There may be no rule saying people who front rock bands must carry a swagger with everything they do. Still, it's rare, even for singers who seem completely down to earth and humble, to not exude a certain confidence that aligns with being the focal point on stage and the person most likely to establish the personality for a band. So, rule or not, Billy Howerdel is an exception.
Known as the main music writer in A Perfect Circle, the band fronted by Tool's singer Maynard James Keenan, Howerdel now has his own band. And he's stepped out as Ashes Divide's singer, now that the group is on tour.
He admits this new role is taking some adjustment.
"It's a work in progress," Howerdel says when asked in a recent phone interview about being a frontman. "At first it's intimidating, and I keep using the David Lee Roth kind of scenario. I'm not the guy doing scissor kicks and getting the crowd hyped up and twirling in a mosh pit.
"I could sit here and try to be more overly confident about it ... " he continues. "I've kind of heard back from people, like, "Try not to say too much' [about being less confident]. But that's who I am, [and] at least in interviews, I've decided I'm going to say how I feel about it."
Bringing Howerdel to this new phase in his career was the possibly permanent demise of A Perfect Circle. Its run had included two well-received studio CDs, Mer de Noms, in 2000 and Thirteenth Step in 2003, and a covers album, eMOTIVe, in 2004.
With A Perfect Circle inactive, Howerdel created what essentially was a solo project going under the name Ashes Divide. He wrote or co-wrote the 11 songs on Keep Telling Myself It's Alright. He played virtually all of the instruments except drums. (Josh Freese handled those on 10 of the 11 songs.)
Howerdel said that going almost solo came naturally.
"I guess it's the way I've always done it," Howerdel says. "I think I'm just not the greatest improviser in the world. For me to sit in a room and kind of jam out with people is not my greatest strength."
The results of Howerdel's work are promising. As with A Perfect Circle, there is a bit of a proggy edge to Keep Telling Myself It's Alright, and the CD as a whole may remind fans of Mer de Noms. Some songs feature pretty textures and a somewhat delicate touch ("Defamed" and "A Wish"). But overall, tracks such as "Denial Waits," "Enemies" and "Stripped Away" give the CD a heavy and edgy feel, while retaining the arching melodies and eerie atmospheres that often characterized songs by A Perfect Circle.
Since completing the CD, Howerdel has formed a touring edition of Ashes Divide, with guitarist Andy Gerold, bassist Matt McJunkins, keyboardist Adam Monroe and drummer Jeff Friedl filling out the lineup.
"I really do like it live," Howerdel says. "On the album, there's maybe more space, and things are carved out. Live, things are kind of more bombastic and a little heavier."