Ask any producer, musician or sound engineer who Howie Combrink is and they will quickly be able to tell you. To the public he is a newcomer on the scene, recently nominated for two SAMA awards (Best Newcomer of the Year and Best Adult Contemporary Album) and is someone who is still making a name for himself, but to those backstage he is an old friend, collaborator and well-respected muso.
Combrink has played with loads of bands, lending his drumming skills to the likes of SAMA-nominated The New Academics and multi-platinum selling band, Watershed, as well as Mel-Funktion, Gang of Instrumentals, Chili and Lime, Soil 7t7 and One Day Remains. But his solo-project has taken him on a completely different journey. That journey has culminated in the release of his debut solo album, “Eat It While It’s Hot”. The shift from drummer to front-man is something he has found both challenging and fulfilling saying, “Being a drummer in a band, you’re at the back of the stage, you’re behind your little cage of a drum kit, it’s like a fortress back there. In the industry itself, the musicians, the producers, they’re the guys who will be familiar with who I am, but when it comes to the general public, I don’t think that they actually knew who Howie Combrink was. By actually being a frontman, singing, engaging with the audience and promoting my solo project is kind of like a newcomers thing. It kind of feels like I have been working in this industry for many years and doing a lot of tours, but now this is something that’s actually opening a lot of doors for myself as an individual.”
Having written songs for various artists in South Africa, Combrink is no stranger to the craft, but something he has found challenging is unlocking the sound that is true to himself declaring, “For many years I struggled, I couldn’t actually find a sound that I was digging for myself. I tried metal, I tried dance, electronic club stuff, I tried straight-down-the-line electronic type pop music, tried the typical singer-songwriter piano ballad type thing, and nothing seemed to work.” He admits, “Eventually I got this gig in the Seychelles where I had a lot of off time. I was away from the studio and away from my usual spaces and I think that brought out a whole different sound. While I was there I got introduced to a few artists like Jack Johnson, John Butler Trio and Matt Corby. It was this acoustic thing that was kind of acoustic, but had a rhythmical thing to it, it’s got a bit of a bounce, the lyrical content is generally uplifting. That really opened up a lot of doors in my head as to where I can go. It took a little while to find what I actually want to do, but eventually it came out.”
The uplifting acoustic sound lends itself perfectly to Combrink’s latest single ‘Change’ which was written and produced in association with RADA, a non-profit organization dedicated to fighting rape, alcohol, drugs and abuse. The concept for the song is based on the idea that changing the world starts with changing yourself, and that once you do that, it snowballs and effects other people, eventually resulting in change on a national and global scale. Combrink believes that music is instrumental in that, and intends to use it as a portal to get a message of positivity and change across.
He isn’t the first artist to use music as a positive means for change and certainly won’t be the last and even though I’m pessimistic at times, I’d still like to think that an uplifting song can make a real difference in someone’s life.
That aside, Howie is a fresh voice on the scene with years of hard work in the industry behind him and his smart reinvention as a “newcomer” coupled with a musically diverse debut album on the market has mass-appeal written all over it.
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Listen to “Eat It While Its Hot” on Deezer.