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Pittsburgh Artist of the Week: Howling Mob

Franky Spektor

You ever wonder what it would sound like if an old-timey Appalachian string band went electric? I’m guessing it would probably sound something like a howling mob. Or, maybe more accurately — the band Howling Mob.

Hannah Standiford from Howling Mob recently spoke with WYEP's Joey Spehar.

Howling Mob are:

Hannah Standiford - lead guitar, vocals, songwriting
Art Lindsay - guitar, vocals, songwriter
Todd Harteis - bass, vocals, songwriter
Judy Meyers - fiddle, vocals, songwriter
Dan Leon - drums

Jesse Erb

What’s your musical history up to this point?  

I went to undergrad for classical guitar in Richmond, VA and did a mixture of singer songwriter stuff and country music with a band called Hannah Marie and the Bearded Ladies. After teaching and gigging for a while in Richmond, I got really hooked on Indonesian music and spent a year there in 2014-2015 and then another in 2017-2018. I wanted to keep studying this music which is what brought me to the ethnomusicology grad program at the University of Pittsburgh in 2018. I picked up clawhammer banjo over the pandemic (I like to say that banjo was my sourdough bread) and met fiddler Art Lindsay and we started playing old time Appalachian music. Eventually we switched gears and “went electric” as they say, forming into the current iteration of Howling Mob.

How do you describe your sound?

The members of Howling Mob come from a wide range of backgrounds, and everyone plays a part in shaping our sound. I would say Art Lindsay, rhythm guitarist/vocalist/songwriter, brings a lot of outlaw country energy so think Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard. Our amazing drummer, Dan Leon, can play everything from big band swing to rock and roll and brings a meticulous clarity and drive to our sound.

Judy Meyers is trained both as a classical violinist and an old-time fiddler and one of her favorite country albums is “Trio” with Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt so she’s bringing the big femme vintage country vibes.

I’m a sucker for Hank Williams the first and Patsy Cline, the classic stuff. Then Todd Harteis, bass player, is trying to jam 24/7, he’s incredibly flexible and always pushing to experiment and improvise and he’s got the Grateful Dead t-shirts to prove it.

Tell us more about the song "Hard to Fake It." What inspired you to write it and what does it mean to you?

So going back to what I said about how my big influence is in the country classics, the form of this song, the overall shape, I think harkens back to roots country music. It has a grittier treatment in the tone of the guitar and the awesome harmonies that Judy is doing, and we’d like to tip our hat to our recording engineer and producer Tyler Thompson for that direction. The initial spark for the song happened when I was listening to Carl Smith’s song “I Overlooked an Orchid” (1950). I just kind of started yodeling along to the song and then kept going with it, adding lyrics and playing with the melody. I don’t think “Hard to Fake It” sounds like that song really, it’s just where the spark happened. As I wrote the song I remembered a particularly insidious ex, we’ve all had one, and remembered how things dragged on longer than they needed to and that’s where the lyrics came from.

Howling Mob is an awesome name for a band. Tell us about how it came to be.

So glad you asked! We’re named after the 1877 Railroad Strike here in Pittsburgh and the surrounding area. Wages were cut for rail workers after a long economic depression in this country. Angry workers in Pittsburgh started pushing over trains and setting them on fire and the publication Harper’s referred to them as an “howling mob.” There’s a placard downtown that describes this. Art saw the placard and suggested it as a band name, and I just had this sparkly feeling in my whole body like “Yes! That’s it!"

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What was the first album that really changed your life?

So, this might sound funny but the very first cassette I had was Bob Marley and the Wailers "Live!" (1975) and that album was like my training wheels for singing harmonies. Those harmonies are incredible. An album I keep going back to is Gillian Welch’s "The Harrow & The Harvest" (2011). The songs are heartbreakingly gorgeous, David Rawlings’ solos are smart but never over-the-top, it just never gets old. When I grow up, I want to write songs like this.

Who are some other Pittsburgh artists you think more people should listen to?

Can we talk about how the honky tonk scene in Pittsburgh is on fire right now?! Jon Bindley just released an amazing record; my favorite track is “Loser’s Waltz.” Molly Alphabet just released a single this year. Dave Shepherd hosts a regular country night and Bottle Rocket and his 2022 single “Strugglin” is like my theme song and I love it so much.

Any other super interesting things about you we should know?

I also work with a band, Rumput, that plays Indonesian string band music and we went a little viral and I sang on an Indonesian talk show called Kick Andy in 2015. It was a wild time.

Catch Howling Mob at their album release show this Saturday at Bottlerocket.

Joey Spehar is a Pittsburgh native who started as a volunteer D.J. at WYEP, fresh out of college in 2006. He took on any job they’d let him do like editing audio, engineering remote broadcasts, and shoveling snow.