Craig, also known as Arge among his music industry friends, has a notable history in the industry as the brainchild behind An Escape Plan and a former member of Medium 21 and Maps. Under the moniker Howling Bee, Craig has released his first solo album, “Endings & Beginnings.” Written and recorded over 2021/22, the album covers a range of emotions and experiences, including the pain of divorce, the loss of two friends and bandmates to suicide, and the hope of new beginnings in the Welsh countryside. Several tracks on the album feature string arrangements and vocals from Craig’s friend and bandmate Nick Willes of Victories at Sea and Editors. Check out the album and the exclusive interview below:
1. Can you tell us a bit about where you come from and how it all got started?
HOWLING BEE: I am originally from Northampton in England, where after leaving school, I started a degree in architecture, but I didn’t see it through. I took 6 months out, travelled through Italy and then went to music college. I have been in bands and writing solo songs since. My previous bands include An Escape Plan, Medium 21 and the mercury music-nominated Maps. I was obsessed with music at an early age, playing my step dads’ vinyl, including Dire Straits, Simple Minds and Carole King’s Tapestry. Then it was all about grunge and Nirvana – that’s when I picked up a guitar.
2. Did you have any formal training or are you self-taught?
HOWLING BEE: No I just started messing around on a friend’s guitar and worked out a few chords. I then wrote a few simple songs, with emo lyrics and went from there. Nothing has really changed I guess. I learned a lot at college about the history of songwriting, music production and how different genres use the same philosophy in different ways, but as for playing guitars and keyboard, completely self-taught and I cant read a note of music.
3. Who were your first and strongest musical influences and why the name ‘HOWLING BEE’?
HOWLING BEE: Well I referenced some of my step dads’ vinyl before and that has stuck with me all these years. The ‘Telegraph Road’ and ‘Brothers In Arms’ albums by Dire Straits influenced me for sure. Moody, atmospheric and lyrically interesting. Later on, post grunge of course, was Bright Eyes, Pavement, Death Cab for Cutie and my all-time favourite bands, The National and The Frames.
The name Howling Bee came from a very personal experience. In short, I lost two of my close friends and bandmates (An Escape Plan) to suicide. Matt was one of them. On a song, he recorded a part that was him screaming through a guitar pickup with loads of effects on. It made this weird resonating drone. A year to the day after his death, I was walking somewhere in the Northeast, and a bee kept hovering near my left ear. It made the same sound, and I will never forget the feeling of that moment. That inspired the name.
4. What do you feel are the key elements in your music that should resonate with listeners, and how would you personally describe your sound?
HOWLING BEE: I think because of the nature of how I learned music, and what inspired me, my songs have a simple aspect to them that carries through the chords and the melodies. I am a fan of group singing, like drunk Celtic stuff. Simple tunes that can be contagious. Combine that with words that mean something to me but can also be taken by the listener to mean what they hear, then the music overall can feel interesting and intriguing. If one or two people get that from my music, then that is lovely. Personally, I would describe my sound as alternative folk, but even genres can be interpreted differently, depending on the listener. I love intimate acoustic moments and I also love orchestration and builds, light, shade, and dynamically interesting stuff. So hopefully that comes through.
5. For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and music maker, and the transition towards your own style, which is known as FOLK?
This is interesting because I don’t think the answer is always what the writer expects. I have definitely been influenced by Bright Eyes in terms of songwriting and The Frames in terms that dynamic intenseness. But just a few weeks ago, someone told me I had a Mark Knopfler twang to my voice. Now I would have never said that, not in a million years, but the first albums I was listening to as a kid, were his. So it must be in there somewhere.
6. What’s your view on the role and function of music as political, cultural, spiritual, and/or social vehicles – and do you try and affront any of these themes in your work, or are you purely interested in music as an expression of technical artistry, personal narrative, and entertainment?
Well political, cultural, and spiritual are all very different things. I think social spans them all though. I believe we all have a responsibility, socially, to educate ourselves. Music plays a big part in that, as a soundtrack to current affairs. Music influences people, but it has also been influenced, consciously or subconsciously. So yes, it is there in my work. I know I write about mental health in society, the world is not an easy place to be, and there are dark things happening every day. Music is similar to comedy in a way, it can help us along the way, connecting diverse people, and reminding us to enjoy the ride.
7. Do you feel that your music is giving you back just as much fulfillment as the amount of work you are putting into it or are you expecting something more, or different in the future?
This album is something I needed to do. It was about processing the last 5 or so years of my life. It was my therapy. I am lucky to have a wife who gently pushed and supported me to finish it. I am both proud of the record and at peace with its story. So, in that way, I could not expect any more from it. That said, I hope people like it, and I look forward to playing those songs live. That way they carry on in ever-changing ways, meaning different things each time.
8. Could you describe your creative processes? How do usually start, and go about shaping ideas into a completed song? Do you usually start with a tune, a beat, or a narrative in your head? And do you collaborate with others in this process?
I have realised I write songs in two parts. First, I will have an idea on the guitar, with a basic melody for the vocal. Then I will sit down without an instrument, just pen, and paper and write loads of lyrics. If there is an emotion present during that moment, the words come very easily. Then it is a case of putting them back together and refining them, usually simplifying the words. I guess I collaborate in a curious way. I send rough versions to my nearest and dearest who will always be honest. It isn’t always what I want to hear at the time, but it keeps me improving.
9. What has been the most difficult thing you’ve had to endure in your life or music career so far?
HOWLING BEE: The loss of two friends, who were my bandmates in An Escape Plan. Loss isn’t easy for anyone. Suicide leaves a lot of questions unanswered and makes it hard to process and grieve. Matt and Pad were beautiful and gifted people. They are missed dearly.
10. On the contrary, what would you consider a successful, proud or significant point in your life or music career so far?
HOWLING BEE: I have thought about this recently and the answer is, exactly where I am right now. Everything so far has led to this point. I live on the edge of the beautiful Brecon Beacons in Wales with my wife, Sam and our dog, Woody. I am a proud dad of Alfie and Tally. A lot has changed in my life over the last 5 years, whether it be loss, relationships ending, new ones blossoming, moving countries or taking a leap of faith career-wise. It has all led me here and I am proud of that. I just want to keep trying to be a better version of myself as a person, husband, father, son, brother and friend.
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