Howie B has been one of the most influential figures in electronic music for nigh-on twenty years, releasing twelve solo albums, and producing the likes of Bjork, Tricky and U2, not to mention his work on countless movie soundtracks. His latest album Down With The Dawn is an assured and mature elegy to the tragedies in life we all have to face at one time or another – a piece of work inspired by the passing of two of his closest friends that feels shot through with a certain existential sorrow, matched with a somewhat mantra-like spiritual dimension. It’s the kind of record that is perfect for a thoughtful morning-after-the-night-before walk through the urban sprawl as the sun glints in through the corners of the concrete and reminds you to smile, because you’re alive. Here, the legendary producer and film composer talks to Dazed about the story behind his latest sonic opus, and brings you an exclusive download of a piece of work that confirms his position as one of the most talented electronic musicians of our era.
Dazed Digital: Where did the inspiration come from for Down With The Dawn?
Howie B: Well, it really came from my friend Run Wrake, an animator who I’ve worked with for 20 years. He did the first ever video film with me for "Music for Babies" – he’s done album-covers for me; he’s done animation; we’ve done over eight films and two short-films together, plus various other projects. Anyway, he phones me up and says let’s go for a drink, and he says there’s something I need to tell you. He told me he had lung cancer. I was literally crying my eyes out and I wrote this song for him called "Down With the Dawn". I gave him the song and I knew it was special. I lost two close friends to lung cancer this year, and this album was a way for me to express the way it made me feel.
DD: Is that where the video animation for the track stems from?
Howie B: Yeah, the last film he made is of his three tumors, starting as small dots and then slowly getting bigger and taking control of him. It starts off in space but then you come into the city, and these tumors are floating around, coming from nowhere and then having such an effect. It’s just one shot pulling back the whole time for six minutes – you eventually end up in the city, and there are all the drugs he’s taking as advertisements on buildings.
DD: Is there a spiritual aspect to music for you?
Howie B: Yeah, I think it is the most sociable thing that we can do really, apart from a kiss. It’s a medium. People get hang ups with being close to each other, but very few people have hang ups with music really, it really crosses everything. It can be so tender. It can be so angry. It can get you off of your chair. It’s so powerful.
DD: The album has a soundtrack quality, you’ve done lots of soundtracks in the last few years, how has that affected your approach generally?
Howie B: The whole soundtrack thing is something I’ve always wanted to do from the beginning, because I started out as an engineer doing soundtracks with Stanley Myers. Stanley was one of Britain’s biggest composers – he did all of the Nicolas Roeg films, and he did films like Prick Up Your Ears and My Beautiful Launderette – this guy was a totally old-school classic, I did over three years with him and I worked on over 30 films. It feels like that has come full spiral now.
DD: Even though there is a feeling of sorrow on the album, what would you like listeners to take away from it?
Howie B: My whole purpose for making music is passion and expression, and, for me, I’d like feel it’s expressing joy. It sounds a bit weird ‘cause I am talking about death, but it’s the joy of expression. I can express death through music and it doesn’t sound dark. I have expressed this loss here – it’s an expression of love, life and death, and that’s really what I would like to go people away with.