Jordan Gatesmith's band just landed on a fall tour opening for this year's most hotly hyped U.K. rock act, the Vaccines. On Aug. 1, their little lark of a self-made EP will be issued in Europe by one of Britain's most legendary labels, Rough Trade.
But first things first -- like playing to a crowd of 30 people on a Sunday night two weeks ago at 7th Street Entry.
Standing at the center of the small stage, Gatesmith revealed his young age (19) every time he brushed his floppy hair out of his eyes. The scrawny singer/guitarist's hands bore the X-mark of an underage club patron, which he's used to wearing after two years of Entry gigs with his other band, Total Babe (soon going on hiatus). Two of his bandmates wore even fluffier 'dos and near-matching, way-tight capri pants, which made them look even younger and daintier in the Entry stage lights.
The sound Howler churned out, however, sounded older and meatier -- a reverb-heavy, choppy, lightly surf-centric rock that recalls Surfer Blood and the Strokes among modern bands, and harks back to the Modern Lovers and Feelies among bands started long before these kids were born.
With the addition of Nice Purse bandmates Ian Nygaard and France Camp to round out and amp up the lineup, Gatesmith's band came off even better and peppier than on its EP, "This One's Different," issued in April on the local label So-TM. Their Entry show also boasted twice as many songs as the EP, including a true howler of a tune called "Surf Sluts." The set ended with a track now in regular rotation on the Current (89.3 FM), the snide and jangly "I Told You Once."
When all was said and done, though, Howler's young makers still didn't have any more minutes in them than fans at the show. The gig ends at the half-hour mark.
"I'm spending the whole summer locked in the basement, trying to write as many songs as possible," Gatesmith said after leaving the stage. "A lot of people think I'm partying all summer because we're signed now, but I'm actually working my tail off."
The De La Salle High School graduate was just finishing up freshman year at Augsburg College when all the hoopla started. One of the first things he did after finding out Rough Trade wanted to sign Howler was get a refund on fall tuition. "I rushed down there and said, 'Get me outta here!'" he recalled.
The label that brought the Smiths and Libertines to the United States and helped break the Strokes and Arcade Fire in Europe, Rough Trade got the tip-off on Howler via Twin Cities music writer Jonathan Garrett, who freelances for British music mag NME. A Rough Trade rep came to see the band in May at the Hexagon Bar (also in front of about 30 people), and within days the deal was on the table, and the always fast-to-hype British music press was off and running.
NME called them "the musical missives [who will] put their native Minneapolis back on the rock 'n' roll map." The Guardian newspaper wrote: "It's safe to assume today's band, Howler, are going to make a sizeable splash. This is not an assessment of their talent so much as an evaluation of their sound in the context of the current market."
"It's weird being treated like some sort of rock star in England," Gatesmith said. "I've never even been out of the country."
Howler won't head overseas until November for the U.K. tour with the Vaccines. Before that, the quintet will hit U.S. highways for a few weeks in the fall with -- and probably get a hype-machine advisory or two from -- hometown mentors Tapes 'N Tapes.
Before any touring, though, comes all the writing and recording for a full-length record that Rough Trade wants to put out early next year, probably in time to tout Howler at the South by Southwest Music Conference in March. Unlike the EP, which So-TM retained the rights to stateside, Howler's long-player will be issued via Rough Trade in America.
Between takes at the So-TM recording studio in Minneapolis' Warehouse District -- Rough Trade wants the same scrappy, low-frills sound on the full album -- Gatesmith sounded confident he can live up to the mounting pressure.
"I feel like I have to make some sort of masterpiece now, but that's OK," he said, "I'm lucky to be in this position."
So-TM label/studio operator Chris Heidman, who has since signed on as Howler's manager, said of Gatesmith, "It's impressive how much he has grown as a songwriter and just as a person in so little time." A likely sign of good things to come, Heidman said he is now inundated with daily e-mails from Rough Trade staffers in London, including label founder Geoff Travis. "Everyone at the label seems really excited about the band," he said.
With all that excitement in London, the buzz is bound to catch up back in Howler's hometown. The band hasn't given up playing assorted gigs, such as a slot Friday at the Triple Rock opening for Communist Daughter. These, too, are part of Gatesmith's summer homework.
"We're obviously still a pretty new band," he said as the small Entry crowd filed out. "We need to do these shows."