Ian Vanek of Howardian Talks “Box Turtle”, Has a Message For Us All

Michael Brummett + Meredith Schneider

New York City-based psychedelic art rock collective Howardian – comprised of Ian Vanek, Schulyer Maehl, Dylan Thadani, Mustafa Daka, Troy Marrero, Justin McKaughan, and Gardner Allen – recently released the impressive video for “Box Turtle”, animated entirely by Lila Burns. The song itself is off the band’s 10-track release Do You Know I Wiggle, which made its official debut this fall. The work is quite the journey through reality and pseudo-reality, a blending of genres and sounds that make you feel energized.

We got to shoot a few questions at brainchild Ian Vanek, and he regaled us with stories of collaboration and inspiration. Check it out!

What’s the origin story of Howardian?

Howardian started when my brother Matt discovered my four track tapes in 1992. I was 12 making drum loops with answering machine loop tapes and trying to play a Teisco Del Ray surf guitar over the top and then drumming and singing. Mostly in a spastic defiance to playing drums in my brother’s band. He’d nicknamed me “Howie” at some point when we moved to Olympia and it stuck. He also labeled the tapes I made HOWARDIAN and it stuck. In 2014 Howardian became my main focus after I left Japanther. Sort of like a reboot of a Marvel character.

The concept of running with a rotating cast of people is so unique, we haven’t seen it much lately. What do you enjoy about that process? Are there any downsides?

I’ve personally been so blessed to live all over the country for the last few years. I have a great collaborator and partner on the West Coast in Mac Dawg. He is an amazing pianist and one of the main inspiration behind throwing Howardian out there full force after doing a different band for so many years. We also have an amazing bassist on the west coast in Scotty B. and our producer/engineer Johnny Cluster. In Chicago another long time collaborator Schuyler Maehl looms heavy on the Howardian landscape. Writing the melodies for the entire Do You Know I Wiggle record. Martin and Craig fill out that quartet nicely with bass and sax when playing the Chicago land area. In New York City Gardner Allen and Troy Marrero play synth and Bass with unique depth. This is a very different more “city” mode of Howardian. This is what I enjoy about this kind of process. Three different modes mixed together and stretching into a very unique sounding residue. Kind of like Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground. The draw back is that not everyone can just travel together all the time. But someday we’ll have giant picnic and play music as a family.

What are you accomplishing with your music now that you perhaps haven’t been able to before?

Being able to write authentic songs and grow slowly without expectations has been a joy these past two years. I only hope we continue slow growth until buried. Collaborating with deeply competent keyboardist and bass players has made exploring the space between art rock and psych sensibilities much more interesting.

What inspires your music the most?

Paying homage to ghosts and resting in the spirit of drummers before me is all the rise I’ve ever seemed to need. I hear songs infinitely. I love the newest one the most of course and play in loudly before it’s ready.

What inspired you to work with Lila Burns?

Lila is such a talent. My old band had the honor of being associated with some of her student films. When we were making Do You Know I Wiggle, Dylan Thadani came into the studio talking about his experience seeing turtles being sold. We all shared similar sad stories and wrote the song on the spot. Then I knew we needed a very literal animation to make a sad story like this take life in the way that woulds do it justice. I feel passionate about Sealife and i’ve inspired to write for the voiceless.

“Box Turtle” is a really great piece. Can you remember any anecdotes from recording it?

We made all of Do You Know I Wiggle in a four day period of hyper mania in June. I had just left a highly bonkers teaching gig in the Appalachians and landed in Chicago. We put Cello on it and then invited Amanda Grimm to record violin. To which she responded with amazing ease.
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What is the biggest message you have for America – or the world – right now?

In this era of the businessman president I only hope we can focus on our long term environmental goals including but not limited to sea level change and sea life populations.

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Do You Know I Wiggle is available now.

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