Rootsy, folky, and groovy tunes carry listeners through Neil Howl’s debut album “Run Run,” released in August. The singer-songwriter has been at it for most of his life, but 2016 marked his professional turning point.
“This past year kind of took me by surprise,” Mr. Howl said in an interview with The Times last week.
He was just a kid when his military school’s battalion band brought him face-to-face with his first instrument — a drum. It wasn’t long before he got the hang of it, and quickly realized music was his thing. The Colorado native bought a guitar at age 17, right around the time he realized he had a lot to say.
“That was the hardest point, getting over the fear of being rejected for whatever I was saying,” Mr. Howl said.
Now he does it all. On his 11-track record, Mr. Howl’s behind all the sounds: the bass, drums, guitar, and vocals. When it comes to writing lyrics, he can’t quite pin down the source.
“It comes from a combination of things,” he said. “I would say some from my experience, some from others’, but I try to add some philosophical element.”
Mr. Howl doesn’t think his sound fits into any certain genre, but he likes it that way. In fact, it’s in sync with his own music preference — a little bit of everything.
“Anything from South American bossa nova to Tower of Power,” he said. “I like things that are sweet, tasteful, and intriguing.”
Mr. Howl moved to the Island in 1996, and now resides in Chilmark. He grew up in Boulder, Colo., and has spent significant time in Washington and California.
His favorite venues are sit-down spots, festivals, or higher-profile gigs. He’s opened up for Sally and Ben Taylor at the Whaling Church, and recently headlined the Craft Beer Festival in Oak Bluffs. He’s had his fill of the club and bar scene, and says he has heard enough “Free Bird” requests from the crowd.
“There’s only so many times you can tell your buds to come watch you at the Ritz,” he said.
The venue also determines whether or not he needs backup. “If it’s a place that has a lot of energy and needs a lot of resonance, I’ll bring along a band,” Mr. Howl said. “If it’s a really chill, relaxed situation, I’ll just play acoustic.”
Mr. Howl is working on locking in a go-to band, ideally one that could eventually join him on a bus tour.
“It’s hard, though. Everybody’s got families and jobs, and unless you know exactly how much you’re making per show, it’s hard to get a group together,” Mr. Howl said.
His ultimate dream is to get an all-woman band and hit the road as Neil Howl and the Woo Manikins. He’s got eyes on a summer 2017 tour, but until then, he’ll just keep performing.
“Be humble, have fun, keep the banter light, and make sure everyone stays together,” Mr. Howl said. “I just want to move people.”
For more information about Neil Howl and his music, visit neilhowl.com.