Steve Howell has toned it down a bit since his days playing breakneck honky-tonk in the late ‘90s with Chip Robinson in the Backsliders. “It’s fun to rock out,” Howell says. “Nobody’s afraid to get a little rowdy, but we’re not doing that. I don’t know what to call it, just the out-of-control punk style guitar.”

When he was first starting out, majoring in string bass at Appalachian State, he was playing in the symphony. When he moved to Raleigh and transferred to State, he started playing nothing but bluegrass. But soon money—or, more correctly, the lack of it—drove him into stranger territory, and he found himself playing bass in a band covering Michael Jackson songs. “It was a money gig,” Howell laughs.

But not all of Howell’s stints were about money. Subsequently, the Backsliders were the fulfillment of Howell’s musical dreams: “I loved playing bluegrass, and I loved playing electric stuff, but the most fun would be to be able to combine the two in something.”

The ‘Sliders got together in ‘91 and were gone by late ‘95 after signing to Mammoth. “There was a lot going on in other people’s lives, personally,” says Howell of the breakup. “Miscommunication and people saying this is just not what I want to do.”

Howell has long since figured out what he wants to play, keeping the music pure, and not sounding like the Rolling Stones’ take on country. The problem is in the labeling.

“Take country music and just either like it or don’t like it,” he says heatedly. “Don’t make it some kind of political or sociological movement. Country music is anything from George Jones to J.J. Cale. You can boogie, you can whatever. It doesn’t have to be played with an out-of-tune guitar to be rockin’.”

The Steve Howell Band plays The Pour House Sunday, July 16 with the Amy Loftus Band for the early show at 7 p.m. Tickets are $8-$10.