Ritual Howls treat their band like an art collective

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We caught up with local buzz band Rituals Howls, since they're performing at one of the hottest New Year's Eve events in town (UFO Factory, supporting Shigeto and Jamaican Queens). The trio's music is dark and deeply poetic, and references a lot of 1980s music without sounding dated or trendy. They just released their second album, Turkish Leather, on the Los Angeles-based Felte (their self-titled debut came out last year on the local indie Urinal Cake). They also recently returned from a second successful tour of California, bringing their cemetery gaze to a wider audience.

Singer Paul Bancell's lyrics tell stories without an ending, offering emotional moments fraught with the potential for violence. With Ben Saginaw on bass and Chris Samuels on synth, their music heightens the tension all the way. Ritual Howl songs are a soundtrack to lost love, to desperation, and to madness. So, use this stuff at your own caution!

Metro Times: How long have you guys been around?

Chris Samuels: I think it's going to be three years in March.

MT: Ritual Howls started after the band Baptist Church disbanded, correct?

Paul Bancell: Yeah, Tia (Fletcher, guitarist for Baptist Church) moved to L.A. And (before that) Tia and I were looking for a drummer to add to the live sound, so Chris came and played drums.

Samuels: Tia reached out to me; I've known Tia for a long time – that's how we met.

Bancell: Huh. You're right. That's weird. I feel like I've known you so much longer than that.

Samuels: I know, I know.

MT: Paul, you were doing solo stuff for a little bit in-between, right?

Bancell: I was doing solo stuff and wanted to play music with other people. And the first people that came to mind were Ben and Chris.

Samuels: There was probably six months between (the end of) Baptist Church and us playing.

Ben Saginaw: It was chilly. We were practicing in the attic of Lauren and Ryan's house – this tiny room. And it was all out of your Marshall.

Bancell: We ran everything through a mixer into one Marshall amp and started playing like that.

MT: How much of the early material came from your solo stuff? You were doing tape loops ...

Bancell: I was doing tape loops, but I don't think any of the songs were from my solo project. I wrote some songs that winter, but didn't play any of them solo. When we started playing together, they were only ideas.

Saginaw: "A Thoughtful Beast" was the first song we worked on.

Samuels: They were like riffs or pieces (at first).

Bancell: I was listening to some Spacemen 3 and thought I should do a bass line like this. That's how we wrote "Lucy."

Saginaw: They weren't Paul tracks, but he wrote them. And we all met and worked on them – that was more the feeling of the first record.

MT: So, the writing process is essentially a group effort?

Saginaw: Everybody came in with their pre-existing ideas but there was no, like, "these are the first Ritual Howls songs." The second record was written together, whereas the first record were pieces put together and put into songs. A lot of new songs will start with a jam – the in-between parts of practice when we're not practicing our songs.

Samuels: We write songs really fast.

MT: How did it come together so naturally? Do you all share the same influences from before, or are you guys just all open to being influential to each other, now?

Saginaw: I think it's the latter.

Samuels: Plus we've all been in projects and bands – you know, the collaborative thing. It is so important to understand that. Not just to say you're collaborating but to know where to play and where not to play.

Saginaw: There is kind of a bizarre level of functionality in our group. We don't really have issues anymore; we're all pretty chill. To be this many years in and to have the stresses of more tours, more shows, and more shit to deal with ...

Samuels: It's on autopilot.

Saginaw: It's weird how it's not harder. We don't want to kill each other yet, and it's super cool. Whenever we're talking about having longer tours Paul says that "it's more important to me that I maintain liking this with you guys – if we go slower, we can still like each other in 10 years."

Samuels: Early on, we decided that we weren't going to be that band that tours for 30 to 60 days in a row. We all do these other things, that are art related or whatever. Music is obviously important, but I remember thinking, "Let's not got do 30 bar dates."

MT: Do you consider Ritual Howls more of an art project?

Samuels: I would say that. An almost cinematic art project. Our songs are very inspired by cinema. We're regularly making and showing work in galleries and outside the music world. And we come together, and all these things are working with the band.

Saginaw: We try to balance all elements that are important to us, so they can feed each other.

Samuels: And playing non-bar shows. We've played in galleries and house shows, anything that's not the traditional bar. Bands can still do that, but we're going to explore and exploit any other way than sitting in a bar waiting till 4 a.m. to get our 50 bucks.

MT: As far as the lyrical narrative, Paul, you talked about how it's a take on cinematic elements. Do you build characters, or are the lyrics based on feelings that you have?

Bancell: I feel the emotions, but I don't find inspiration through emotions. I create characters and they might relate to my psyche somehow. But a lot of times I'll find characters in books or films – maybe even someone in the news – and try to write from their point of view. I try to capture how I would feel if in their shoes, and through that process, I connect to it emotionally or intellectually.

MT: You're creating a character, then getting emotionally involved with that character?

Bancell: Yeah! I like methodical writing. Though the songs may come quickly, mostly it's just me spewing out a bunch a words about a character and editing it 50 times because (it's important for) the wording to sound creepy, or fucked-up, or beautiful. It's about finding the right words that also phonetically sound cool.

Saginaw: We have a couple songs that are different live because Paul figured out he wanted it to be different. I think "I'd Rather Not" is one.

Bancell: I think I changed a word from "laughed" to "scared." I was like, this ain't fucking funny.

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