The Rosebuds frontman moves toward old-time soul with a little help from his friends
With his latest project, Ivan Howard has flipped the script.
Fittingly reflected in his newfound moniker Howard Ivans, Howard’s first solo release is a change of pace in comparison with his previous work fronting pop rock outfit The Rosebuds. “Red Face Boy,” a seven-inch single released by Richmond, Va. upstart Spacebomb Records, is a spacious neo-funk nugget. It’s a bit of a departure for Howard.
After growing disillusioned with a crop of demos recorded with friends, Howard sought a new direction. Inspired by the dense back catalogues of funk- and soul-infused pop from the likes of Motown and Stax Records, he found a niche.
Howard had the songs and the drive. He just needed the tools to put his product together.
Enter Matthew E. White, co-founder and something of a creative director at Spacebomb. White’s critically acclaimed debut Big Inner served as a coming out party for the burgeoning label. Anchored by a dynamic house band with considerable chops, White and Spacebomb sought collaboration with artists reminiscent of the various “song factory” labels of the 1950s and ‘60s.
After meeting Howard through mutual friends, the two struck up a partnership.
“From the get-go he was throwing around ideas. It just came up in conversation about doing some sort of soul music kind of thing,” White said. “I offered my services, I guess. I said, ‘Yeah, I’d love to do that, I can facilitate that.’”
The result was Spacebomb’s first release by an artist other than White.
“The success of my record took Spacebomb by surprise a little bit, so we spent the last year getting our feet back under us and dealing with that.” White said. “And when we got back to releasing music, the Howard Ivans thing was sort of a first priority to introduce people to a different kind of sound, but still related to Big Inner.”
With its bountiful percussion and groove-focused arrangements, “Red Face Boy”‘s two tracks paint Howard in a different light, albeit a felicitous one. Howard said Spacebomb’s experienced house band solidified his songs.
“Those guys definitely put their stamp on it, which was the whole point of the project for me,” Howard said.
“It sounds like somebody from Motown could have made that record — and I’m sure these guys could play on those Motown records,” he said.
Dean Christesen, Spacebomb co-director, said when he first listened to Howard’s new music, he was blown away.
“I don’t really dance much, but it made me want to dance,” Christesen said.
White, who provided horn arrangements for the songs, said Howard’s openness towards collaboration greatly influenced the production of the “Red Face Boy” single.
“It can be very tedious sometimes when you’re working with another singer-songwriter where you are suggesting things or suggesting different tempos — there can be some growing pains there,” White said. “But with Ivan it was very much from the get-go his understanding of how we can both work together to make something special that was pretty much all the way there.”
Christesen said Spacebomb’s model of using in-house musicians helps bolster this sense of collaboration, something he said has a strong impact on the music the label produces.
“Everyone just has really unique musical voices and all put together into one in this house band model. I think a lot of artists want that,” he said. “I knew coming in that that’s just a recipe for making really good music.”
White said Howard’s confidence in the Spacebomb musicians ultimately allowed their partnership to flourish.
“Ivan really understands how collaborative something like this is and can be,” White said. ”He sort of injects a lot of freedom into the process.”
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