As I drove along the coast I saw the honeyed sky of the sun trapped between a black layer above and below; it was a light that existed between a darkness that could not be ignored, as it dripped from above and rose from the earth. As I gazed upon this purgatorial evening sky, I thought of one of my favorite artists, the crown prince of the crying jag, Rowland S. Howard.
By no means a household name, Howard married the worlds of the tender and tragic through his music for over 30 years. Howard first garnered a following for his guitar work with The Birthday Party, who created a sound of violent vulnerability not heard in music before or since.
Bred from the primordial ooze of their former band The Boys Next Door, Howard along with cohorts Nick Cave, Mick Harvey, Tracy Pew, and Phill Calvert created the soundtrack to a swampland execution framed in hellfire. A band bent on the chaos of dismantling convention, the Birthday Party eventually fell victim to the same destruction they had wished upon everyone else. The self-expression turned into a spectacle and as ferociously as they had arrived, they were extinguished.
As Nick Cave forged ahead with his Bad Seeds, Howard became an integral member of fellow Australian outfit Crime & The City Solution. A short but significant stint led to more opportunities such as Howard’s work alongside his brother Harry in These Immortal Souls, the Southern Gothic serenades he crafted with Nikki Sudden, and the unholy creative matrimony he would continue to share with No Wave High Priestess Lydia Lunch.
It wouldn’t be until 1999 that Rowland S. Howard would finally release a full-length solo effort under the guise of his own spectral vision. Teenage Snuff Film was the fully realized amalgamation of the sinister and somber that Howard had been creating for years.
Pop Crimes, his second and last solo album before passing away in 2009 of cancer, continued his path; the path of the post-punk cowboy riding through a landscape of fair- skinned girls set against crimson hillsides, where fatigued demons seek refuge in a fevered night. But it was now that he reflected back on the journey as a whole, penning lyrics that showcased a detachment from the past and at times making claims that show a man who might rewrite or maim history in certain areas if he could. Whether he condemns it or not, the forlorn delivery and layers of screeching and sobbing guitar work also show a man who has come to accept his past and fate. The past is what has brought us here and Howard’s music is a testament to the human struggle, making his music a timeless artifact in the ever-progressing landscape of love, loss, sex, and death. This year alone has seen vinyl reissues of his collaborative efforts and solo material: Shotgun Wedding, Kiss You Kidnapped Charabanc, and Pop Crimes. An upcoming 4-LP box set retrospective entitled Six Strings That Drew Blood is set to come out in November. His tortured voice has been given a fresh breath of life.
For those that need details to get started, listen to “Dead Radio”, “Shut Me Down”, or “Pop Crimes” from his late and great solo records. The subdued yet passionate voice, the visceral lyrics, and the guitar work that sounds melancholy yet murderous, will enter you into the world of Rowland S. Howard; a man at odds with the dark ends of the sky and the earth.