Howard Mahan on his upcoming Knuckleheads album release party and the live sound of Marigold

Howard Mahan

Howard Mahan. // photo courtesy the artist

Guitarist and songwriter Howard Mahan‘s second album, Marigold, comes from an interesting place.

As a matter of fact, Mahan considers the album to be something more like album two and a half, because he and his bandmates had recorded an EP, Time to Go, during the shutdown as a “’here’s my demo, can I get a gig?’ sort of thing,” and the full-length debut, Lost and Found, came out in September of 2021.

“But still everything was weird then,” Mahan says. “So, it kind of feels, like it’s the first one because it’s like the first real shot at it.”

Mahan had originally moved to Lawrence in 2018 to go to law school, and thanks to the college town’s open jam scene, discovered a cavalcade of people who were musically like-minded. Coming from Fredonia, Kansas, it was a “mind-blowing concept,” the musician says.

“After I moved up here, somebody had to explain to me the concept of an open jam,” Mahan relates. “And it was such a strange idea that you could just show up and play, you know? It was cool. Just through going through jams and stuff, I met some really cool people and other musicians.”

Given that, for the better part of a year, open jams and patio shows were about it for musical entertainment that wasn’t streaming via YouTube or Zoom, Mahan got to meet more people than he might have otherwise.

“I try to look at it as a positive way,” he explains. “Everybody who lives in the area was also home and going to those jams over that span of time. It was like a really condensed period of getting to meet everybody. And everybody was outta work too, so if somebody got a gig, you could pretty much call anybody and they would say yes. They didn’t care who you were.”

The differences between then and now are borne out in how Marigold feels versus Lost and Found. Mahan says that’s intentional.

“The concept with the last record was that I want it to work at any given coffee shop just in case everything goes to hell again,” Mahan offers. “And this one was trying to focus on packed clubs or a good festival stage.”

To that end, Mahan and his band took a solid six to eigth months of playing these songs live and testing them in front of audiences before taking to Weights and Measures Soundlab to record with Duane Trower, who had recorded Mahan’s previous full-length and the EP.

“It’s nice because Duane will let you do kind of whatever you want and he just kind of has suggestions once in a while if you’re gonna suck, you know?” says Mahan half-jokingly. “’Maybe suck a little less on this one part.’ But it’s cool ’cause he has got so many different microphones and I’ve worked with him enough. In that situation, he knows what I like already.”

In addition to Trower’s musical CV and what his ears brought to the table, Mahan tried something else to help nail translating the band’s live energy to the recording.

“We invited a couple of people down that are fans but aren’t necessarily music nerds, but are big fans just to listen to what we’re doing and tell us if we suck,” Mahan says.

“Duane’s at a level where he’s not gonna tell us what to do, but he’ll tell us if we need to do it again and it’s really nice to have somebody that knows what it should be like live, and then somebody who knows what it sounds like recorded and if there’s a better take. Musically, he knows and you can trust what he says in terms of if that’s gonna be boring or whatever.”

Because the band was trying to get as dynamic a recording as possible, they set up and recorded all of the tracks and roughly half the solos live. Guitar and bass amps were isolated, of course, but they were all in the same drum room.

“At least one of the guitar tracks and most of the solos are live in that room on any given take andwe didn’t do anything to click at all,” Mahan enthuses. “We just tried to do it as what we sounded like since we’d had the opportunity to workshop.”

The end result is that there’s a really great energy on this record, and Mahan says that it helped to have people there in-studio, watching them, that knew what they could do. These were folks who had seen these songs enough that they knew what Mahan and company were going for.

“If we didn’t hit it, all we needed to know was whether we hit it or not,” says the musician. “’It seems like you’re holding back’ or ‘It seems like maybe you’re pushing too hard.’”

Being in the studio is such a different thing, Mahan says, since you as a musician aren’t really feeding off of any sort of energy wave from that live audience. This resulted in a recording process where they wouldn’t necessarily hit the mark on the first couple of takes and it was only when they’d go back and listen to it, somebody would say, “That’s faster than it should be.”

“They’d be like, ‘I’ve seen this song before, and it’s not doing what it should be doing,’” Mahan clarifies. “It’s like, ‘Okay, that’s all we need. We’ll figure out why and we’ll go back and try it again.’”

Mahan says that there were five or six people that came in in different rotations, all volunteers: “Just volunteered to come down and hang, which is such a chore, but it was nice because they know. They’d seen it enough. They knew what we’re going for.”

Howard Mahan Band’s release party for Marigold is Saturday, February 18, in the Gospel Lounge at Knuckleheads. Details on that show here.

Categories: Music