Houndmouth

Late Show

Houndmouth

The Ballroom Thieves

Wed, April 10, 2013

Doors: 9:30 pm

Mercury Lounge

New York, NY

This event is 21 and over

Houndmouth - (Set time: 10:30 PM)
Houndmouth
LITTLE NEON LIMELIGHT

Rough Trade Records, March 17 2015

In the last four years, Houndmouth have learned what it means to be a band. On their second album, Little Neon Limelight, they wear that wisdom like a badge of honor.

A half-decade ago, four twenty-something pals from the small Indiana city of New Albany launched Houndmouth as a modest vehicle for the songs of Matt Myers. He’d crafted his tunes largely in his bedroom, using automated beats as backdrops. He harbored few ambitions of turning them into a spectacle. But within the drums and keys, guitars and harmonies of Houndmouth, those numbers became the irrepressible core of an outfit that turned magnetic, once he discovered that the collaborators he’d found had great songs of their own to bring to the band.

In 2012, the group—Myers, Katie Toupin, Shane Cody, and Zak Appleby—issued a self-titled EP on Rough Trade Records, the legendary imprint that signed them after seeing a single gig. One of 2013’s most incandescent debuts, their From the Hills Below the City LP affirmed what label owner Geoff Travis had heard: the sounds of Americana, renewed by the youthful glow of songwriters, musicians and pals unafraid to both celebrate and desecrate them.

Others noticed, too. The Guardian noted that, with From the Hills, “reservations fade,” while Rolling Stone’s David Fricke lauded the “earthy melancholy with a rude garage-rock streak.” Treks with the Drive-by Truckers and the Alabama Shakes followed, plus performances at the Newport Folk Festival, Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo. In cramped clubs and big theaters alike, Houndmouth earned a reputation as a must-see act, their hooks, energy and charisma making them feel like a lifelong friend you’d just met.

That success, though, turned what had started as fun into something closer to work. Houndmouth learned that being full-time musicians required much more than the nine-to-five endeavors they had left behind in Indiana. But they grew into the role and grew from it. Experiences accumulated; perspectives expanded. Relationships stalled; others progressed.

“We’re not in party mode all the time anymore,” says Myers. “We’re refining how we write songs, writing about people we love, more important things than just nonsensical stuff.” If that was the charge, then Little Neon Limelight is an unapologetic success. These eleven songs sparkle, fade, and sparkle again, mixing innocence and experience, acceptance and aspiration, horror and hope.

Recorded by Dave Cobb in Nashville, Little Neon Limelight pairs the energy and nerves of raw first takes with the accents and moods of a more contemplative, thoughtful unit. Hearts are broken and friends are exiled, love grows cold and drugs do damage, leaders make mistakes and money turns tricks. On the acoustic “Gasoline,” one of the most poignant moments of Houndmouth’s catalog, Toupin barbs the confessions of a perennial party girl with the specter of mortality. “Maybe I’ll meet my maker on a bedroom floor,” she sings, her voice fighting against its own existential fade as bowed cello traces her words. Haunted by samples of the buoyant opener and single “Sedona” and the noisy filigree of a Moog, the beautifully downcast “For No One” stalks through personal blues with conviction. Its world-weariness has been incubated by the world it surveys.

But all of these feelings aren’t worn on Houndmouth’s collective sleeves: Despite the turmoil embedded within many of these songs, they are equal parts energetic proclamation, built with choruses that can’t be denied, harmonies that can’t be escaped and rhythms that can’t be resisted. With its carousel keyboards and start-and-stop drums, “Say I”” is a combination come-on and kiss-off that might make Keith Richards blush. For “15 Years,” Houndmouth conjures barroom bluster to voice the woes of a prisoner, backing the cries of his soul with howling organ and slashing guitar. When all the action drops into a shout-along, gospel-strong bridge, you might feel the urge to bust the fella out yourself. What’s the point of having the blues, Houndmouth seems to say, if you can’t have fun with them, too?

Nowhere is that balance of tragedy and triumph better than on the romp “My Cousin Greg,” a Band-style saga where each member takes a turn with a verse. Written about Myers’ actual cousin and former cover-band bandmate Greg, these four minutes present the title guy as a mischievous, enlightened and acerbic genius. He leaves Florida with his master’s degree in physics for a brainy job in Los Angeles, raising metaphysical hell and questions along the way. Greg thinks his cousin has it made, touring the country by van while playing the songs he’s written.

