From performances at Under the Couch to appearances at the Grammys, Tech students, faculty and alumni have proven time and again that they are no beginners when it comes to music. Chris Howard, a former Tech student and WREK Radio host, is proof of this. He plans on releasing his own full-length album, Premature Awakenings, in July with the help of a kickstarter. Howard’s music contains tastes of both classic rock and more modern acoustic vibes. In support of his upcoming album, the Technique talked with Howard about making the transition from Atlanta’s favorite Institute of Technology to the Washington D.C. music industry.
First, let’s talk about your history with Tech. What was your major, when did you graduate and how was your experience working with WREK Radio?
I graduated in May 2009 with a degree in Management. Thankfully they’ve changed that to Business Administration since that is what the rest of the world calls it. And working at WREK was fun, although it was hard to get any of my friends to listen during my shift. My favorite part of working there was when they’d send out an email about doing interviews, so I think I had three musicians–and one full band–come in during my shift, and I would ask them the naive questions of an eighteen year old in between songs. It was fun.
What made you, a Tech student, want to become a professional musician?
Ha. Well I don’t know if professional is the right word… I’ve always had the desire to create things. I used to make movies, comically bad ones. I entered and lost quite a few Campus MovieFest competitions, and I’ve made a few movies outside of that as well. Then I started shifting to music because I’m always listening to it, and have since I was [around] 5 years old. My tastes have obviously shifted and evolved a lot since then. My goal was to make music I would listen to if someone else made it. It took me a while to sort of crack the code of how to turn my lyrics into songs, but when I did, that was definitely a huge breakthrough.
Premature Awakenings is your first full-length album. What has been the creative process been behind it, and what obstacles have you had to overcome?
“I’ve always had the desire to create things”
Well for all my songs I start with the lyrics. Once I have lyrics that I like, I take my guitar and begin to build the song. Then I spend of lot of time tweaking the drums and synths until I have something I like. It’s a lot of trial and error. I keep changing things until I listen to the song and don’t hear anything that’s off or that I’d want to change. My biggest obstacle is the vocals. For the EP I put out last summer, I spent all this time on the music, and then for the vocals I’d just go ‘ah that’s good enough, let me just put some reverb on it’ and move on. I knew that was my weakest element, and I tried to avoid fixing it. But when I decided to make a full length album, I knew I had to address my biggest weakness. So I started taking voice lessons at the beginning of the year.
You say that you put out a 3-song EP last summer… was that a completely separate venture from Premature Awakenings, or are there traces of it in your new album?
For the EP I wanted to make 3 songs that each sounded different. So one song was mellow, one song was depressing and one song sounded like something you’d hear in Abercrombie or Urban Outfitters. Afterwards, I decided to make songs that sound more like the mellow song (“Could Someone”). That song and the depressing one (“Mornings After”) will be on the full length as well. I’ve also had an unhealthy obsession with Jaws since I was 12. As it stands now, the first song on the album will be my Jaws tribute. The album art is also going to be shark related.
You are a solo act, providing both vocals and instrumental accompaniment in each of your songs. Is The Strangest Places really just a one-man-show, or are others involved in the creative process as well?
It’s pretty much just me. Mat Leffler-Schulman of Mobtown Studios in Baltimore mixed the EP, and he will be mixing the album as well. I tell him what I’m going for and the sounds I like and his work definitely enhances the music. I also had Hanna Badalova from Mr. Moccasin sing on the EP.
What can fans gain from contributing to this kickstarter, and if it does take off, what are your plans for the future?
“I plan to keep on making songs, hopefully an album each year”
Currently the project is just over 50% funded. Most of my rewards are the same as most music projects on kickstarter. I will have an acoustic download available as soon as the project ends, then there are digital downloads and physical copies of the full album, prints of the album art, credits in the liner notes, etc. And for only $1,500 the CD will say “Your Name presents…” I plan to keep on making songs, hopefully an album each year. In my estimation, kickstarter success will help build awareness for The Strangest Places and gain some new fans. And maybe my mom will even take me a little more seriously as a musician.
As of now, Howard’s kickstarter is still a work in progress, and can be accessed easily through Facebook or a Google search.
The deadline to contribute is fast approaching, but in the meantime, Howard continues to prove that music has and will continue to hold a firm place within the Tech community.