Kansas City singer-songwriter Brent Windler has made the album of the summer, but he only just snuck in with it – his solo debut, New Morning Howl, which is soaked in the sunshine sounds of The Beach Boys and classic West Coast ’60s pop, but with a hint of Americana, came out in late August.
It’s a lush and lavish record, with rich arrangements – warm and optimistic. One of the songs is even called Mr Sun – a harmony-laden, Beatles-like hymn to the healing powers of that big golden globe in the sky.
Opening song and first single, Around The Bend, is gorgeous, Fountains of Wayne-style power-pop, with heavenly harmonies. Clocking in at around six minutes, My Josephine (Wildwood Flowers Are Where You Roam) is a Brian Wilson-esque, widescreen epic that’s symphonic and dream-like, while the title track, with its sweeping strings, uplifting chorus, bouncy melody and twangy guitar, is pure Pet Sounds.
The spectral and folky Spanish Jasmine is the perfect song to listen to as summer turns to autumn: Windler sounds like Simon & Garfunkel – with synths.
The Glitter and The Roar, features some great Easy Listening horns, and closing anthem, In My Daze is a big, Beatlesy, psych-tinged anthem, with piano, slide guitar and massed harmonies.
In an exclusive interview, Say It With Garage Flowers spoke to Windler about the new record.
“I didn’t really start with any direct influences in mind, but as the record came together, my ‘60s and ‘70s influences definitely started to crawl out,” he tells us.
Hi Brent. How’s it going? Where are you and what’s the vibe like?
Brent Windler: I’m doing alright – thanks for asking. I’m in Kansas City and everything here is going alright. If I had to complain, it’s really hot here at the moment…
How was lockdown for you?
BW: It was pretty crazy, like it was everywhere. I was lucky enough to be able to work at home, so I had it better than a lot of folks. It was a strange blur of a year – lots of hanging out with friends and family through my computer screen, and the terrible feeling that everything was crumbling.
Congratulations on the new album. It’s a beauty. New Morning Howl is your first solo record. What took you so long?
BW: Thank you. I’m happy you’re digging it. I actually started to record some solo material about seven years ago – some of it was released in 2019 – but life got in the way, as it does sometimes, and I refocused on other musical projects I was involved with at the time.
I actually have a whole other solo record that is just waiting to be finished that I started around that time, but I have been enjoying writing new material so much I’m not sure when I’ll get back to it, if ever.
Did lockdown affect the record? The album feels warm and optimistic, despite the current state of the world…
BW: I definitely think it affected the album. The way it was made would have been completely different had lockdown never happened, but I’m happy that the album feels optimistic and has a warm quality to it. I’m not sure any of that was intentional, but we were definitely trying to stay as optimistic as humanely possible while recording it – even though we failed on a regular basis. I know we tried make it work the best we could, and I think it made for an interesting record.
What’s your musical background? You’re from the Midwest. How was it growing up there?
BW: I’m from Kansas City, Missouri. I didn’t have much of a musical background growing up. I’m self-taught – a music obsessive – and I just stuck with it. Kansas City was a great city to grow up in, but, like anywhere, it’s got its ups and downs. I would be lying if I didn’t say I wish we had a mountain range near us, or the ocean I could walk down to, but there is something beautiful, calm, and strange about the Midwest that I have grown to love.
‘I’m happy that the album feels optimistic and has a warm quality to it. I’m not sure any of that was intentional’
What were your earliest music memories and influences?
BW: Hmmm…. Some of my earliest music memories are getting The Beatles and The Monkees Greatest Hits on cassette. Also I remember a lot of Creedence Clearwater Revival being played on family road trips, as well as late ‘50s/ early ‘60’s rock n roll. I specifically remember loving the Monotones song The Book of Love – that always stood out to me when I was really little. As I got older, my influences definitely grew wider. I loved and still love everything from that era, but I got into a lot of punk and indie acts in my teens, and my palette grew to loving everything from Bob Dylan to My Bloody Valentine to Fugazi. There’s too many to name.
Have you been in many bands? When did you start writing songs?
BW: I have been in many bands over the years. I played in the indie rock group The Casket Lottery for a while, doing a record with them in 2012. I also played bass in the indie band The Republic Tigers, and I was putting out records with Sons of Great Dane, which was more of my songwriting vehicle.
I started really getting into songwriting in my early twenties and I became obsessed with the craft. I had dabbled in my teens, but there was really nothing worthwhile that came out of it. Honestly not until these past five or so years do I feel like I started to feel more comfortable as a songwriter.
Tell us about your group Sons of Great Dane…
Sons is a band that was started around 2007-2008 with my good friend and bass player, Nolle. I had just gotten off tour, and had been gone for about six months and needed a place to crash until I got my own place to stay. He was nice enough to let me crash on his couch for a while, and I had written a batch of songs while I was out on tour, so we just started to play around with them and decided they were good enough to put together a band. We have released three records so far, and I’m sure we will get around to doing another in the future here if time permits.
Let’s talk more about your album, New Morning Howl. How did you approach the sound of the record? It often has a lush, widescreen, almost symphonic feel. The songs are layered, with rich arrangements. What were you aiming for from a sonic point of view? It has strings and horns – it’s a big-sounding record…
BW: I approached this record with a no-holds-barred attitude from beginning to end – every idea, whether it turned out good or bad, was tried. On other albums I have made songs that were specifically written with a band or a time frame in mind, so there were lots of ideas that never got tried because it seemed like a bit much, or we just didn’t have enough time and/or money. I didn’t put a time frame on this record, which freed me up in a way. I enjoyed the idea of just writing whatever I wanted to, and not having any certain style or agenda in mind. Sonically it’s the type of record I have been wanting to make for a long while – big but not in the typical big guitar style. I have always been interested in other ways to colour songs with instrumentation, and I think I attempted that on this record. Not to say there aren’t a lot of guitars, because there are a shitload!
