Julianne Q & the Howl exploring new sonic territory with upcoming EP, release show
I was once told by a Chicago-area musician “You never want to write the same song twice.”
West suburban artist Julianne Quaas is living that sentiment. The Hinsdale native, known for her blues-rock prowess, and her band — Julianne Q & the Howl — are exploring new territory with their upcoming five-song EP, “Sky Rider,” which drops Friday, Oct. 19.
The EP launches with the Led Zeppelin-colored track “Powder,” all energy and screamy vocals, before looking back over her shoulder to Quaas’ roots in the blues. The EP also dabbles in funk grooves and ends with a beautiful duet of sorts on the title track, “Sky Rider.”
I had a chance to spend a few minutes talking to Julianne in advance of the EP release and the upcoming release party Saturday, Oct. 20, at Bourbon on Division.
Band members: Julianne Quaas (Hinsdale), Jeff Mills (Geneva), Chris Arwady (Arlington Heights), Egan Franke (Indianapolis)
You guys are venturing into a new direction with the upcoming EP. What set you on that path?
It all came from a writing retreat back in February. We were going through some lineup changes and some sound changes, trying to figure out what sonic direction we wanted to go in. So we rented an Airbnb, hung out, drank and wrote music. Basically every musician’s dream. We found ourselves really connecting to that ’50s and ’70s rock ‘n’ roll vibe. Sounds you’d hear at Woodstock — Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin — and current sounds that still reflected that era, Wolfmother’s first album, the White Stripes and Amy Winehouse as well.
We were connecting a lot to screaming vocals, loud guitar solos … that groove that really makes you feel something.
In addition to venturing into new territory musically and exploring new influences, the band recently changed its name, too. How did that come about?
The Howl reflects that cathartic release of inner energy you really feel at rock concerts … We wanted to give that a name, that communal, verbal energy a name. It’s also a bit of an homage to Chicago blues legend Howlin’ Wolf. He was huge in the blues movement in Chicago and was a big influence of the Rolling Stones, who was another one of our influences in our new sound. What better way to incorporate the history of all that together than putting that in our name?
As a band, we really value and appreciate how music and history intertwine. You wouldn’t have the Stones without Howlin’ Wolf, you wouldn’t have Aretha Franklin without Etta James or Billie Holiday. It all kind of rolls into one line of constant influence.
The new EP explores some of those influences, leading listeners through a few different sounds.
“Sky Rider” has five songs that range from full-blown Led Zeppelin screamy rock to a slow blues ballad about a breakup. The title track is very much an anthem about claiming your right to be happy, shooting for the stars. We’re all really proud of that song. It really resonates whenever we play it with the audience. And it still gives us goose bumps whenever we play it.
What can fans expect now from a Julianne Q & the Howl show?
The album really marks our changing point as a band. The lineup, the name, sonically, stage presence. Before, I sat at my piano center stage, but recently I transitioned to being more of a frontwoman. I’ll still play piano absolutely; it’s my main instrument. But I started to really dive into my theatrical roots in terms of the way I engage the audience on stage. I dance around, I move around more, I do some tricks with the microphone. I try to embody a bit of Freddie Mercury in terms of stage presence.
Tell us about the upcoming EP release show.
We’re playing with two very blues-oriented bands who are kinda with us in terms of trying to bring back that old blues-rock sound while bringing to the modern day. Myrcenes has a homegrown, almost honky-tonk blues-rock vibe. … And The Smokin’ Tones are a bunch of Columbia (College) kids who got together. They were originally the band for a comedy show and eventually became a full-blown band; they’re really talented guys and gals, and I’m really excited to hear them live. Another unique thing is we’re having a comedian between bands. … We didn’t want to lose that energy, lose that audience. We hired John McCombs. He’s hysterical! Just hysterical! He has some great stuff on YouTube, and as soon as I saw that I was sold.
Julianne Q and the Howl EP release, with Myrcenes and the Smokin’ Tones
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20
Where: Bourbon on Division, 2050 W. Division St., Chicago, (773) 796-5879 or bourbonondivision.com
Tickets: $10-$12; eventbrite.com