When I first hit play on A Smurf at Land’s End, the new album from Howardian, for a fraction of a second I thought I was listening to some early Flaming Lips—then there was a Talking Heads sample before it spun off into low-fi raggedy rock. I managed to catch the latest band from artist and rabble-rouser Ian Vanek at their official SXSW showcase late Saturday night in Austin.
While the streets were crowded to Mardi Gras proportions, they played at Sledge Hammer, on 6th Street, a proper bar-bar, not really a music venue. It was only half full as the band took the stage, with many of the patrons up at the front distractedly playing giant Jenga. The band hung a giant “Howardian” banner over the back of the stage, and pushed the drum kit towards the lip of the stage for Vanek, the drummer, singer, and frontman. They played an interesting set, dropping in samples included on the album, and Vanek chanted the name of the band repeatedly between songs.
I emailed with Ian Vanek to chat about his new music project, art, and politics.
The tree of rock and roll has to be refreshed from time to time. It was a bloody climb but I now feel I’m representing a more authentic IAN VANEK with HOWARDIAN. My first band formed 1994 in Olympia, WA.
This is my new shit, a group of New York City people making Hip Hop-informed rock songs. The deal is we are organically and authentically making HOWARDIAN the new flagship. This has been a difficult process that started in the ’90s.
Yes, in 1994 I was making tapes on his four track and he would label them “HOWARDIAN” because he called me Howie for unknown reasons. This name just stuck as I made solo works over the years. For the last year and change it’s been a real four-piece touring band. We’ve made two records and an EP as this lineup.
The record seems to be pulling from disparate influences but also pushing influences—I hate to compare bands to other bands’ sounds, but at first spin I whiff a little early Flaming Lips—like Telepathic Surgery. With samples. Or Butter 08. What were you thinking in cutting this record, and how different is the material live?
WOW, thank you! I’ve certainly heard all of those bands. I love Flaming Lips! They have a gallery and one of the best live shows ever. I never seen it but maybe they’ll take us on tour. We are able to replicate our recordings live with force and excitement. It’s nice to play what the room wants so each concert might chafe slightly based on the energy.
You did a show at Black Bear as a benefit for Black Mountain School. Any new visual art projects?
HOWARDIAN are doing a performance at Spiral Jetty in Utah on this tour and my artistic side is very excited about that.
I’m completely excited by some of the candidates and pretty astonished by others. Parts seem like a practical joke and other parts seem like life or death. It’s all very internet, modern, American. I was certainly sickened to see violence in Chicago over politics and dread what might happen at the conventions. At the end of the end of days none of these small things will matter and most politicians will have ZERO survival skills.
The human race are unwittingly creating a new species. The arrival is not coming, it’s here. What’s more rare than a million followers and a billion likes? Focus, solitude and limitation. I think these things can lend you an advantage in this day and age. This is where HOWARDIAN lands.
The last time we spoke you were talking about you don’t like to hear hateful terminology, and people saying “Fuck Williamsburg” and “Fuck hipsters.” What do you think about Williamsburg now, with Death By Audio being shut down. Is the DIY scene just dead in New York, or do we all need to move out to Flushing and start some new shit?
Howardian reside in Queens, it feels so tuned and good. Seldom do I have the conversation about cost of living that I used to hear when my old band lived in Brooklyn. Death By Audio was NOT kicked out of their space by Vice. It was so beautiful to participate in Death By Audio’s very first show and see that amount of live shows that followed. I was with Edan in New Orleans recently and we had a long beautiful talk. I think the more important question is: What are the people from Death By Audio doing next? The wheels has turned!
This interview has been edited.