What were your influences for the record?
BW: I didn’t really start with any direct influences in mind, but as the record came together, my ‘60s and ‘70s influences definitely started to crawl out. It all came pretty naturally and glued together without a whole lot of thought at first. I think after we got the first few songs together, I started to see more of a vision of where the train was moving.
How were the recording sessions? Where did you make the album?
BW: The sessions were done at a studio here in the city called Courtesy Tone, owned by a great engineer/mixer named Ryan Benton. We started to put together the record in early 2020, and when we really started to get going on it the pandemic hit and things slowed way down. We made it work the best we could though, doing things slowly and safely through the rest of the year. It was a very strange way to record a record, I would walk up to the studio and mask up, and then cut something quickly and then be on my way, so it was done in small pieces at a time. We also did a lot of things remotely as well. There are so many great musicians that played on the record that lived nowhere near us, and did an amazing job.
Were all of the songs written for the record, or are any of them old ones you’d been hanging on to?
BW: There were actually only a couple that were written during the recording process – all the others are songs had been floating around for quite a while. Some had been tried out for other projects, but were pulled away once I realised they were not going to fit. There was even one that I wrote in my early twenties that was revamped.
Let’s talk about some of the songs. If I pick a few and give you my thoughts on them, can you tell me yours?
BW: Sure – sounds good.
The first song on the record, Around The Bend, is gorgeous, melodic jangly guitar pop with a West Coast feel and also a Fountains of Wayne vibe. What can you tell us about it?
BW: This was the first song we started with at the beginning of 2020. It was actually a song that was written for another project I was working on called Dandelions, but as I was starting to think about what songs I wanted to do for the record, it seemed to fit with the batch I was imagining. The song was inspired by a friend lyrically and musically – he had been listening to a lot of jangle pop songs and I was inspired to write something in that vein. I really wanted to get a female vocal on it and was lucky enough to get the great musician, Heidi Gluck, to sing on it. She’s from Lawrence, Kansas, and vocals really give it a dream-like feel, which was perfect for the song.
On that note, My Josephine (Wildwood Flowers Are Where You Roam) is also dream-like, and lush – an almost six-minute epic…
BW: This one was written a little while ago, and honestly, I thought was it pretty boring at first. I always really enjoyed the verse progression, but nothing really stood out to me about it outside of that and the melody. I had a friend that really liked the song and would always request that one at solo acoustic shows, so I started to think maybe there was something there. Once I started to add parts over the top of it, the song came to life for me and I got excited about it. The ending I really wanted to be trance-like, almost like a mantra, so you could get lost in the repetition. Then having things coming in and out as the song goes on, but never losing that melody playing over and over. Now it’s one of my favourites on the record. I’m happy I stuck with it.
Spanish Jasmine is very haunting. It sounds like Simon & Garfunkel, but with synths… What’s your take on it?
BW: This is the song I was talking about earlier that was written in my early twenties. It’s definitely the oldest song on the record. I was going back through a bunch of old songs I had demoed back in the day and ran across this one. I felt it would fit the record well. I wanted some synths of some sort on it, so we reached out to a great musician named Nate Harold. He did an amazing job, and in my eyes, what he added gives the song its uniqueness.
The title track is another lushly orchestrated song. It has a Beach Boys feel. Would you agree?
BW: I agree – it definitely has a Beach Boys vibe going on. I borrowed a tenor ukulele from my good friend’s daughter, mainly just for fun, as I was bored with playing guitar. While I had it, I started to write a song and this was what came out of it. This song sort of became an experiment. We laid down the uke part and drums and main vocals, then sent it over to an amazing violinist and string arranger, Kaitlin Wolfberg, to have her arrange some strings over it. I didn’t want to put anything else down until we got back what she put down, as I wanted to build the rest of the song around her strings. It was a different way than I had ever put together a song, and I really enjoyed how this one came together.
The Glitter and the Roar has some great Easy Listening horns on it…
BW: There is a great author named Seth Borgen, and he put out a collection of short stories called If I Die in Ohio. One of my favourite stories from it is called The Glitter and the Roar, so the lyrics were inspired by that. I really like the way this one turned out both musically and lyrically. I really wanted the music to carry the lyrics and give them a big cinematic feel. It ebbs and flows throughout – one of those songs I hope gets better with more listens.
In My Daze is a big finish to the record. It’s quite Beatlesy and a bit psychedelic, with slide guitar. I like the strange ‘whistling’ sound on it. What’s that?
BW: This song is another old one. It was originally played by and written for Sons of Great Dane, but I never felt it was finished or fit very well. The whistling sound is me drenched in reverb. I’m not a great whistler, so that was a huge pain in the ass and took me forever to get right. The slide part was originally put down as a reminder of what I wanted the whistle to be, but I ended up really liking it in the mix, so we kept it. I knew from the beginning that I wanted this song to end the record, and I think it turned out well and wrapped things up nicely.
What are your plans for the rest of the year? Any gigs planned?
BW: I’m playing some shows here and around the Midwest this fall and winter. I hope to get out and do a lot more in 2022, but will see how everything turns out. I’m also going to hopefully have a few more songs to share by the end of this year as well.
Can we expect to see you play in the UK one day?
BW: I would love that. Hopefully all the stars align and everyone can get back out there and touring on a more regular basis. If I can get over there, I’ll definitely come play some shows.
Finally, what music – new and old – have you been enjoying recently?
BW: Hmmm… Here is a handful I have been listening to as of lately:
Liam Kazar – Due North
Mini Trees – Carrying On
The Beach Boys – Sunflower
Supergrass – Road to Rouen
New Morning Howl by Brent Windler is out now on Goldstar Recordings.