Last Thursday, in the heart of NuLu, Katie Toupin — keyboardist and one of the three singers of the local Americana band Houndmouth — was running on five hours of sleep, scrambling to make the final adjustments to her new clothing store, Bermuda Highway, for the grand opening, which was two days away.
“There’s no room to sit, but I can clear these chairs,” she says as she pulls away a guitar and a bag. We sit in the center of the first floor, next to some Third Man Records merchandise. With hardwood floors and an upstairs, it’s an inviting space that sits across the street from Decca, with the type of vibe that’s reminiscent of a quaint coffee shop. Specializing in new and vintage clothing, Bermuda Highway will also be heavily influenced by music and have a monthly artist-curated section. First up: Scott McMicken from Dr. Dog, who will be featuring handmade clothing, art and specially-made 8” inch vinyl records. But, while the store will undoubtably be an excellent and welcomed fit in NuLu, our conversation was focused on something else: a new Houndmouth song and the secret show they will be playing to support Do502, the recently released online arts and entertainment calendar.
A psychedelic accident
“We had it worked out to where it was a full-band song, to where it would gradually grow and the dynamic would just get bigger and bigger,” Toupin says about the new song, “For No One,” which was released Monday. “And then we got in the studio and [guitarist/singer] Matt [Myers] just started playing it on acoustic and our producer just said, ‘Do it like that,’ and that’s all it was — a very stripped-down song. There’s no harmonies. There’s nothing really on it. We did it in like two takes and that was it. The weird part about the song is that we’re all sitting in the control room and Matt’s playing the song and he started it and then we heard this reverb — the reverb track from another song was accidentally playing. It sounds subconscious or something; the song is kind of trippy. It gives it this really cool effect. It’s actually reverb of his vocals from another song. It was a complete accident.”
Minimalistic and raw and urgent, with the sort of effortless power that brings to mind Springsteen’s “Nebraska,” “For No One” is a fresh, creative turn for Houndmouth, who rose through the folk-rock ranks with a layered sound that was the right mixture of sugar and grit. But the unapologetically candid lyrics are still there: “Hey, that’s a trip/Why don’t you wait a little bit for the acid to kick in,” Myers sings after the track opens with a sad, heavy-handed series of chords. And, then, as if on cue, a distant, spacey reverb vocal line kicks in.
“The engineer brought up the reverb track that was supposed to be of my vocals, but it was from a different song,” Myers told LEO during a phone conversation last week. “It was accidentally from another song that had already been recorded. So, my reverb track from another song is playing in the background of this song. It was kind of a mistake, but we just left it.”
Folk revival bullshit
Fresh off a tour, where they opened for the Drive-By Truckers, Houndmouth didn’t spend much time winding down after a long stint on the road. Their last gig was November 1 in Charlotte — and nine days later they dropped “For No One,” which you may have already caught on the radio by now. On top of that, they’ll be playing Do502’s official launch party to a couple hundred people this Saturday, November 15 at a venue that will be announced later this week. (Keep your eye on Do502’s website.) These days, it seems, if you’re a band riding a wave of success, you have to keep the momentum so you don’t get covered up by the countless other mid-sized bands floating around, attempting to create, maintain or increase their own buzz. At the same time, rushing something could lead to redundancy and dilute your product. It’s a fine line, but Houndmouth feels like they will walk it just fine with their new album, which is expected to drop in the spring or summer of 2015 — but details have yet to be announced.
“We kind of grew up in that whole folk revival bullshit scene that was going on and we got adopted into that,” Myers says. “Which is nice, it’s wonderful, but it just kind of gotten beaten to death, you know. We’ve always enjoyed writing folk songs — telling stories — but this album is a lot more personal and the writing is through more self-experience.”
Although there’s not much they can disclose about the new material, Myers made it clear that the band had no intention as getting sucked into the vacuum of putting out the same music, the same way. For them, it seems to be about pushing boundaries — slowly and surely.
“We got a little bit more crazy with the overdubs this time and experimented with some more sound,” Myers says. “Just the way things have been going, everyone is pumping out these songs that sound similar — there’s a formula to it and it didn’t have any more passion, doing the same thing. It’s always fun to try to play your instruments and layer things differently.”
What they were looking for
Sometimes it’s hard to remember that Houndmouth has only been a band for three years. Formed in New Albany in 2011, their acceleration from four friends jamming to becoming a globally touring band that plays major national festivals happened quickly.
“We put the song ‘Penitentiary’ online and woke up the next morning and a local blog [had written] about it,” Toupin says. “And then that led to national blogs writing about it, which led us to our booking agent, which led us to South by Southwest, which led us to our record label and whole team. Off of a blog. So it was kinda cool. And a local blog.”
In terms of how the band started playing together, the common factor seems to be Myers. Myers and bassist Zak Appleby played in bands together throughout high school and beyond. Later, Toupin and Myers played acoustically around town for about four years before throwing in the towel on that. And shortly after, Myers and drummer Shane Cody, who was fresh out of recording school, started a bluegrass-style band, but then they brought in Toupin — who had never played keys — to play keys and Appleby — who had never played bass — to play bass, taking the project in a different direction and essentially forming Houndmouth.
“It all just worked,” Toupin says. “I remember, after the first practice we had, leaving and saying to Matt, ‘This is exactly what we wanted for four years.’ We knew that was it. It’s not that we knew we would be successful. We just knew we found the sound that we wanted. We were excited about it. We were just excited to show our family.”
