Angela Perley and The Howlin' Moons have been making waves since 2009 when singer/guitarist Angela Perley, guitarist Chris Connor, and bass player Billy Zehnal were connected through a “blind band date” via their producer Fred Blitzer. Sitting somewhere between Folk and Psychadelic Rock, their sound is made up of a mix of raw talent, hustle, heart, and experience. I was lucky to sit down with lead singer and musician Angela Perley to learn more about her story.
I'm so interested in your sound. I’ve heard things like rootsy beginnings, pop rock, and Americana. How would you describe your sound?
When I started, I was living in Athens and was deep in a folk obsession at the time. When I connected with my band we found we all had similar influences centered around 60s and 70s rock 'n roll. And we all listen to a wide array of music, from Billie Holiday to Black Sabbath. So we start with versatile and talented artists and a good vocabulary of music. My voice brings a kind of rootsy and country sound that brings it all together. So even if we're experimenting on something a little more psychedelic you still hear an earthiness.
It sounds like everyone brings something very special and when you come together you can kind of put in a little bit of your own magic. Tell me a little bit about your band. How did the you guys come together?
I was going to school in Athens and in my senior year. A friend in Columbus worked at Vital Companies and she had a couple of my demos. And, actually it fell out of her purse — this is the weirdest thing telling the story of this — anyway, Fred was interested so they put it on in the office. He was fascinated and set up a meeting with me. After that meeting, he totally took me under his wing. He knew our bass player Billy and our guitar player Chris Connor. So he approached them first, gave him a copy of the demo and was like ‘What do you think of this girl?’ And there was something about it — they were just kind of charmed by it and said yes. So, that’s how it started. And the first day, we met at practice to see how we would work together. We all met up and I was like ‘hello nice to meet you’. And Fred was taking video. We've been together since 2000 which is crazy.
It seems like a whirlwind beginning.
I was an English major for literature and I didn't know really what to do with that. I ended up getting a teaching degree but I thought my heart wasn't really in it. But I was the first person my family to go to college. And I felt a lot of pressure. Like ‘What does that degree mean? And ‘What am I going to do with my life’ So there was a lot of expectation. I never thought that music would be something.
So what changed that for you?
I think Fred had a lot to do with that. Just having that belief in the first meeting.
Having that little push helped. And then having a band that was really professional. The energy, the synergy, the style of music, the professionalism, and the goals of everyone aligned. So it's just kind of crazy how it worked out. We’ve kind of grown together over the years.
So tell me about that.
In the beginning, you are just hustling because you think ‘this is my time... I need to hustle.' It’s this weird balance because you know when you do make that jump it’s like ‘OK this is your career. This is where your income is coming from’. We know our music isn't mainstream, so, for us playing shows and developing that skill is a way for us to survive and keep the band happy and everyone financially stable. So that's part of the reason why we played so many shows. And it's definitely helped us and takes us further each time because we have to find good venues or good festivals and good relationships with people. It's kind of like planting a seed. It's crazy looking back at old old videos and recordings to see how far we've grown from playing so much.
Tell me about those road chops.
Yeah, I remember when we went overboard on our first big tour anchored by South by Southwest. That was when I was booking the shows. So I put together our tour and it was so spread out. Fred was excited about it and rented this huge RV. And we had these guys film the experience because it was our first and that actually went really well. But it was just a little over the top. There were nights with 10 people at each show, depending on the venue. There were a couple of bigger bigger nights but we were figuring it out and as a completely independent artist there's no radio backing or anything like that. At that point it was definitely a little rough. After that, we were like OK we have to like keep our expenses down. Then we just we just learned how to save money on the road. And now, we will notice new bands that have not played with other bands before. Little things can be telling like not taking your gear off stage. Taking apart your gear onstage. Little things like that. There are also circumstances where the sound is off and you can't really hear yourself or the stage volume is weird. It makes you tougher because you learn to still do what you normally do and just get through it. A lot of times the audience has no idea. Playing so much together just makes us super super tight.
With all this touring how so you find time to write? Are you writing on the road? What's your songwriting process?
I write all the lyrics and melodies to the songs and Chris and Billy bring them to life. They usually know what I'm getting at. It’s weird. We've been together so long a lot of times there's not much communication other than just like… playing.
We all kind of connect and we can tell through very little communication which is just so interesting. I guess we trust each other. I'll send a voice memo to the guys like 'hey here's a new song I wrote'. Then let people think about it for a little while and sometimes we'll just try it out somewhere.
It sounds like you're very in tune with one another.
I don't really write on the road. I like to write alone and usually late at night. I’ll write phrases or little ideas that kind of popped into my head after shows. I like being in my little cocoon. And it has to be late at night when my mind is free.
This winter, I wrote a lot of the next new record that we're going to be releasing hopefully by the end of summer or early fall. A lot of times I'll write things in batches. Like three songs that are kind of like sister songs. Then I'll pick one or two.
Why do you have to pick a favorite?
There’s a feeling I want to get out there and I'm trying to find the best way to do it. It's like you're trying to find your voice through these different songs...wondering 'does it express what I want to really say'?
So, where do you get inspiration from?
Having time to reflect and take in these experiences. Looking back at the year and having alone time. I go through phases when I'm in a creative mode and other phases when I'm just an observer taking things in.
So as we are talking about taking time to reflect, we ask everyone about their campfire experiences. And campfire experiences for me may have nothing to do with camping. They are really all about moments of connection, whether you are connecting with someone, yourself, or your environment. Do you have a campfire experience that you can share? A memory of a time and place that allowed you to slow down and reconnect or reflect in some way?
My campfire experience is that moment where I am actually singing and performing because it's a release for me. And even though it's in front of people and I'm not like a hugely social person there is something really freeing and comforting. I can get out a lot of anxiety or emotions that I have… I can kind of purge them through performing. It's actually really relaxing. We just we played in Huntsville, Utah at this is beautiful snow resort and it was one of those experiences. We got to play music and we're on the top of this mountain and just the scenery was so breathtaking. That's when you're like — 'this is great'. Having this experience not only with yourself but with your bandmates and the people at the show. When people get something out of the music and enjoy it and it makes their day. That's when it's like 'OK this is super cool'. That is definitely my campfire experience. That feeling is when I am the most at peace and everything feels right in the world.