One of the most engaging performers on the New England folk circuit, Howie Newman combines music, comedy and audience participation to provide a truly unique entertainment experience.
His amusing compositions are up-tempo and catchy, and he keeps things lively with funny between-songs banter and short comedy bits (there is also a smattering of serious songs).
Song topics include television commercials, baseball, cell phones, middle age dating, the weather, intergalactic garbage collection and more. And the material is totally clean, suitable for all ages.
In this episode of our Mid Tenn Listens podcast, I chat with Howie about influences, the newest project, technology and it’s benefits and more.
Listen to the full audio interview below or find it on Apple Music, Google Play Stitcher Radio or the TuneIn app. You can scroll down for a full list of podcast subscription options.
Where are you from and what style of music do you create? (In your own words, not necessarily in marketing terms or by popular genre classifications.)
I’m from Melrose, Mass., which is about 10 miles north of Boston. Although I play acoustic guitar and perform as a solo or duo, I wouldn’t consider myself a folk singer. Not that there’s anything wrong with folk music. I just prefer music that is a bit more lively so I call it folk-rock or country-rock. My duo is called Knock on Wood and my partner plays fiddle and mandolin (see www.howienewman.com/knockonwood for more info). I play guitar and harmonica, do all the lead vocals and write all the songs. For the most part, it’s up-tempo with a country flavor. I always try to inject some humor into the proceedings and strive to get the audience involved. It’s a very interactive type of show with lots of audience participation.
In addition to my songs, we play a lot of classic rock covers, including stuff that you wouldn’t expect from an acoustic duo, like Huey Lewis and the News, Eric Clapton, Steely Dan and The Who.
When I’m in the studio, I like to fill out the songs with piano, drums, bass, clarinet and second guitar, etc., along with the fiddle and mandolin. And lots of backup vocals and harmony. A lot of singer-songwriters feel like their recordings should be similar to what they perform live but I don’t really follow that approach. My theory is the studio is an opportunity to create something special, expand on the song and have some fun. I like lots of solos. If you’re going to hire musicians, why not let them do their thing and see what they can add to the mix?
Most of my original songs are funny or satirical, but I do have some serious moments, especially on my latest CD. I tend to write about personal experiences and things that happen to everyone. There’s a fun side to just about anything if you look hard enough.
I’ve written a bunch of baseball songs and have two CDs, Baseball’s Greatest Hits Volumes 1 and 2. These seem to resonate with a niche market and I sell baseball mp3s all over the world. It’s a small part of my live performances but tends to get a good amount of attention. For more info, see www.howienewman.com/baseball-songs
What led you down this path of music and what motivates you to stay the course?
There are two components to what I do: the actual sound and the approach to songwriting. I’ve always liked the instruments that are used in country music. Twangy electric guitar, fiddle, mandolin, pedal steel, honky tonk piano, etc. So I gravitated toward country-rock and folk-rock bands, like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Loggins and Messina, Poco and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. I know I’m going way back for some of your readers. More recently (and recent is a relative term here), I’ve really liked the Jayhawks. So I’ve incorporated that country-rock sound into my studio recordings.
My approach to writing songs is to have fun. A lot of my songs are funny, satirical or just “outside the box.” I listened to a lot of jimmy Buffet and Steve Goodman way back in the ’70s, and they were both a big influence. I’ve written some serious songs, too, and I also like them but what differentiates me in the local acoustic music circuit is my ability to be funny, involve the audience and just have fun. I try to do that when I’m recording and when I’m performing live.
My motivation to keep doing what I’m doing is the tremendously positive feedback I’m getting from audiences and people who hear my albums. When I see people laughing and having a great time, that really inspires me to keep going.
How is your new release different than previous ones? Did you set out to accomplish anything specific?
The arrangements are a little less complex on “When You’re Happy” compared to my last big album project, “Trust Me, You’ll Like It (2006).” It’s more acoustic, too, and I added some of the second guitar work myself instead of handing it off to someone else. I enjoyed doing that and I think it came out pretty good. The new album still rocks when it’s supposed to.
I think backup vocals are really important and we did a few new things on this CD. It was also a bit more organic in that I experimented with some new arrangements and changed things up on a few songs after the initial recording. I just listened to what I had and made some changes on the fly. It made for a better album.
My goals for this CD were to create something that was fun, musically engaging and included some humor in the lyrics. I also tried to incorporate several different styles: folk, country, Americana, rock, blues, swing and pop. It makes for a more interesting album. You never know what’s coming next.
Do you face any challenges as an indie musician in a digital age? On the flip side, how has technology helped you (if it has)?
Digital has really helped me. I sell far more mp3s online than CDs, although I do sell a fair amount of albums at the live shows. I’ve sold thousands of mp3s to folks in Europe, Australia, Mexico and other parts of the world. That’s kind of cool.
Digital also makes the recording and distributing process a whole lot easier obviously. In the old days, it was a long, drawn-out ordeal to produce an album. I’m talking about the physical process of making a record, not the recording. For my first record, I had to drive to New York City to do the master and then ship it out to the Midwest somewhere to have the records pressed. Now it can all be done remotely. It’s also helped in promoting my music. The Internet, e-mail and social media have made it possible to get my music to a wider audience without all the expense.
Where can we follow you online and hear more music?
Just go to my website: www.howienewman.com. It has my touring schedule, music clips, videos, a monthly newsletter and lots of good stuff.
Anything else before we sign off?
If you’re in the New England area, check out my live shows. We’re doing a lot of free outdoor concerts this summer. If you’re not close by, listen to some songs on my website. I think you’ll find them lively, refreshing and interesting musically.