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Howling Bells

Howling-Bells-ErikWeiss0423CHowling Bells are set to return to Australia, touring in support of their new album, Heartstrings. AUGUSTUS WELBY chats to singer, Juanita Stein, ahead of the band’s show at Capitol on Saturday, September 6.

Back in 2004, Howling Bells ended their former life as Waikiki in Sydney and rebooted in London, bearing a new name and an advanced stylistic identity.

Frontwoman, Juanita Stein, recalls it was essentially a do or die move.

“I literally made a pact with myself to never return back to Australia until we had an entire record to show for it,” she says, speaking on the phone from her North London home. “We stepped through some pretty muddy spaces until we did get into the studio and recorded that first record.”
It’s now eight years on from Howling Bells’ self-titled debut and the band’s fourth LP,
Heartstrings, has just hit the shelves. Various media outlets have touted the record a comeback LP, thus implying 2011’s The Loudest Engine was something of a misstep.

The Loudest Engine was definitely a departure from the second record,” she says. “Unless you’re sticking to a very, very rigid artistic path I think you’re toying with people’s emotions. They come to expect one thing from you and then when you suddenly make a really sharp left turn it’s a little unsettling.
“I have my favourite bands too and I get kind of bummed when they do something drastically different. But as the artist I also understand the need and the hunger to try something different, or at least invest in something that feels a little bit different.”
So what has the foursome – completed by Stein’s brother and lead guitarist Joel, drummer Glenn Moule and new recruit, bassist Gary Daines – done differently this time around? First of all, comprising 10 tracks and clocking in at just over 30 minutes,
Heartstrings is the pithiest of the band’s four releases. It’s still a rather varied collection, but the songs come forth with striking immediacy.
“You get older and you tend to fuck around a lot less,” Stein explains. “You don’t mince words anymore, so to speak. I just feel like, artistically, I know exactly what I want to say and there’s no point in misinterpreting what it is I need to say.”
What ultimately distinguishes
Heartstrings is an emphatic sense of purpose, which was somewhat lacking from the two preceding LPs. Following The Loudest Engine, the band members recognised a need to refresh and put Howling Bells on hold for a couple of years. In the interim Stein gave birth to her first child and more recently she’s joined former Kaiser Chiefs drummer Nick Hodgson and singer Anna Goodall in the London-based psych-pop band, Albert Albert. Meanwhile, Joel Stein moved over to Berlin to explore his songwriting potential, which resulted in his new band, Glassmaps.
Taking a step back also allowed the foursome to take stock of their primary goals and aspirations.
“Ten years down the road you don’t harbour that same burning ambition,” Stein says. “Now it’s about artistic survival and expression. Back then it was about needing to prove a point. For me now, it’s definitely more about consistently expressing myself, otherwise I start to feel very choked.
“It’s also just about relaxing. I think what’s comes from the length of time that we’ve been playing in a band, and also becoming a mother. A lot of things take a back seat and it’s incredibly freeing.”