If you think it’s been a long time since you’ve heard from Howling Bells – since the cinematic majesty of that self-titled debut back in May 2006 – then you should try being in the band. Bands as creatively prolific as this do not adjust well to sitting around for months at a time. “We’re an industrious lot. We never stop thinking and being inspired,” says singer Juanita Stein. “If it were up to us, we’d put out this record tomorrow and then start recording another straight away”.

More so even than ‘Howling Bells’ (their debut album), however, this is a second record that is worth waiting for. The first won them critical acclaim, certainly, the likes of ‘Setting Sun’ and ‘Low Happening’ lodged firmly in the minds of most who encountered them (and Howling Bells are a group very much “encountered” rather than listened to). The new album, though, is a record that seems certain to elevate them into a far wider consciousness
“This record is a great leap for us” continues Juanita,
“Our debut album was more of a lonesome creation, out of found and lost love, came the inspiration for most of the tracks, which were written in my bedroom.
Brendan : “however, this time it was a collaboration between the four of us. Hearts, minds and ideas in equal measure. We’re all embracing new concepts and sounds. We perpetually challenged one another and the songs.”
Joel: “It’s very important for us that the music would connect with people and elevate them bringing a growing optimism and unity”.

Glenn explains, “when writing for the record in a country house in Victoria, Juanita and I would hop in my folks beat-up Ute and try tune into certain stations, however, clearly the radio had a mind of its own, constantly tuning in and out different stations and frequency’s, it became a resistant friend of ours. We called this Radio Wars”.
Juanita: “Out of that experience came the title to Radio Wars Theme as well as the lyrical content for Digital Hearts….. A song about the struggle we now have between us and it. Humans and the technological revolution”. 

The (almost) title track of which they speak you may have already encountered, as the epic end to Howling Bells current live set. Mechanical drums pound out a robotic march, as squalling guitars and synthesisers – more on them in a minute – fight for space with an almost mantra-like, chanting vocal. It’s the most unsettling and strangest track on the record. Elsewhere there’s opener ‘Treasure Hunt’, another very important track on the record for the band.
A grand opus of stomping beats and pure optimism.
The bass line thunders through this track with an urgency equivalent to that of the songs message itself.
“In this track we focus all our energy on gathering as much of the collective spirit as we can. Marching onwards and forwards. It’s about what we can all achieve together.” Says Juanita

“We are the watchtowers
We are the light that emanates
We are the key that fits
We are the world that radiates”

There’s ‘Let’s Be Kids’, exploring lost innocence. The band explains, “this came from reminiscing about the past, desiring that safe refuge and naïve spirit that come with childhood.”

‘How Long’, meanwhile, represents another first for Howling Bells, in that it was written entirely by guitarist Joel. A heartbreaking, 50’s style ballad. Joel ads “It was a real highlight in making the record for us. A hugely creative process, the drums brought a new energy to the song. They act as the backbone for all the other instruments  shuffling beside it. It reminds me of a sad child dragging his feet.”

This newfound adventure stems from two things. Firstly, producer Dan Grech-Marguerat, who has engineered records by Radiohead, Air and Sir Paul McCartney alongside Nigel Godrich. Along with him, the band reinterpreted a lot of older tracks, experimenting with different melodies, rythms and sounds. Seeing what magic could come of this process.

Single ‘Into The Chaos’ was one of the tracks that resulted, as Juanita explains: “Me and Brendan put this song together from other bits and pieces, it was originally an electronic track without melody or vocals”
Brendan: “It took over maybe four forms before it was finished. It really took on a life of its own.”

So musically adventurous nature aside, ask Howling Bells the all important question about whether now, two albums in, they like the idea of being a big, big band, and their answers are simple. And correct.

Juanita: “Fuck yeah! On the first record we might have made songs that were subtle and dusty, but that didn’t mean that we weren’t bursting at the seams with intent and desire. This album is no different, it just feel like the doors wide open now. There’s a lot more colour splattered on this record. It has a strong message for us. We are optimistic, however, realistic about the future. We want people to feel as excited and inspired by the songs on this album as we do”.

Lofty, noble ambitions, then, but ambitions that are in safe hands. Prepare to be seduced once more.
Howling Bells new album ‘Radio Wars’ is released in March preceded by the single ‘Cities Burning Down’ on Independiente Records.