Houndmouth

That first November 2011 night, when it all fell together at the Green House, was nothing more complicated than four friends playing music, armed with something to drink and a curiosity about what might happen. They were the generation who has come of age in the new economy, already adept at shuffling jobs and get-bys, firmly acclimated to the diminished expectations that come with growing up somewhere the rest of the world assumes is nowhere. Which, in this case, is New Albany, Indiana.

Houndmouth, then, knew each other from…around. Matt Myers and Zak Appleby had played in cover bands together for years, schooled in blues and classic rock and Motown, toughened by indifferent audiences and the clatter of empty bottles. Matt and Katie Toupin had worked as an acoustic duo for three years, when she wasn't on the road tending to a straight job. Katie and Shane Cody had gone to high school together, before Shane disappeared off to Chicago and New York to study audio engineering. In the beginning it was Shane and Matt who'd started knocking around at first, just drums and guitar, once Shane got home and free of a brief bluegrass flirtation.

The rest happened in a tumble, Zak and Katie switching from guitars to bass and keyboards, respectively. Four months later, their homemade EP in hand, Houndmouth made the pilgrimage to South By Southwest. Their booking agent convinced Rough Trade's Geoff Travis to come have a listen. Of such things are dreams made. Months of conversation and a proper studio later, their debut album, From the Hills Below the City, will be released by Rough Trade.

"We lucked out," Matt says. "We knew we were making good music. We knew we had something. But we didn't know it would escalate so quickly. Always the element of luck."

Before and after that bit of luck, Houndmouth have been on the road, building their audience. Working. Opening for the Drive-By Truckers, the Lumineers, the Alabama Shakes, Lucero, and Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. Headlining on their own. Turning heads.

"You know good art when you see it," says Newport Folk Festival booker Jay Sweet, an early adopter, "and you know good food when you taste it. Well, you also know good music when you hear it, and when I first heard Houndmouth it was like freshest tasting art I had heard in many moons. A true musical omnivore's delight."
"I'm going down where nobody knows me," they sing during the jaunty chorus of "On the Road." The opening track to From the Hills Below the City, which is more or less the relationship New Albany has to Louisville, across the river: "I had a job had to leave behind me…I had to move to another city." A two and a half minute slightly bent pop confection, conscious of all kinds of music which went before. Self-conscious about nothing, not even the neo-rap cutting contest that snaps across one break. A blues for now, then.

The older heads are noticing, the ones who are hardest to convince. "Houndmouth is a great young band," testifies Patterson Hood of the Truckers. "They toured with us last month and brought it each and every night. They were extremely popular with our fanbase and our band. I look forward to hearing what they do next."
Rolling Stone's David Fricke joined the chorus of praise after seeing Houndmouth during SXSW '13: "They are all singers, leading with individual character and harmonizing in saloon-choir empathy. The music is earthy melancholy with a rude garage-rock streak."

Houndmouth's songs emerge with a loose-limbed swing, anchored by a sturdy rhythm and a cagey melodic sensibility. "Penitentiary," revived from Matt and Katie's acoustic days, is all dressed up as a rock anthem. It's dark, yet fun, with all those voices singing, "come on down to the Penitentiary/oh mama, the law came crashing down on me."

Matt sketches the origins of his song, which became their song. "I met a guy in Reno on a road trip before we started the band, and he was super down on his luck," he says. "We met him at a gas station, bumming money. He told me a few details that are probably in the song, but I made most of it up. I changed the setting to Texas, because it sounded authentic." And then he mentions that he was listening to Jimmie Rodgers at the time.
Hard-luck songs, to be sure, betraying a certain criminal bent. Not their stories, Katie is careful to note, but the world they've watched walk on by. "We grew up in Southern Indiana," she says. "It's not always the classiest place. So all that is not unfamiliar even if we haven't personally been through the darkest parts of it."

And yet, as she also says, "No matter how much anyone wants to write a completely fictional or narrative song, there's ALWAYS part of you in it. I think that it is important, even when writing narrative songs, that there is something real about them. That there is part of yourself in them." Houndmouth's truths, then, are emotional. For the most part.

"The dealers and the bootleggers/Got me hooked on freebasing/And I can't trust my government/So I looked into the other dimension," Katie sings, tough and innocent. "And now they got me doing bad things." "The song is a story," Katie says. "I didn't get hooked on freebasing. Yet there is part of me in it…It's also maybe about me wanting to escape, loosen my morals, not opening my heart to people."

So are the songs. Deeply emotional, that weird, powerful, essential thing the blues does that makes you feel better through the tears. Especially the songs which are deeply personal, like "Halfway to Hardinsburg" or "Palmyra." Or the sad, slurring loss of "Long as You're Home," on which they sing, "Who am I supposed to be?"

Themselves, of course.

Four musicians from New Albany, Indiana, across the river from Louisville. Where Will Oldham, Jim James, and Freakwater's Catherine Irwin live. A fecund place, and place
matters. Not a sound, not a scene, but a place. A real place. "There is a familiar element about My Morning Jacket that I can't really pinpoint," Katie says. "It's kinda like what I can't pinpoint about what Houndmouth is that we all sort of get. It just makes us feel at home."

