Howie B

Esteemed producer and rebooted Record label boss, Howie B runs through a few of the people, places and philosophies that have shaped his life and work

Howie B / Howard Bernstein

RY COODER AND LOS ANGELES

“The first time I worked in a proper recording studio in Los Angeles was in 1995, writing and producing with Ry Cooder. I turned up in LA and couldn’t find any relationship with the place at first, I was staying in this funny little hotel, I just wasn’t finding it very musical.

“In the morning, Ry came to pick me up at the front desk, which was an amazing experience in itself. I couldn’t figure out how he fitted into that city, but the experience of working with him was just so inspirational, for my career as both a musician and a producer.

“His musicianship, his attitude towards rules and conformity, was just mind-blowing. He expressed everything in such a creative way. We spent a lot of time just talking, often about fairly random subjects like saxophones and Cuba, where he’d recently been working on the ‘Buena Vista Social Club’. He was very interested to hear my ideas and let me experiment.”

CUBA WITHOUT DECKS

“Going to Cuba was an experience. I was running workshops with kids, to get them off the streets and show them how to make music using electronics. This culminated in me playing at this mad party with no record decks. I’d only brought vinyl with me, so we had to go knocking door-to-door to borrow some decks. By the end of the night, these 18-year-old kids were screaming at me to play some gangsta hip hop, which was the last thing I had, so that was quite funny.”

ISLAND LIFE

“I’m living with my son on a French island, Île d’Oléron. I’ve been here nearly two years. I deliberately arrived with very little, the focus was to remove myself from massive cities and get down to brass tacks as a father, and with myself.

“In the village there’s maybe 20 people here in winter, or 300 during the height of summer. There are no shops, but there is a 24-hour baguette machine. It’s really quiet, green and beautiful. There’s no buildings over two stories high, apart from the odd church. It’s a working fishing community, famous for its oysters. Everyone is working on the land or on the boats. And then there’s me, the wildcard making music.

“Apart from going for wee walks and talking to my son and my neighbour, there’s very little external stimulus here, so it means I have to look inwards to get inspiration. I don’t have all the usual triggers I had back in London in terms of other artists and equipment I could play around with.

“My whole routine has changed. I only work in daylight hours now, which is a novelty. I start at nine in the morning and finish around four. In terms of quality of life, I’m laughing my head off. I could be the happiest man in Europe!”

WORKING “IN THE BOX”

“I’ve moved near enough everything ‘into the box’, so it’s just me and my own creativity in my home studio now. It’s about going back to how I first started making music, with just a sampler and a keyboard and that’s it. As a result, the next music coming from me is all about expressing my loneliness. I think the isolation is definitely affecting my music.”

GEORGE GURDJIEFF

“This writer from early 20th century Armenia was a massive influence on me from the age of 13 onwards. The book in particular which had a big impact was ‘Meetings With Remarkable Men’. It’s incredible, I’ve read it over and over, which turned me on to literature in general. There’s so much in there – great storytelling, fantasy, philosophical ideas, humanitarianism, sociability. His books taught me to pursue outlandish creative ideas with confidence. Discovering them was a massive turning point for me.”

‘DAISIES’

“My good friend, the late Toshio Nakanishi, introduced me to this film in the late 80s. It’s a beautiful, mental Czech movie from 1966. When I first saw it, I was like, ‘Wow, hallelujah!’. It follows these two women living on the breadline in Prague. It’s about their relationship with each other, society and their jobs. They take the absolute piss out of everybody around them. Everything about it is incredible – how it’s shot, the costumes, the music – it’s crazy and brilliant.”

WRITING OFF CARS

“I’ve written off two cars this year. Both were animal-related incidents. I swerved to miss a boar and slid off the road and broke the front axle. The other time I was driving quite slowly, but I got distracted by a bird and drove straight into a parked car. We have some amazing birds of prey here, so I’m constantly looking up. Fortunately, I’ve only ever damaged a car, not myself or anyone else.”

STEAMING

“There’s a lot of great seafood here, so I’ve got into steam cooking in a big way since moving. I’ve been experimenting with steaming veggies and I’ve got langoustine down to a tee. I can do a kilo in three and half minutes. I’ve got this triple-decker steamer so I can steam a bunch of stuff at the same time. I’m pleasantly surprised by the results. The potatoes here are naturally salty and just delicious. I love the time efficiency of it. You can’t get distracted or do anything else.”

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