The Yellow Fuckmarines
November 15 won’t be Houndmouth’s first “secret show” in Louisville. Before they left on that recent tour a few months back, they tested new material out at Zanzabar, under an alias.
“We played under the name Yellow Fuckmarines. We played all the new songs. And there were about 20 people there,” Toupin says. “When Zak and Shane jam together — this has been going on for two years — they call themselves the Yellow Fuckmarines and they always talk about how they are going to start playing shows as the Yellow Fuckmarines. So, it was kind of awesome that we actually played one. It was kinda fun to play a show that was small and in our hometown. We didn’t tell anybody. We didn’t tell our parents until an hour before or something. I think we’re at a place where we are not really going to go back to that, you know, at least here, so it was fun.”
Lately, it seems, more bands who start to make it have continued to stick around their hometown, instead of taking off for New York, LA, Nashville or wherever else may seem to offer further promise. The overall change in that trend probably has to do with a lot of factors, like technology and the economy, but, according to Toupin, Houndmouth’s choice to stay is also about pride.
“It means a lot more,” Toupin says. “You move to Nashville and you get covered up pretty quick — there’s a lot of bands there. It starts with how we started: We got recognized because we were in Louisville and Indiana, and there are not a billion bands here. And people were receptive to it right off the bat, which was really great and we owe everything to that. There is a part of me that thought about moving to Nashville, but then I had such a great summer hanging out in this town; it really just made me want to stay. That’s actually why I opened up the shop, too: I wanted to give back to the city that helped us get our start.”
This Saturday, Nov. 15, Houndmouth’s show will act as the official launch party for the arts, music and entertainment calendar Do502. Part of the DoStuff Network, which has similar websites in cities throughout North America, Do502 was started by Jeffrey Smith, owner of the public relations firm Crash Avenue, and Lizi Hagan, of the booking agency Production Simple. Featuring a personalized calendar option, ticket giveaways and featured users called “sluggers” that you can follow in a way that’s similar to social media, it’s an easy way to break down what’s happening and where you should be. We caught up with Jeffrey and Lizi to talk about how they got started, the “secret show” and the diversity of the site’s events.
On how they got started
Jeffrey: I have been using Do512 in Austin for years, just dealing with South by Southwest schedules, and they were becoming the place to go to. It was just really easy to keep a schedule and know what the hell was going on. Then a year and a half ago, these buddies of mine in Indianapolis, who have Do317, talked to me about bringing that platform to Louisville. And I had been familiar with what they have been doing, what Chicago had been doing with Do312. And between Lizi and I, we know everyone because of what we have been doing in the market, within the entertainment world.
On how they connected with Houndmouth for the “secret show”
Lizi: Through my work, for the past few years, I’ve worked a lot with them. I’ve worked a lot with their booking agent. At one point, when their tour manager Jason [Gwin] was off the road, he was kind of helping me out as my assistant, with stuff for Production Simple, with Headliners and social media; he was a huge help. I think everybody in the band was excited for Do502 to come to Louisville. They believed in what we were doing and I think they wanted to help. The timing was kind of perfect.
On how they choose the sluggers
Lizi: It’s a mix of a lot of people throughout Louisville that we choose because they are active on their social media accounts, and they are also active out in the community.
Jeffrey: There is a diverse voice, and that’s really what we were looking for. At the same time, they’re all kind of within the family, too. On some level, we know them, we know they are going out.
On the diversity of the site’s events
Jeffrey: It’s a little bit of everything. We want to pull people to the performing arts, we want to pull people to the comedy club, we want people out at events in their own neighborhood. We’re more than just a place to find out what’s is going what rock ‘n’ roll shows are going on for the weekend. Be it ballet or volleyball or a stand-up comic, it’s just about showing the diversity outside of what shows that are going on at Headliners and Mercury Ballroom and Zanzabar. Lizzi and and are both connected to that and that is the easiest thing to go to, but we are going beyond that.
Check out the website at www.Do502.com.
On the road
Houndmouth just finished up a recent tour opening for the Drive-By Truckers on November 1. We asked for a few stories.
Guitarist Matt Myers: We played at the Ryman in Nashville for the first time; it was amazing. John Oates was there. And he came up to Shane after the set and goes, “I need to talk to you about your drums.” And Shane was like, “Oh shit, what did I do wrong?” And [Oates] said, “No, no, your drum tones are amazing; what did you do?” And I heard about this and I was like, “Dude, we’ve just been trying to emulate the drum sounds from the ‘70s; that’s what were are doing.”
Keyboardist Katie Toupin: We didn’t get to hang out [with the Drive-By Truckers] too, too much, but I do yoga on the road and … I started teaching yoga to [their stage manager] every day, so after our sound check, we would have a yoga lesson.
Myers: We have never been a band that’s been really big about stage production. We just go out and play a show. I was really inspired when Jack White invited us onstage — not to play, but to watch — at Newport Folk Festival. Just to get to see him on ground level and how that band operates and what kind of show they put on — it’s really inspiring. So we’re kind of looking in to upping the gaming a little bit. When we met Jack we were organizing a wiffle ball game at the Newport Folk Festival and my buddy dropped the ball and it hit Jack’s foot and [my friend] said, “Hey, could you pick that up for me?” because it was over a fence. And Jack reaches down, picks it up, turns around, looks at us, holds the ball up and kind of shakes it and he goes, “I told you kids to stay out of my backyard; I’m trying to get some rest.” [Laughs.] He’s a super nice guy.