The art of ‘good sound’: local producer Capel Howorth gives the ins and outs to music production

Iowa City producer and musician Capel Howorth first observed music production at a restaurant venue in his hometown of Oxford, Mississippi, and now produces music not only for Anthony Worden and the Illiterati but other local artists as well.


Capel Howorth poses for a portrait in his home studio on Jan 29. 2021.

Megan Conroy, Arts Reporter

While riding in a red Merkur Scorpio, Capel Howorth’s dad would quiz him on artists like The Beatles and Steely Dan. He considers those moments to be the spark that lit his way to a deep love for music. 

Now a local musician and producer in Iowa City, Howorth’s passion flourishes in his home project studio. There he jokes that his puppy, Simon, acts as his assistant. 

Howorth’s musical journey started with the drums in his hometown of Oxford, Mississippi. The piano lessons he said he never practiced for later came in handy when an aptitude test determined whether or not he’d get his choice of instrument in the middle-school band. 

Middle-school snare drum eventually turned into playing the bass for a band with his friends called PF Flyers. When the band of 17-year-olds got opportunities to make money playing shows, Howorth experienced his first of many tours. 

His first taste of producing came from observing concert production while he worked as a line cook at a restaurant venue, Proud Larry’s, in his hometown. At 19, Howorth then got a job at a larger venue in the town called The Lyric Theater, where he ran the sound system. 

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“I had no idea what I was doing. But with a venue that size, you get national touring, people who are either going up in their careers or coming down in significant ways,” he said. “I just kept doing what I had been doing before, but with more professional people, and just sponged information — basically got a music degree for nothing.” 

Following a realization that psychology wasn’t what he should be studying, Howorth took some time off from school. When he went back, he studied music and English at the University of Mississippi, which he said helped him with producing and speaking the musical language of the industry. 

Capel Howorth poses for a portrait with a “I work hard so my dog can have a better life” mug.

Howorth said he becomes excited by multiple stages of the music-producing process. He said he loves writing and working out the details until the opportunity arises to play the music live.

“But I also love getting the files, coming back here, and starting to arrange them in a way that’s like sculpting. When a sculptor gets stones dropped off, it’s only potential,” Howorth said. “Then as it starts taking rough shape, that’s exciting because it’s going better than you thought. By the end of the process, the clarity of these things we’ve worked so hard on really starts to show.” 

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down production for Howorth, it hasn’t stopped entirely. At the pandemic’s start, Howorth said he started working remotely for his friends who wanted help with their musical ideas.

However, he only allowed the members of Anthony Worden and the Illiterati — a local band where he plays bass — into his home studio while they recorded the next record. Now, he said he maintains a strict schedule from start to finish of a project, where he doesn’t overlap clients and never sees more than two people at a time.

Howorth met musician Anthony Worden at an Arts Collective called the Garden Club. After a professional relationship developed, Worden asked him to play bass for the original members of the Illiterati. 

“We went on tour for two weeks, and that solidified our friendship and mutual respect for being devoted to music,” he said. “He, I, and Carlo Kind started writing for Voilá and Elly [Hofmaier] sings with that band.” 

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One aspect of the music that Howorth said he’s the most passionate about is what he describes as “good sounds.” For example, he said, a brilliant moment came from one wrong note played by bassist Blake Shaw when the band then built the song around it. Similarly, Howorth said he takes field recordings, like in a snowstorm, to encompass the atmosphere. 

“I like working with people who have a good vision of what they want the music to sound like and have really cool ideas, but they’re also willing to experiment, play, and grow their sound,” he said. “What I probably get most excited about is when you see a sound that no one had thought of and it sparks this chain reaction of ‘With this sound, we could do this.’” 

One of the artists he’s worked with lately is musician and Illiterati singer Elly Hofmaier, who performs and records under the name Penny Peach Jr. The musician said that when he started touring with the Illiterati shows, the two got to know each other.

Hofmaier voiced her uncertainty about going into a professional studio and the process of recording, so she came into Howorth’s home studio, hung out, and that’s how their first joint creation came to be. Howorth produced Hofmaier’s EP, called Brain Gamez. 

Howorth’s newest project, titled “Plainer,” is a three-piece band featuring Carlo Kind on bass, Howorth on drums, and MFA student Jackson Taylor singing. The project was born of Taylor’s several minutes’ long guitar riffs which he brought to Howorth in the studio. Howorth said he wanted to cut them up and turn them into songs, which they did.

“We were very much on the opposite sides of the spectrum and then over like a year, we finally got to the point where we could finally musically communicate and it was great,” Howorth said. 

Plainer’s first song, “Lagoons” on their debut EP Via came out on Feb. 5 through Bandcamp, and the music video launched on Feb. 6. The next installment of the EP is set to drop on Feb. 12, with the entire EP available on Valentine’s Day.