Howie Reeve has a toy keyboard in each hand. “These cost me 70p – the batteries were dearer,” he says. “I took my top off and went …” He then rubs the keyboards lustily on his belly, a gush of high-pitched droning with a distinctly central European flavour filling the room. “It sounds like Thracian pipes or something.”
The song under discussion – Bellyboards – is one of two vignettes that, on vinyl at least, come midway through each side of his forthcoming album, We Are In Repair, the follow-up to last year’s self-released debut Friendly Demons. The other, At Matthew’s, is less baffling – it’s a 33-second burst of acoustic piano – but equally arresting. Those tracks aside, the album is an assembly of tender, thoroughly instinctive songs that mostly follow an unembellished recipe of Reeve’s vocals and the acoustic bass sitting a few feet away in the living room of his flat on the south side of Glasgow. “It’s only a light guitar and it gets an absolute hammering,” he concedes when I suggest it occasionally sounds as though he might snap its neck. “I play too hard – that’s part of the quality – but there’s something about laying off. The album was recorded with some finesse and live I’m definitely rougher, but it’s important that the subtleties come out on the album.”
The fact there’s a Hammond organ but no television in the room is telling. (There’s a handpainted ostrich egg, too, but that’s another story.) For Reeve, music is life and vice versa, and tuning out the static of the everyday is a constant battle (“I’m forever being distracted by that thing” – he points at his smartphone – “watching a monk wank with a tuba”). “I’ve said to one or two friends that I’m fighting for my life by doing this, and that sounds dramatic, but if I was to extrapolate that, it’s absolutely conducive to my wellbeing and my happiness, and it helps make sense of a difficult world.”
A parallel can be drawn between such an outlook and that of RM Hubbert, whose debut album First & Last, Reeve says with sincerity, “means an awful lot to me”. Hubbert has spoken candidly about the therapeutic role music plays in his ongoing issues with chronic depression. “Some of his solo stuff is the best he’s ever done,” says Reeve. “It’s so intrinsic to him. In the early days he was an inspiration.
“We’ve all got shit. Friendly Demons is called that because once you make friends with your personal demons you realise they are not 50ft monsters, they are little dwarves you can deal with.”
Prior to his solo debut Reeve was a member of Tattie Toes, an ensemble aptly described by The Herald’s Nicola Meighan as “Balkan folk miscreants”, who in 2011 released the acclaimed album Turnip Famine. Three years on, over decaf coffee on an early autumn evening, he says, “The autonomy of being solo is beyond liberating. The rate at which I can operate – I can write a song this week and play it on Saturday. I can book three weeks of gigs. Middle-aged people with responsibilities, kids and jobs can’t do that. I don’t want to make it too strong or unequivocal but the more I do this the more fulfilled I am and the more I feel I’m happy doing it.”
He’s set to reach peak fulfilment, if his schedule is any indication, with UK and European tours before the year is out. In early 2015 he hopes to visit Ghana in cahoots with his friend King Ayisoba, whose concert in Glasgow in April – under the aegis of the East End Social – Reeve can take credit for.
“An intrinsic aspect of wellness is about living in the moment, isn’t it?” he says. “If I go to Ghana, it might be only for three or four weeks but what am I going to learn as a human being? It’s untold. I’ve been to Kenya for work and I came back profoundly happy.”
Reeve is also buoyed by his collaboration with a figure he views as totemic in his musical development, Mike Watt, the American bass player whose early 1980s hardcore troupe The Minutemen wrought incalculable influence on a generation of musicians. The pair have recorded a seven-inch of bass duets. How did the alliance come about?
“He loved Tattie Toes,” says Reeve, “and then I met him in 2011 and said, ‘I’m Howie from Tattie Toes.’ He went, ‘I can’t believe I’m meeting you.'” He chuckles. “There’s a photograph of me with him pointing to me and saying that, and my jaw is on the floor. I had a Dalai Lama-like radiance after it. This teenager was crying in the bus stop and he came to me for comfort, and I thought, ‘This is because I’m glowing with fulfilment right now.'”
It’s a glow that shows no sign of fading.
We Are In Repair is out on Product Records. Buy it here.
Reproduced with permission of Herald & Times Group.