Houndmouth’s rise to modest fame has been dreamlike, thanks to a mix of big talent and incredible luck.
Members Kate Toupin, Matt Myers, Zak Appleby and Shane Cody knew each other from their high school in New Albany, Ind. and each played guitar in other groups before becoming Houndmouth. Toupin switched to keys, Appleby to bass and Cody to drums, while the entire band contributes to the harmonized vocals.
Houndmouth has only been together for a year, but has already been signed with Rough Trade Records and has its second recorded album in the works. It’s easy to see why the band was hand picked from the Louisville music scene. Listening to Houndmouth’s music is like being dropped into the middle of the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” The lyrics deal with drug abuse, robbery and other crime, yet the sound has almost a gospel feel to it, transporting listeners to another time. In fact, the full-bodied, energetic combination of folk, country, and blues is a nod to the grassroots rock that took hold during the Woodstock era. “We listen to older music, late ‘60s, early ‘70s music in particular,” Toupin says.
“We’re so drawn to that. A lot of it’s just sort of simplifying things, you know, and just emphasizing the song rather than a member of the band. None of us are trying to show off. We just wanna do what’s best for each song.”
The group spirit is manifest in “Penetentiary,” where the chorus rings with the voice of each member belting out, “Come on down to the penetentiary/Oh, momma, the law came crashing down on me.” After Houndmouth uploaded the track to Soundcloud, it began garnering attention from several blogs. The band’s success has been largely due to word-of-mouth, its online presence and hometown support.
“I was actually looking for a job the day the first blog wrote about us,” Myers says. “I think I was trying to skim by, trying to be a server or something. I had just graduated college.” Now the band doesn’t need day jobs. Appleby recalls the very date when he quit (Sept. 14) otherwise known as “the most glorious day of [his] life.”
The band’s catalog hasn’t grown much since then; the recently released, self-titled EP only contains four songs. The band itself, however, has grown exponentially in a short time.
The anniversary of Houndmouth’s first concert was recently celebrated in Indianapolis. About a week before that first show on Dec. 1, 2011, the group didn’t even have a name.
According to the band’s website, the term “Houndmouth” was actually coined while recording songs to put online, by a slightly inebriated [Shane] Cody.
Houndmouth was recorded at his house (called the Green House), where the sound of dogs barking next door infiltrated the audio recordings. As the band listened back on them, Shane said, “There’s too much houndmouth in this!”
“It’s just one of those terms that Shane would throw around. He would always say it, and then we decided to make it a band name,” Myers says. “Now he doesn’t say it anymore, thank God.”
Houndmouth is planning to release a full-length album in 2013, this time exchanging the Green House for the recording center of local music guru Kevin Ratterman, who records the songs live rather than in a studio.
“The recordings are gonna sound a little better, but at the same time, we strove to keep the quality of the recordings with that almost lo-fi sound,” Toupin says.
The tracks themselves are a blend of songs written before the band was official and new songs that more closely reflect who Houndmouth is as a collective. Aside from the higher recording quality, the new album will retain the band’s folk roots, with a story to each song. Some “research songs” on the album are based on true events, like the Moonlight Murders that took place in 1946.
“It’s nice because when you’re looking stuff up like that, you’ll come across facts that also have great lines in them,” Myers says.
After the release of Houndmouth this past summer, the band toured with Dry the River and capped off the year with several hometown shows in the “Kentuckiana” region. Now, in conjunction with its full-length album release, Houndmouth will be touring with Drive-By Truckers in the early months of 2013 and playing in front of what is expected to be a much larger audience.
Though touring obviously has its stresses, the band has a light-hearted nature, constantly swapping jokes and making jabs at each other.
“I feel like we’re very much a family, so you’re always going fight or whatever,” Toupin says. “But as a family you always work those out. So we’re closer, I would say, and there’s nothing we don’t really know about each other. It’s like we all moved in together when we moved into a van, so that’s pretty close quarters.”
As many female musicians have experienced, being in close quarters with three (or more) men for months on end can drive you a little nuts. On the tour schedule, the band often gets to its hotel room at midnight, with the promise of an alarm clock blaring at 6:00 a.m. the next day. While the guys snooze peacefully, Toupin showers and makes her hair look nice. Extra maintenance aside, spending all her time around men has made her more appreciative of simple girl talk.
“If we get to a town and I know somebody in town that’s a girl, I’m like, ‘Please hang out with me! Can we just be girls for just a second?'” Toupin says. “I’ve never been a girly girl. I’ve never really needed that until spending that much time with a bunch of dudes.”
And these are no regular men, but manly men, as evidenced by their killer facial hair. Cody, especially, has a beard that would make a lumberjack jealous.
“I’ve never grown a beard and I’ve been going a year, so it’s been a personal test,” Cody says. “That’s my only goal in life right now.”
“I think Shane’s beard means just about everything to me,” Appleby quips. “I’m clean shaven right now, so nothing means shit to me,” Myers says.
Even with this “over-concentration of testosterone,” the feeling of getting up on stage makes everything worth it. In late September, Houndmouth played a show in New York’s Bowery Ballroom, where they were called back for an encore. The band remembers the time in New York as a highlight of its recent tour.
After touring around the country, Houndmouth returned to southern Indiana and played a few homecoming shows, notably selling out Louisville’s Headliners Hall in late November.
“That was probably the biggest show we’ve ever played where everybody knew all the music. It’s a pretty surreal feeling, because it’s something that you always dreamed of as a musician, but it’s nothing you ever really expect,” Toupin says.
None of Houndmouth’s recent rise was expected by the band. They got together as an afterthought, shared their music hopefully and wound up creating a sound that filled a void in the music scene. In the hipster era, many bands have tried and failed to fit into that old-fashioned, folk niche, but Houndmouth does it more genuinely than others, precisely because they aren’t trying to.