is all.]

Do people frequently misinterpret your lyrics? Literally or otherwise? I, for one, thought the line in “Wyoming” was “coax me with your ass”… oops!

I should probably change the line in Wyoming to “coax me with your ass”, that can be the dubstep remix. I look forward to getting my career to the point where people care enough to misinterpret things (though I have heard the Wyoming one a few times). I’m sure in the 6 piece live setting some of the words get lost, but they’re pretty clear on the album.

What is it like being sober in the music scene? Playing bars, drunk crowds, people offering you drinks- is it still a comfortable environment for you?

I don’t think about the sober thing. The band is stoked because no matter what there is a designated driver. I’m stoked cause I can trade drink tickets for sandwiches or buy ladies drinks and save money. I quit drinking 13 years ago, except for a 2-month bender in 2005 that was pretty awesome. When I was 20 I drank so much that I passed out in Boston and woke up in New Orleans, my last memory was a ferret named Thurston drinking the Bull Ice 40oz I had spilled while wrestling a man named Daniel Ricciato coupled with a feeling deep in my soul that something was amiss. I quit after that.

What’s something you’d like people to know about The Heavy Guilt that they wouldn’t know just by seeing a show or hearing a song?

I go back and forth about it. I like for certain people to know I write the lyrics. Like when your mom says shit like “Oh, that’s my boy, 34 years old, stompin’ a chain in a band. You know, he bought that chain with his own money.” You want cats like that to know your contribution runs a little deeper. I like folks to know that this is Erik’s first band ever. That fact, coupled with the ease with which he stepped into his position blows my mind every day. I like cats to know that Sean and Jason are incredible jazz virtuosos and their capacity as musicians is inspiring. Another Guilt secret is that Josh has written about 90% of our music. And that Jenny tours with a hatbox cause she’s a lady. Timin Murray is an honorary member of the Guilt, he’s been the engineer and mixed and produced both Guilt records (mastered the first). He appreciates our vision and knows how to dial in our sound.  And he’s always down to make some weird headphone candy at 3.a.m.  And we’ve gotten very experimental trying to make some new tones and trickery.

I’m impressed by the level of commitment you have to your online presence. Fans can find your shows on Facebook and your website. Plus the newsletters each month are entertaining and informative. I’m surprised that bands are still under utilizing the medium. Is that something you planned for, is it tedious to keep up with or did it happen somewhat naturally?

I refuse to use twitter ’cause it is called twitter. I started doing the facebook cause of the band and soon after became addicted to knowing the minutia of the lives of others. Erik does all the web stuff, he’s a hell of a graphic designer. All of us want to win, whatever that means, we want to play music for more people because the more bodies present the better, the more engaging and the more potent our sound is. I feel like at our best we are a great rock band and I’d use every tool humanly possible to preach that gospel to anyone willing to listen.

“I feel like at our best we are a great rock band and I’d use every tool humanly possible to preach that gospel to anyone willing to listen.” – Al Howard (left), pictured with Erik Canzona, Jenny Merullo and Sean Martin.

Last but not least, the Five S’s of Sounds in San Diego

Sound You Love: I love the voice of the cash register calling my number signifying that my El Zarape House Burrito with bacon is ready to be devoured.
Sound You Hate: I hate the sound of my voice recorded.
Spot in San Diego You Have to See: I dig Torrey Pines.
San Diego Band You’re a Fan Of: I really like John Meeks, Transfer, Low Volts, Nena Anderson.
Song That Makes You Smile: I don’t listen to a lot of smiley music, but I’ve been digging into the Paul McCartney catalog a ton lately and I dig this song called “Ram On”, I think I smile when I hear it, I blame the ukulele.The

See The Heavy Guilt this Friday, February 17 at The Loft at UCSD for only $10! For more magic- check out their website where you can purchase their music, t-shirts and find out which lyrics you’ve misheard. Plus follow their Facebook and get up to speed on all the happenings and shows for the band.

For more interviews, song obsessions, and musical musings with Sounds in San Diego follow along on Facebook or get tweety with me on Twitter (even though it’s called Twitter).

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About Jen Van Tieghem

There aren’t many things I love more than music. While life spins away at a rapid beat I’ve realized it’s important to spend it doing what I love – enjoying music in San Diego. I have a handful of favorite venues, a heart full of favorite bands, and decided to write about it.

7 comments on “Every Soul Hears it Differently: An Interview with Al Howard of The Heavy Guilt

  1. […] Every Soul Hears it Differently: An Interview with Al Howard of The Heavy Guilt – a valentine… […]

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  2. […] of the best parts about running this site is getting to know the people that inspire it. One of the first San Diego I really fell for was Dead Feather Moon. The energy and authenticity of […]

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  3. […] and this chick does a double happy dance. I’ve been meaning to check out John Meeks since Al Howard of The Heavy Guilt recommended him in my interview last month. Plus a few more acts I can scope out… great way to start the musical […]

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  4. […] The Black Sands since I was made aware that Al Howard of The Heavy Guilt had a second band when I interviewed him back in February. Plus I rarely miss The Guilt, plus I have been meaning to check out Soda Bar, plus it was Friday, […]

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  5. […] I started listening to you at the suggestion of Al Howard of The Heavy Guilt- what other local bands do you have camaraderie with and what are your opinions on our local scene […]

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  6. […] and the paths it’s led me down. My first attempt at an interview came last February when the prolific artist offered some supremely interesting (and hilarious) answers to my questions. Seeing another side of how the music and projects I love so much have come together is fascinating […]

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  7. […] with Al Howard’s lyrics has always struck me as a unique, fateful collaboration. After two insightful (and hilarious) interviews with Howard I was long overdue to get Mr. C’s side of the story. […]

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