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Heyward Howkins: “I Wrote Some of My Best Lyrics While at Work.”

April 30, 2013

HeywardHowkinsOriginalSmallJohn “Heyward” Howkins creates blustery nostalgia through vivid storytelling and lyrical imagery. But do you know what else he creates? E-Bibles. The book editor and entertainer talks to Nikki Volpicelli about his day job at a locally-owned electronic publishing company and how he fits his musical career into his 9-to-5 routine. Photo by Katie Harrold.

Give me a few sentences about what you do between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. — or 6 or 7 p.m., Monday through Friday.

I manage all of the aspects of e-book development for a small publishers’ service firm. I spend a ton of time reminding people what they already know, making sure they pay attention to their work. I am like a generally unlikeable common sense cop. I am actually totally different outside of work. I am really easy going and funny. But at work, not so much. I have really high standards. I am kind of a dick.

How long have you been in the publishing business?

Off and on for almost 10 years. I have actually quit this job twice in the past to go on tour and change careers. I am a glutton for punishment. It drew me back in every time.

What types of books do you publish?

We convert publishers’ materials to various digital formats for delivery to the Web, tablets and other e-reader devices. We do tons of bibles, which is ironic cause I hate God. Twelve years of Catholic school will do that to you. Also, (we do) various types of reference materials, textbooks, academic monographs and even some trade fiction.

Do you like to keep your music separate from your day job?

I do actually really like to keep it separate. I am not the type who is going to walk around to every coworker and force my music upon them. Two or three people at work have heard my music. That is probably enough.

Your most recent song, “Be Frank Furness,” is about your childhood spent commuting in and out of the city. Have you ever written a song about editing bibles?

No. Not yet, although I am usually on like a 15-year delay. Someday in the distant future I will write about qc-ing (quality control) e-books all day. Right now it’s too near the surface, too painful.

What are some common misconceptions coworkers have of your art? For instance, do you ever get strange cover requests, terrible artist recommendations that “you will love” or demo tapes from book editors?

I think people often assume that if you play music, you are in a cover band. Or they want to tell you about their family member who is also in a band. A metal cover band, no doubt.

Sometimes folks want to give you advice too. They feel the need to tell you what they think would make your music or band better.

Oh god. I did get a demo from a coworker who shall remain nameless. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings so all I could think of to say was, “Keep at it man.”

So often, musicians choose a job that’s as flexible as can be, like working in the service industry. This way, they have the opportunity to leave for tour, sleep late after shows and live on a schedule that’s ripe for creative expression as it comes, whatever the hour. You work full-time, five days per week. Does that change your creative process at all? Do you think it hinders you in any way?

I don’t think it hinders me at all. Top Secret: sometimes (OK… all the time) I write song lyrics while at work. In fact, I wrote some of my best lyrics while at work. I have two awesome, but crazy, kids at home. Our office is so quiet that I can actually think and even be creative in my downtime. I get ideas during the course of the day and keep a text file open to jot down lyrics. I then go home and try them out with my acoustic guitar.

During good stretches I can write two or three new songs per month in this fashion.

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