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Howie Day

 

By Becca Holand

Howie Day  

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Howie Day may only be 21-years old, but he has an old soul. On his debut, “Australia,” Day’s bittersweet songs evoke the spirit of a lifetime’s worth of lovesick nights spent dwelling on regret and drinking alone. “My songwriting is somewhat moody,” agrees the singer-songwriter from Bangor, Maine. “It’s not intentional, I just write what I feel.”

Inspired by the emotionally raw songs of Richard Ashcroft, U2, and Jeff Buckley, Day proudly wears his broken heart on his sleeve. “Sorry So Sorry,” “She Says” and “Disco” help set the album’s dark tone. But it’s the first single, “Ghost,” that captures the album’s spirit with hushed guitar and brooding vocals.

Recorded independently in 1999 at Q Division in Boston with producer Mike Denneen (Aimee Mann, Guster, Letters to Cleo), Day says the biggest challenge of making “Australia” was paying for it. “I couldn’t afford to record the whole thing in one six-week session,” he explains. “I would book the studio for five days, record two or three songs with Mike and then go out on the road for three months until I had enough money to pay for another week in the studio. All in all, it took about a year to record the album.”

Independently released in 2000, “Australia” went on to earn Day a 2001 Boston Music Award for “Best Debut Album by a Singer-Songwriter” and a 2002 award for “Best Male Singer Songwriter.” The album has sold almost 30,000 copies via Day’s Web site and at the 300 shows he played last year at clubs and college campuses around the country. It was Day’s spirited live performances that first caught the attention of Epic Records, which signed Day earlier this year. Day has come a long way from booking himself at local bars and clubs on the weekends in Maine. “The crowd was more interested in getting their drink on than hearing some 15-year-old kid sing,” says Day.

Howie eventually won over the bar crowd playing half-covers and half-originals, “I played some Beatles and Elton John songs and that seemed to get everyone on my side, then snuck in a few of my original songs when no one was expecting it.” Day’s version of the Beatles’ “Help” can be heard on the certified gold “I Am Sam” soundtrack. Driven by an intense desire to create, but limited by a teenager’s budget, Day ‘invented’ a lo-fi system to record his early songs. “I thought I was a genius when I figured out that I could record something on one tape player, and then record myself playing along to that tape on a second tape player,” jokes Day. “It was my poor-man’s version of multi-track recording.” The same artistic ingenuity that helped Day turn his bedroom into a recording studio carries over into his unique live shows today.

Armed only with an acoustic guitar, Day uses two quick feet to trigger an array of delay pedals he uses to create and control an invisible orchestra. He slaps his guitar for a backbeat, picks the melody out on a couple of strings, scratches the low-strings with his pick for extra percussion and singing background vocals. The sounds bounce around until Day pulls them all together with his guitar and soaring voice. Day gives credit to Ohio singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur for inspiring him to start incorporating loops into his live show two years ago. “For a long time, my show used to be just me and an acoustic guitar. To be honest, I was getting bored with those limitations. Around that time I saw Joseph Arthur using samples in his show,” he says. “Some weeks later, I was in a music store in Birmingham, Alabama and I bought a loop sampler. When I read the manual, I knew I’d found what I was missing in my show.”

Day not only enjoys building his songs on stage in front of an audience, he prefers to write songs in front of them too. It’s common for Day to play half written songs to packed houses and then try to finish the song standing in the spotlight. “I like writing that way… I don’t have a chance to edit myself and worry if something is cool or not,” he explains. “Sometimes I come up with something genius and other nights it’s just gibberish. It’s such a pure form of inspiration because I’m writing from my subconscious and not allowing time to second-guess myself.” On tour for “Australia,” Day has been trying out possible material - “Madrigal,” “Sweet” and “After You” - for his next album. Playing new songs gives Day a break from the challenge of keeping fresh the three-year old songs on his first album. “That’s a long time to play any song,” he says. “I’m proud of this record, but I’ve come a long way as a songwriter and performer since I recorded it. The new songs are more personal and intense than before. I’m looking forward to showing the people what I can do now.”

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