Unapologetically influenced by the strong but easygoing grooves of West Coast '70s rock, Howlin Rain represented something of a change of pace for guitarist and singer Ethan Miller, who previously fronted the psychedelic noise rock ensemble Comets on Fire. After the recording of Comets on Fire's final album, Avatar, in 2006, Miller was eager to explore the more melodic direction the group had begun pursuing, and with bassist Ian Gradek (who had known Miller since high school) and drummer John Moloney (a member of the like-minded band Sunburned Hand of the Man), he formed a new band, Howlin Rain, and began work on their first album. The independent Birdman Records signed Howlin Rain and released their self-titled debut in 2006, while the band hit the road, touring as an opening act for Queens of the Stone Age, with guitarist Mike Jackson beefing up their lineup on-stage. After touring behind the group's album, Moloney returned to Sunburned Hand of the Man, and while writing material for the second Howlin Rain album, Miller assembled a new version of the band. Jackson joined Miller and Gradek as a full-time member, alongside new recruits Joel Robinow (ex-Drunk Horse) on keyboards, horns, guitar, and backing vocals; Eli Eckert (also of Drunk Horse) on guitar and bass; and Garrett Goddard (of Cuts and Colossal Yes) on drums.
Rick Rubin, a noted fan of classic '70s rock, was impressed with the material for Howlin Rain's second album, and 2008's Magnificent Fiend was jointly released by Birdman and Rubin's American Recordings imprint. The band released the digital-only 12" "The Good Life" in 2010, followed by a limited vinyl release the following year. Also in 2010, Belle & Sebastian selected them to perform at the second Bowlie Weekender in the U.K. (produced and presented by All Tomorrow's Parties). Howlin Rain subsequently recorded their third full-length, The Russian Wilds, which was co-produced by the band and Tim Green and released by American Recordings/Birdman in early 2012. Concert recordings from the tour were later collected and released in 2014 as Live Rain. Miller had been working on a trilogy in the studio at the time of its release. The first part of that project, Mansion Songs, appeared in January of 2015. ~ Mark Deming