With the Rosebuds, Ivan Howard Inspired a Generation of Triangle Musicians. So Where Did He Go? | Music Feature | Indy Week
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With the Rosebuds, Ivan Howard Inspired a Generation of Triangle Musicians. So Where Did He Go? 

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Ivan Howard - PHOTO BY TAYLOR BOLDING
  • Photo by Taylor Bolding
  • Ivan Howard

That realization is the core of Beautiful Tired Bodies, on which Howard does nothing but sing. Since the heyday of Gayngs, Howard has written thirty songs in the soft-rock-meets-soul milieu, tunes that he knew would make little sense for an eventual Rosebuds record. (They released Sand + Silence in 2014, and Howard won't rule out another album.)

Last year, he handed them over to Trey Pollard and Cameron Ralston, cofounders of the vibrant Richmond label and production house Spacebomb. The troika combed through them all, picking ten favorites. They built a shared Spotify playlist of musical touchstones, including Luther Vandross and Michael Jackson, an aural mood board for the aesthetic they wanted to capture. They turned Howard's demos into full charts, with horns and strings and an ambitious rhythm section. Howard arrived in Richmond last December, and they cut the record in a week.

"It was mind-boggling, all in one or two takes," he says. "They could create the exact atmosphere I was going for with each song in ways I would have no idea how to do. I would have to do that accidentally, but they could interpret what I was saying in five minutes."

The playing is stupendous, with the elements of old soul and disco given a modern glow. It is the tightest band Howard has ever had, with every twisted rhythm or sharp guitar line situated in just the right space. But it's his natural musical ease that steps fully into the spotlight here, dancing as it does through the peppy "Back to the Life" or slinking through the string-swept D'Angelo nod of "They Don't Know How it Feels."

As for the notion that Beautiful Tired Bodies has any grand lyrical conceit, Howard demurs, noting that he finalized and even wrote most of the words during the sessions themselves; premeditation, he says, was limited, driven more by the fragments he found in his journals and the sound of the songs themselves than some master plan.

But he's selling himself short. These ten songs are a seesaw of feelings, of sadness countered by self-reliance, of hope facing off with hesitation. A mannered self-confidence pulses beneath the muted disco gem "King of Careless," in which Howard suggests he's more comfortable being alone than alienated. On the stunning "Second Spring," Howard hits the town in search of something that feels like redemption. "My doubt is a demon," he confesses, his voice dropping toward Barry White lows.

Howard at last asserts himself during "Come On," where his hurt starts to bloom into something like luck and belief. He sounds every bit like someone who has emerged on the other side of a very dark spell, finally finding new faith in himself and love.

Talking to him now, that change is clear. He laughs a lot and expresses gratitude and curiosity. He talks about self-help books without shame, his future with casual grace. He's not trying to be the next big thing; he's simply trying to be.

For the first time in more than a decade, Howard, now forty-two, has a day job, mostly doing landscaping for lavish suburban homes near Portland. He likes the predictability and the paycheck. He doesn't mind waking up before dawn, and he doesn't seem bitter that this is where life on the road has led. He made music for an Air Jordan commercial and is venturing into film scores. He works with other Portland musicians in his small home studio and is considering finishing the degree that life as a Rosebud interrupted.

"Getting a job was a stretch. My wife, Brooke-Lynn, said, 'Can you even get a job?'" he says, his voice stuck somewhere between a laugh and a sigh. "But when I figured out I was looking for a real job, it was like, Wow, I've got fifteen years of touring experience, but that doesn't relate to real life. Still, I can figure out my way through most things."

Like crossing over Kanye West, even if you lose the ball out of bounds.

music@indyweek.com

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