Family Of The Year

Among an average population of 15,000 people on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, you typically hear about a small and select headline-grabbing few.
Like Cape Cod’s answer to The Hamptons, all of the shine goes to The Kennedys, The Clintons, David Letterman, or whatever other magazine-covering celebrity spent his or her summer vacation there. A stone’s throw, yet leagues away from the ritzy cocktail parties and Hollywood glitz and glamour, you can find the cozy working-class home where Family Of The Year’s brotherly core—Joe [vocals, guitar] and Sebastian Keefe [drums, vocals]—spent their formative years after moving from Wrexham, Wales. Long before the brothers linked up with bandmates James Buckey [guitar, vocals] and Christina Schroeter [keyboards, vocals], earned a massive hit in the form of “Hero,” generated nearly 200 million cumulative streams, garnered countless syncs, and toured worldwide, they can recall life-shaping moments on “the other side” of the Vineyard.
Many of those memories bubble to the surface on their 2018 fourth full-length album and Warner Bros. Records debut.
“One of the byproducts of living in a place like that is it’s a crossroads and a melting pot,” explains Sebastian. “You get exposed to a lot of incredible, talented, and worldly people. On the one hand, it’s inspirational to mow the lawn of a movie star. On the other hand, it’s a bit of a bummer. We lived in this tiny house. Joe and I shared a room and my drum set was crammed between our beds.”
“Music was an escape,” adds Joe. “It’s how we bonded with some of our best friends to this day.”
“If you didn’t have anywhere to be after school, you spent those unaccountable hours learning how to fucking play Nirvana and Led Zeppelin songs and smoking weed at 12,” laughs Sebastian. “Because you’re parents weren’t around or working all night, that’s what you did.”
It laid the groundwork for the group’s quiet rise. Following 2009’s Songbook, they toured relentlessly and organically attracted a devout fan base. 2012 saw them release Loma Vista. In the aftermath, the musicians earned praise from the likes of USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, Billboard, Interview Magazine, and Paste in addition to performing on Jimmy Kimmel LIVE!, Conan, and more. Its breakout single “Hero” would figure prominently in the trailer and soundtrack for the Academy® Award-nominated and Golden Globe® Award-winning drama Boyhood and surpass 170 million Spotify streams. Coming off the road in late 2015 in support of the self-titled Family of the Year, they began crafting new music. The quartet first retreated to a rental house in Mount Washington during January 2016 before holing up in Bear Valley Springs throughout the spring.
“For this record, we decided to start from scratch,” Joe recalls. “While making the last album, we were on tour, and we just put together pieces of other ideas. This was a blank slate. In Bear Valley Springs, we spent two months waking up and trying to write personal songs all day. It was quite a fucking emotional rollercoaster.”
At the same time, interpersonal relationships started to fray under the weight of too much time together on the road and intense creative pressure.
“We were drinking and taking lots of drugs,” admits Sebastian. “We thought we were going to create magic, but we were just fucked up. We went crazy. I know I was drinking and doing too much, so I stopped. The band went through a fucking identity crisis. We wanted to write something deeper, but we weren’t going to get there due to the partying. I made changes for myself. We all made changes. It was about being more thoughtful and introspective and showing respect to those around me. It was a philosophical shift. That had to happen for us to reach our potential for honesty, vulnerability, satisfaction, and creativity.”
During this period, the brothers endured the loss of their mom, and the concept of “home” came into focus for Joe. That brings us to the new album and one of its standouts “Latchkey Kids.” Awash in dreamy hummable harmonies, robust percussion, and pristine guitars, the song paints a picture of how “mom worked overtime and dad was gone,” but “I could be whatever I wanted.”
“I think it’s weak when people complain about growing up in broken homes or poor,” says Joe. “I wanted to write about how great it was to have the freedom to do whatever we wanted when we were young. I love the fact that our parents weren’t rich and strict. That made me who I am. I hung out with the bad kids and did dangerous and stupid things. I was exposed to scary shit and forced to feel the value of what I did have. I don’t know what the fuck I would be like if I didn’t experience that.”
“It’s a very accurate depiction of how life was,” agrees Sebastian. “At the same time, Joe wouldn’t have minded some of the other stuff, but that’s part of his personality. He finds the bright side, while I’m the depressive one,” the drummer laughs.
The album’s infectious lead single, “Hold Me Down” tempers danceable synths, keys, and production with a propulsive handclap-driven chant. “That’s about wanting someone to help you settle down and become who you want to be,” Joe continues. “It’s a crazy world out there, and you need help to turn a corner and feel safe.”
Then, there’s the follow-up “Let Her Go.” Over sparse piano chords, the opening line sets the tone for a new beginning—“Do you want to know how far I’ve come?”
“It’s a breakup song,” says Christina. “You’re trying to prove, ‘No, I’m different now, so let’s give it another shot.’ It’s so hard to accept when someone is gone.”
Throughout this journey, Family Of The Year got closer than ever. In the end, their name has taken on a new meaning.
“We’re just trying to create the family we never had,” Sebastian leaves off.
Joe continues, “I started a band so I’d never be alone again. The name came from a family in Newport Beach who won the ‘Family Of The Year’ award. On the outside, they looked perfect. A few years later, everyone found out they were seriously fucked up. I had this running joke in my head that we were a dysfunctional family — but we are a family together, nevertheless. None of us feel alone.”

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