In the middle of January, an email came across my desk with a single called, “Breathless”. The song written and performed by Howard Baker, better known by the moniker Senator, piqued my interested. The song had an interesting story behind its inspection. Senator had take the stories of two women, their experience with sexual assault and their different method on how to deal with the trauma. It is a dark, brooding song with haunting and ethereal vocals to match the subject matter.
Senator‘s music had my interest, so I inquired more about the burgeoning singer/songwriter. I found out that the Pennsylvania-native was in the midst of finishing up his debut EP, Tiny Monsters, and it was a must review. Well, I did and I loved it (Check out the review: HERE). The next step was to talk to the man! Here is what we chatted about!
Lemonade Magazine: So you have the moniker, Senator, you have said that you got the name in high school. How exactly did that come about?
Howard Baker: Well, there was this well-known senator named Howard Baker during the Nixon-era that investigated the Watergate scandal. I moved up to Petoskey, Michigan in eighth grade and quite frequently when I would introduce myself to my friend’s parents they would say something along the lines of, “Howard Baker? Like the senator?”
It still happens to this day when I introduce myself to people who were alive during that time. One of my friend’s family in particular really latched onto that and they all started calling me Senator. I always liked it, so when I needed a name for this project I thought it would be a good one.
LM: That’s awesome! Most of our readers are just getting to know you, so could you give us a little more about your musical history?
HB: I started performing at bars and stuff in high school and shortly after I graduated I moved to Philly to start playing at venues there and in New York. I just went by my name and was more of an acoustic singer-songwriter back then and performed solo using a lot of looping pedals and stuff. It was going pretty well and then the music industry basically tanked. I got pretty jaded after that so I decided to go back to school.
I played solo off and on for a while and when I moved back down to Austin I joined a band. I played bass in the band, for a little less than a year I think, when I decided to quit and focus on finishing school and getting my teaching degree. I planned on moving to Asheville, NC and stop focusing most of my energy on music. Before I went to Asheville I made a stop in Michigan for a friend of mine’s wedding. I played a couple songs during the reception and afterwards I was approached by somebody who liked what they heard and wanted to help me make an album.
I knew this would probably be the only chance I would ever get to do this so I decided to put my plans on hold and move out to LA and give this music thing one last chance. I am forever grateful for the opportunity I’ve been given by my investors and I hope they know that. I never in a million years thought I would have the chance to record an album and make a music video and stuff. Basically a dream come true.
LM: You have a great balance between folk-rock and pop. Where do you draw your influences from and how has it shaped your songwriting?
HB: I draw my influences from many different places. My all-time favorite bands are Nirvana, Beck and Radiohead. I also have been greatly influenced, songwriting-wise, by Cat Stevens…or Yusaf as he now goes by. I’m also a huge movie buff and I never really knew how much of an influence that had on my sound until I went into the studio and started recording and the feedback I would constantly get from people is that my music, “sounds very cinematic.” I actually love that description and take it as a big compliment.
LM: Your debut single, “Breathless” is so dark and haunting, but it is brilliant and is based on actual conversations with two sexual assault victims. How did you get into that head-space to write a song with so much pain and feeling?
HB: Well, my head is a pretty fucked up place! *laughs* So it wasn’t terribly hard for me to conjure those emotions. I tend to write about a lot of pretty dark topics, which always surprises people because I generally present myself as a pretty light and happy person. But music is where I deal with all my thoughts and emotions. No one wants to be around someone who is always sad, depressed and tormented so I channel everything into my writing. I like to do it in not such an obvious way though. I like to leave the themes of songs just vague enough where it allows people to interpret it in a different way if they choose.
LM: Writing is a great emotional outlet for a lot of people. So what is the best piece of advice you received while you were writing the Tiny Monsters EP?
HB: Man, that’s a tough one. Nothing is coming to mind but I will tell you one of the best pieces of advice I have ever received and used it throughout the making of the EP and currently. My first music manager/mentor in Philly, Angelo Scott (RIP) told me when I first started working with him to, “Never work with anyone who constantly tells you they are too busy to do things. If people really want to work with you, they will make time for you.”
I can’t even begin to tell you how true and useful that piece of advice has been for me. Not just in music, but in life as well. It stands just the same when talking about personal relationships too. The people that truly want to be in your life will always make time for you. I try and spread that advice to as many people as I can.
LM: I couldn’t agree with you more. With Tiny Monsters out on March 10th, do you have any plans to support the EP with a tour?
HB: I would love to. Right now I have nothing planned but it is definitely something I am going to be looking into for the future. I’ve performed a ton of shows but I’ve never been on a proper tour before and it’s one of the last things I have to cross off my musical bucket list.
You can pick up Tiny Monsters by Senator on iTunes now and don’t forget to check out the music video for “Lost Again” below!