The Howlin’ Brothers – Ben Plasse, Ian Craft and Jared Green – have just released their second album, The Sun Studio Session. The bluegrass trio recorded in the legendary studio where Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash got their start.
Riffraf got the chance to chat with Ben Plasse (read Ben’s First Concert) about Doc Watson’s musical influence, recording at Sun Studios, the strangest gig they have ever played (and it really is strange) and why they thanked Salma Hayek on their first album, Howl.
When did you know you wanted to become a musician?
I was around fourteen when music started to take over my life. I had taken piano lessons from age 5-10, but had stopped and lost interest. Around fourteen the Beatles Anthology came out, and that inspired me a lot. My brother got a guitar, and I started exploring that, and then I also started singing for the first time. Music made me feel so good I knew I wanted to make music my life.
As a band, who are your musical influences?
John Hartford and Doc Watson are probably the two biggest individual influences. We all deeply love the blues. There’s a lot of old blues influence in what we do. Each of us have had really amazing music teachers along the way too, and their influence is probably the greatest of all. Big thanks and big love to all my music teachers!
Recording at Sun was a huge lift for us! What an honor to record in such a legendary place! It’s an inspiring experience just to walk through the place. Recording there is surreal! I loved that there would be no edits and no overdubs. Good to see they are keeping it old school and honest. I love it that way.
What are your favorite memories from your recording session at Sun Studio?
There’s a chip in the floor where they said most upright bass players would stand, so they could put the peg in the chipped spot and keep the bass from sliding. It gave me chills when I stood my bass up and started noodling, just thinking about who may have stood in that spot and what songs they were playing. It was an inspiring place to make music.
How would you describe the group’s songwriting process?
My favorite songs usually come out of nowhere and almost all at once. It feels almost like someone else is giving you the lines, and you’re just transcribing them. When it’s over, you wish you could get back to that head space, but it usually leaves as fast as it comes.
Your new album is a 100% digital EP. No physical album will be released? Tell us about that.
Haha! Really? That’s news to me, hahha. Well, you know the industry is changing fast. Music is being approached in a more sustainable way by more small companies. For most people CD cases are perishable anyway, and formats are all going to be replaced inevitably. But not vinyl. Vinyl sounds so good, and it’s so collectible. It also fills the need for people who still like beautiful artwork, and something tangible, with weight, and size, and moving parts. I hope somehow we can make 7 inch vinyl copies of the Sun Session, even if it’s a limited run. That would be amazing to hear.
Is there a favorite song you like to cover live?
Lately, I love John Hartford’s “Skippin’ in the Mississippi Dew.” It’s really fun to play, and I love the way Ian and Jared shape it.
What has been your strangest and/or most interesting gig?
We played at the grand opening for a yoga accessories store. We were set up right in the middle of the store, playing old time music acoustically, and there was nothing but stretchy pants as far as the eye could see. Nashville is a great place to be a musician. There’s lots of forward thinking people who are supporting the arts around here. We get to play a lot of random events, and it keeps us alive.
What musician/bands do you listen to?
I love the Sanctified Grumblers from Chicago. They’re killer. I keep coming back to the blues and to Doc Watson. Doc is really a treasure.
Everyone has an embarrassing song on their iPod. What about you guys?
I’ve written my share of cheese over the years. I’m talking real rubbish. Stuff I’ve never shown anyone, not even friends or family. Some of that’s on my iPod.
In the credits on your album, Howl, you guys thank Salma Hayek? Are you referring to the actress? If so, what’s your connection with her?
The studio we recorded in had a tv that was muted, but always had DVDs running. I think she was in one of the movies that looped for hours one day, but honestly I can’t recall. It’s pretty funny, we have no connection to her at all. I had never thought about it till now. Nobody has ever brought it up (haha).
Where do you see The Howlin’ Brothers in twenty years?
I think we are going to keep performing, and keep writing, and playing as much as we can. It’s the happiest I’ve ever been, since I joined the band. I hope the ride never stops!