Photo by co-founder Adrienne J. Romero.

By the time I arrived at L&I Studios in Bayonne, Howlin’ Bill and the Basement Dwellers were already in full swing. 

They weren’t playing any music yet, but I must’ve walked in on an inside joke, because four of the members were having a laugh at the guitarist’s expense. (For what it’s worth, the punchline was, “I wrote this shit before I was even born!”) 

He didn’t miss a beat, and as I took my place at the front of the narrow studio, the band launched—seemingly without any signal or warning besides a quick four count—into a rendition of Suzi Quatro’s loud and spirited “Wild One.” And all at once I could tell I was experiencing a band that understands itself very well. 

The music industry is ripe with stories about this sort of magical artistic synergy. Successful bands seem to have some sort of preternatural creative understanding of each other that is equal parts volatile and electrifying. It is often fleeting, like an eclipse, but we look through our black-out glasses while it’s happening and try to see the strange and beautiful light it emits. 

Part of this cohesion that Howlin’ Bill and the Basement Dwellers, a band based out of Jersey City, share might stem from the fact that the five members have been at it with each other—in some shape or form—for over a decade. 

“Manny, our keyboardist, and I are a couple and we met fourteen years ago in the school choir,” the band’s lead singer, Flo Heun, said during a Zoom interview. 

“We started the band five years ago, Ron Iglesias, our lead guitarist, approached us at a wedding and said he heard we played music and asked if we’d ever want to do a cover band with a friend.” 

Iglesias started as Howlin’ Bill’s bassist, but transitioned into lead guitar after the friend parted ways. During “Wild One,” at their rehearsal, he played with the sort of technical aptitude that comes from a hobbyist’s love and formal training.

“Ron was our bassist originally, but he’s a classically trained guitarist, so it was very easy for him to move into the roll.” Flo said of Iglesias, “We spent a long time looking for a bassist after that.” 

Fortunately, this early iteration of Howlin’ Bill found their bassist internally, in the form of Flo’s younger sister, Rose. 

“She joined just in time for a Lady Gaga tribute festival we perform every year in Jersey City,” said Flo. “She learned all the music for that, and it was her first performance with us.” 

Flo and Rose have the sort of sibling dynamic that grounds the group in their humor. “Begging,” was Rose’s answer when I asked what spurred her final induction into the group.   

The band has found to be lucky when it comes to working well together. 

“Our personalities kind of clicked off the bat,” Manny Vizzotti said. “It feels very easy to collaborate with these guys, so even if we are stepping outside of our comfort zones, we’re all stepping in the same direction together.” 

This was evident as I watched the band interact in both our interview and the rehearsal session. Manny and Ron riffed on each other during nearly every song, and at a break in the setlist Ron and Manny played a couple of bars of “Limelight,” by Rush; again, completely spontaneously. 

“I think that all of us in some way shape or form have connecting musical genres,” said Rose of her bandmates. 

“Ron and Mark are metal, but I also love metal and thrash, so we bond over that, but then Ron is also super into weird guitar and new wave. So there’s a lot of connective lines between all of us that are just collective meshes and just works.” 

This cohesive eclecticism that informs their personal relationships will also undoubtedly shape the sound of their first studio album, set to release this year. 

“It’s almost as if we’ve been doing this enough together that we’re able to anticipate each other’s tendencies, idiosyncrasies; all these little things about each other’s playing style, that if you didn’t spend so much time together, you might not be able to relate to,” said Manny. 

It would be hard to keep it as fun as Howlin’ Bill and Basement Dwellers do if it weren’t for how much the group enjoys being around each other. 

I’m sure that when I get to listen to their record, I’ll feel like I was right back with them at L and I, laughing with them as they continue to channel their friendship into a musical solar phenomenon. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

This will close in 26 seconds

Verified by MonsterInsights