Before Billy Howerdel became a guitar tech for Nine Inch Nails and Guns N’ Roses, and before he met up with Tool‘s Maynard James Keenan and formed A Perfect Circle, he was just a kid in New Jersey listening to the alternative rock of the 1980s. If that kid had released an album, it would sound a lot like What Normal Was, Howerdel’s first official solo record.
“What Normal Was is the record I would’ve made if I could back when I started playing music in the ’80s, but didn’t have the money or the know-how,” Howerdel tells ABC Audio.
Despite its title, What Normal Was was mostly written and recorded prior to the pandemic. The title instead refers to that formative time in Howerdel’s childhood and what “normal” meant back then.
“It’s a bit of a snapshot to the time that music hit me the hardest,” he says.
While What Normal Was is the first album Howerdel’s released under his own name, he previously put out what is essentially a solo project under the moniker Ashes Divide in 2008 with the album Keep Telling Myself It’s Alright, which spawned the single “The Stone.”
Sonically, though, there’s no mistaking Ashes for What Normal Was. While Howerdel was singing in a higher, alt-metal style on Keep Telling Myself, his proper solo debut brings his vocals to a much lower register that sounds much closer to his speaking voice.
“Even my kids have played the first Ashes record, and it’s hard for them to wrap their head around that that’s Dad singing,” Howerdel jokes.
“There’s just something I was going for back then, [and] I’m not going for that now,” he adds. “I’m going for … a little bit more of an authentic-to-who-I-am timbre of voice.”
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