San Francisco based Singer-Songwriter, Howard Simon writes and performs acoustic music seeped in folk and blues, with finger-style and flat-picked guitar accompanied by a small band. He has been writing songs most of his life and has two albums to date including "The View from this Horizon," release in 2014, and his new album, "Visitors," released in June 2016. Howard writes songs about love (romantic and otherwise), family, morality and mortality. His writing spans 30 years and reflects his experience through both the lens of a young man and of a man who has grown wiser (or not....as he puts it).
Was there something (an experience) or someone in your life that was the "catalyst" for you to start writing music? Tell us about it.
Hearing my older brother's copy of "The Byrds' Greatest Hits" as a kid and being introduced to Bob Dylan -- and I became a total Dylan fanatic. I was absolutely mesmerized by "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Chimes of Freedom" and I thought, "This is really great poetry set to really great music! I wanna do that!" I started writing then and I've never looked back . . .
Let's get this out of the way. What is the CRAZIEST thing that has ever happened to you in your music career? Playing a gig at a place called "Avi's Piano Bar" in Jerusalem when I was 20 or 21 and living there for a while. It was a Naugahyde-and-polyester place (both the decor and the clientele), and the booker and the venue definitely got their signals crossed -- they were expecting a Hebrew-language pianist lounge lizard playing bad Billy Joel covers and instead they got a long-haired American folkie singing bad Dylan covers (and blowing a lot of loud harmonica). It started out ugly and went downhill from there. I skulked out the building after the first set and barely escaped . . . What has been the high point of your music path? Recording my albums, "The View from this Horizon" in 2014 and "Visitors" in 2016. I often say that I'm glad I waited until relatively late in life to make the albums because, had I made them as a younger man, I think I would have been obsessed with seeking an unattainable musical perfection and would have made myself (and the albums) miserable. Having some years behind me, I was able to see that every moment of the recording process -- revising the songs, determining the instrumentation, working with the band and the engineer -- was an absolute gift. I had a blast, and the albums are much better for the joy I experienced in making them. So, how do you approach songwriting or what is your creative process like?
I generally begin with a story idea: what narrative am I trying to tell? who is the protagonist? what are the emotions or aspirations at the heart of the story?, and then I write and revise a lyric, deciding then what time signature (usually three or four) and form (verses/verses + chorus/verses + chorus + bridge, etc.) will tell the story best. I then pick up a guitar and look for a key, a chord progression and a melody that best complements the narrative. Sometimes I'll happen upon a melody or a progression first and craft a lyric around it, but that's more rare. Rarer still is when they come together effortlessly, as happened with "In Her Name," on "Visitors." That's a wonderful experience!
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing Indie Artists today? Or, if you could ask the music industry to change one thing, what would it be?
Getting a "share of voice." The democratization of music is great -- we're at a point where anyone with some gumption and ProTools can record and release a reasonably good-sounding album without the tyranny of label -- but it means that the choices in music are virtually limitless and any individual indie artist is likely to be swallowed up the noise. I don't know the answer, but I'd love for there to be more distribution channels for indie artists like me.
If you could share the stage with one other artist or band, who would it be and why?
Besides Dylan? Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal. I think "The River and the Thread" is one of the best albums of the last five years (or more) and I think they are absolutely exemplary songwriters and performers. (I know I'm fan-girling like crazy here, but what can I say? I think they're great . . ) What are your rehearsals generally like? Or, how do you prepare for a live show? We throw a few TVs through the hotel window then get down to business . . .Rehearsals are pretty quiet affairs, really. The bass player and second guitar with whom I perform most frequently are friends and very professional in their approach. We get together, run through the songs, discuss any ideas on how to change arrangements to mix things up, run through them again, then go home. Not much to say, really.
Pick one song that was your greatest challenge to write. Tell us about it!
I worked particularly hard on The Devil Every Day" on "Visitors." The germ of the song comes from 1982 when I lived in Chicago and would ride my bicycle down Lakeshore Drive to Northwestern Law School (where I was then a student) and see the same group of kids every day smoking pot at Oak Street beach. I knew then that I wanted the song to start with that image and to be a rocker, but I had no idea how to write a rock song (except that I knew I wanted a Hammond B-3 sound in there somewhere!). So the song went nowhere for years until I rediscovered it while working on "Visitors." I wrote some additional lyrics (including the bridge) that made the song broader in perspective and more world-weary and forgiving (the protagonist doesn't do very well with people . . .), and I was able to merge my folkie tendencies with my desire to rock it by playing the primary guitar part on a Rickenbacker electric 12-string . Then my engineer Derek Bianchi (he's a great musician too) added a *killer* electric guitar part and Ed Johnson (who plays guitar throughout the album) took over the keyboard part and gave the song it's Hammond swirl. We doubled the vocals to give it some additional body, and I'm really happy with the overall result.
What's coming up in the future?
I'm writing new material and hope to go back into the studio before the end of the year to do at least an EP. Also, I attend Richard Thompson's "Frets & Refrains" music camp in New York every July, and I always get inspired there, so I'm excited that's coming up.
Tell us where fans can access your music. On all the usual sites: Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music, etc. -- just search by my name.