THE Howl & The Hum, York’s most impactful band since Shed Seven, are in tune with these alienating, disconnected, socially distant, Corona-crisis times.
“Amid all the postponements and album delays elsewhere at the moment, we are happy to announce that our unfortunately-titled album Human Contact is still coming out on May 29,” says lead singer, songwriter and now soothsayer Sam Griffiths.
“Maybe that title is going to haunt us forever…but we haven’t literally predicted genuine events that have now happened, but we wanted to make a universal record and calling an album ‘Human Contact’ is universal.”
Chosen before the nation went into lockdown, and touch was shown the red card, the album sleeve depicts a severed arm. “Human Contact is about a very modern kind of loneliness, one which doesn’t allow us to forget,” says Sam. “These days, ever more than before, we are constantly reminded of our past: of intimate moments which have escaped us, whether these be via technology, or through a lack of personal interaction.”
Recorded in September 2019, when Corona was still but a pale lager, Human Contact was inspired by focusing on the minutiae of relationships: “all the strange objects, conversations, teenage bitterness and silences that permeate young love and loneliness,” as Sam puts it.
Now, eight weeks into lockdown, self-isolation is all around us (if that is not a contradiction in terms). “Hopefully it goes to prove our point of the importance of human contact in a digital age,” says Sam. “If you like, you can call us soothsayers, prophets, seers, much like The Simpsons’ writers, for predicting unfortunate future events. We WILL begrudgingly carry that mantle, but really it’s just a break-up album.
“Inspired in part by personal relationships, personal loss and the onset of dementia in someone close to the band, this album is in both parts a break-up record and a love letter to memory. It celebrates, and is wary of, various kinds of human contact in everyday life, and how everything fades over time.
“All we have now is our memories, and that is all we are made of, so this album is a necessary exploration of trying to overcome our past, only to realise that in doing so we are losing what it is to be human.”
The shadow of Covid-19 may further darken Human Contact, but the feeling of isolation has deeper roots. “A lot of people describe Millennials as being lonely, contacting each other through the façade of the internet, where they don’t have to see you as a real person,” says the Millennial Sam, a former University of York student.
“Originally, I came up with the idea for Human Contact as a sci-fi short story. I liked late-Victorian stories in that style, but now I was writing for the 21st century, starting it as a fear-driven story, but turning it into a story about a man whose depression overwhelms him.”
Human Contact was transformed into a song, brought to fruition by Sam, his Leeds flatmate, bass player Bradley Blackwell, drummer Jack Williams and guitarist Conor Hirons. “There was a slight fear and horror-show element to it that made it into a groove-driven song, and the song title came first before we picked it for the album title,” he says.
Sam is loath to pigeonhole The Howl & The Hum: “I’m still not sure of the genre. Someone called it ‘goth pop’, and I can see that, but I just write pop songs,” he says.
“The aim is not to shoe-horn yourself into one style, and the reason I asked Conor to play guitar in the band is that he makes it sound like anything but the guitar. He’s more like a set designer, so the guys are not just decorating a set; they all end up telling the story.”
Citing everyone from hip hop queen Lizzo to modern folk artists Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus, via the classic lyricism of Leonard Cohen, as inspirations, Sam and co worked on the album with producer Jolyon Thomas at Big Jelly Studios in Kent.
“Our manager hooked us up with Jolyon, whose dad Ken worked with [Icelandic band] Sigur Ros, and I can definitely see that connection in how we sound,” says Sam. “Jolyon used to look after Slaves and Royal Blood, and we liked how he was able to capture how we are when we play live.”
One glaring omission from Human Contact is crowd favourite Godmanchester Chinese Bridge, the rousing anthem that always closes the band’s sets. “We feel we have sort of already released an album’s worth of material with all our EPs and singles,” says Sam.
“It was strange to release Godmanchester Chinese Bridge as our first single, as we were a country band until then, and maybe it has been superseded by Sweet Fading Silver.
“So, I’m fine with Godmanchester Chinese Bridge not being on the album, but I’m glad it’s a song that has a place in people’s hearts.”
The Howl & The Hum release Human Contact on May 29 on AWAL Records. AWAL, by the way, stands for Artists Without A Label.
Pending further Coronavirus measures from the Government, a tour is in place for September 7 to October 17, taking in two nights at Leeds Brudenell Social Club on October 6 and 7. Watch this space for news of a 2020 York gig at a later date.