Preview: Ian Vanek (Japanther) and Howardian Tomorrow @ Subterranean

Ian Vanek started Howardian with his brother in 1993. He was 12 years old. Still, his early experiences seeing Nirvana perform and having the members of Mudhoney talk to him after he played at a bar helped Vanek become a full-fledged rock musician before entering adolescence.

Growing up in Olympia, WA, fostered his rebellious attitude and creative spirit. Nearby, independent labels such as Kill Rock Stars — who housed artists like Elliott Smith and Sleater-Kinney — and K Records introduced Vanek to a DIY mindset from an early age.

Vanek might be better known as one-half the now-defunct Brooklyn duo Japanther. But even though he pilots Howardian, Vanek said it’s his most collaborative project yet.

“It’s very different from Japanther, which is a punk group and is older,” he said. Instead, Howardian is “more mellow, more about my identity, and more transparent.”

What started as a raucous preteen band turned into a way to bedroom recording project for his loved ones. Vanek said he would make albums for his lover or songs for his brother. But Howardian has since leapt from his private life into the public sphere.

3CR-howardianVanek is as prolific as Ty Segall. With Howardian alone, he’s released three official albums since last August. And he released of them last month. He is currently touring mostly for his latest record, A Smurf At Land’s End, which mashes up garage-rock riffs and hip-hop samples.

Defining Howardian’s sound can get tricky, too, in part because it’s not a traditional rock band. And one might even wince at calling it a band at all. Instead, Howardian seems to be an ever-unfolding project. At any rate, it tends to feature clean keyboards and fuzzy guitars. And Vanek emphasizes electronic samples, punchy drums, and propulsive guitar work instead of emotive vocals.

Vanek lives in Queens, New York, where he paints, illustrates, publishes zines, and designs typefaces. “I don’t work for some asshole,” he said. Then he concluded, “I work for this asshole,” before letting out a laugh.

As an alum of the Pratt Institute, he harbors a few criticisms of modern education in general and art school in particular. “It’s easy to complain; it’s super difficult to start something,” he said. But Vanek now teaches at the Black Mountain School, an experimental art college that took off from the original Black Mountain College that housed innovators like Buckminster Fuller and John Cage.

Maybe Vanek’s attitude can be boiled down to his one sentence: “we do whatever the fuck we want.” But he does so in a creative, constructive and conscientious way. His DIY mentality from his childhood and his rebelliousness from his adolescence manifest in a prolifically creative force — and it’s one that never seems to lose steam.

Howardian will perform at the Subterranean tomorrow/Saturday, April 2, with local groups Post Child and Retirement Club. Doors open at 6:00, show starts at 6:30, and tickets cost $8.00 and can be bought here.

Picture of the author
Colin Smith

Colin Smith thinks that Chicago right now is the place to be for music. He works for Illinois Humanities, is a freelance writer, and plays psychedelic-pop songs with his band.