Jordan Gatesmith still fits in pretty well at the CC Club. Before the Howler frontman could drink there legally, his band went from a local talent to a cult success in England. These days, the 22-year-old can work his way through a pitcher like any other regular, and hold court on the smoking porch without having to pause for autographs. He has come here a lot since his group returned to Minneapolis last year after 18 months of breakneck touring.
"The whole record was written and recorded in a bar," he says, regarding their sophomore release, World of Joy. "We would play in [lead guitarist Ian Nygaard's] basement all day, we'd write songs, and then we'd end up going to the CC Club at night."
Gatesmith blends in so well that it's easy to forget he's not the same phenom who captured so much attention a few years ago. He's humble and thankful for his band's meteoric rise, but he doesn't sugarcoat the experience either.
"2011 into 2012 was nothing but touring," he explains, "I feel like I lost the year between 19 and 20. It was gone, eradicated. My life started again at age 21."
The band saw the world, but often paid the price of their relentless pace with their own personal health and sanity. "Drip," track two on World of Joy, details Nygaard's bouts with shingles and a nearly fatal throat infection while on the road.
"We took him to the hospital in New Jersey, and since we had the rest of the tour to do, we left him there," Gatesmith says with a rueful laugh. "He was deathly ill, he was on an IV, man. We abandoned him."
It's clear that story, and the myriad of others from their lost year, affected his outlook and songwriting in a serious way. A jaundiced, observational quality complements the hooky garage-punk his band is known for all over on World of Joy. After the shell-shocked members of Howler finally returned home to begin writing the new record, they initially found themselves stymied from the burnout of the whole experience.
"We were hanging out and stuff, but we just couldn't go there for some reason," he says of initial attempts to write. "It was almost like PTSD or something."
That summer, a shuffling of personnel brought Gatesmith's neighborhood friend Rory MacMurdo into the fold as an energetic drummer, which invigorated Howler's songwriting. Gatesmith, Nygaard, MacMurdo, and bassist Max Petrek wrote and recorded World of Joy in just under two months. The result is a far more cohesive statement of identity than 2012's America Give Up, and it overflows with anthemic rallying cries against appropriation and conformity in the youth culture they became unwitting stars within.
"World of Joy seems like more of a debut to me than America Give Up," Gatesmith states. "It isn't a perfect record by any means, but I feel like this is a good indication of where we're going to go from here; it's more telling about us as artists and as musicians."
Some of the album's highest points find the frontman wrestling with the very inspiration that drives him to keep making music for a living. Gatesmith has looked the rock-star lifestyle in the face and decided it's a facade. "I don't wanna be rich or famous no more," he spits caustically on the Johnny Marr-inspired "Here's the Itch That Creeps Through My Skull," while the snarling "Yacht Boys" mocks his encounters with the idle rich. Lead single "Don't Wanna" cuts all of this ferocity with shiny, jangling arpeggios and introspective wordplay that examines the fine line between influence and idol-worship in rock mythology. When Jordan tells his audience to cast off long shadows like Kurt Cobain and the Germs, you can tell he's trying to build that same courage in himself. "You can get wrapped up in youth culture," he explains, "But you have to listen to yourself more than anything."
His enthusiasm has channeled back into connecting with other underground rock acts on the local scene, showing up at the even the most seemingly insignificant gigs simply for the love of it.
"I really think that Minneapolis is having a golden age. I didn't see it three years ago, but I see it now," Gatesmith says of the current climate. He's befriended acts like Frankie Teardrop and Teenage Moods, and returned to playing a mix of basement and small-venue shows around town to bring his new music directly to that community. If we're honest, that's the real reason why he's blending in so well. After everything that Howler's been through, he's still a local boy at heart.
"People don't write music anywhere else like they do in Minneapolis," Gatesmith waxes. "And it's something to be proud of."