But Myers disagrees: “If you wanna live the good life/Well, you better stay away from the limelight,” the quartet sings as one in the chorus, repeating the mantra as though it were their only lifeline to sanity. For those long drives, it’s a reminder of the thrill and toil of what they now get to do. “For the first record, we were floating around after having been thrown into this,” explains Myers. “This time, we were able to write more about experiences than random stories, because that’s where we are in life. There had to be an attachment to what we recorded.” For Little Neon Limelight, the charged, charming and preternaturally mature Houndmouth did exactly that.
The Ballroom Thieves - (Set time: 9:30 PM)
The Ballroom Thieves
In this increasingly virtual world of ours, what makes music authentic? For some, songs are no more than tiny sentimental decompressions. But others treat music as an extension of their roots, a mirror of their travels and relationships, and a testament to both their craft and passion.
For The Ballroom Thieves, the band’s journey has only just begun, but their roots already run quite deep. Now, on A Wolf in the Doorway the Thieves find themselves taking the very idea of “roots” and creating ways to make its associated sound progress, while making its encompassing spirit glow.
Stylistically, the trio finds a captivating mélange of acoustic styles, blending folk conventions with modern hymnals, delta blues grit with rich harmonies, exploring the basic constructions of pop music while almost wholeheartedly rejecting its restrictions at the same time.
“Our own personal growth and explorations in songwriting and musicianship caused us to end up in this unique spot where we can generally feel free to be who we are at all times, which is sadly not a luxury enjoyed by all,” says guitarist Martin Earley. “I think we have a certain sound at the moment, but that sound is constantly evolving, and I hope it keeps doing that.”
Perhaps it is a blessing, but the band has a certain awareness and interest in all of its surroundings that equates to a form of musical intelligence. See them live and this becomes tremendously clear. They are a product of their community. They wager it all with every song and every performance. They study those with whom they share the stage. They feed off of the spirit of their audience. They grow from each other.
“This was a huge transition year for us in that regard and I think we are stronger than ever,” says percussionist Devin Mauch. “When money is tough, the road is snow covered, ticket sales aren't ideal, food is repetitive, or relationships back home are struggling, that's when you have to be able to turn to your two bandmates and relate to one another on a higher level than others can really understand. We've become a pretty solid and supportive unit, so I think we've armed ourselves to take on just about anything.”
A year of transition it was, but with new challenges came fresh inspiration. Cellist Calin Peters joined the band in September of 2013, after Mauch and Earley had been playing with a different cellist for almost two years. Peters’ immersion into the Thieves was almost freakishly natural, with the band soon after discovering ways to add additional brawn to their sound. For Earley, this meant falling slightly in love with an old Gretsch hollow body and spending countless hours studying its sound, experimenting with different ways to make it sing. For Peters, transitioning into a vocalist was a baptism by fire, but as a performer, the ultimate growing experience.
“I was terrified to try singing lead, although I always loved creating harmonies,” she says. “For a while, even knowing I'd have to sing alone into a mic during soundcheck sent me into a day long panic about that one short, unimportant moment. But the most frustrating and challenging times for this band are also the most rewarding.”
The band is now equipped with twelve new originals that make up their first full-length album, A Wolf in the Doorway. The work as a whole reflects the new dynamic, and the excitement that managed to pull all of these songs together in a matter of months.
Harmonies take shotgun on the record, lending splendid crescendos to songs like “Saint Monica” and “Lantern,” raising them from a rather subdued nature and enriching their lyrical sentiments. Peters’ lead vocals on “Bury Me Smiling” are a standout on the album, stirring in fragile melodies and a change of pace to the record. Earley’s lead vocals at times climax to throaty wails on more gravelly tunes like “Oars to the Sea” or the final track, “Wolf.” And the backbone for such experimentation comes from the distinct percussion work of Mauch, who continually seeks to expand the repertoire of sounds from what little of a setup he brings on the road.
“It bears mentioning that Dev invented his particular style of drumming in his college days and, just as you might expect, that kind of thing comes with somewhat of a learning curve,” says Thieves co-founder Earley. “He's constantly exploring the limits of what he can do with his setup and adding to it in the process, and that creative energy definitely contributed to the path we're on.”
It brings to mind the early days of The Ballroom Thieves, which really weren’t all that long ago. Limited to just a dorm room, an acoustic guitar, and a djembe, Earley and Mauch first began making music together in 2010 while attending college just south of Boston. The minimalism of these early jam sessions continues to permeate in the purity of the band’s recent music, while songwriting has only grown in complexity.
But the content of these songs isn’t just a product of “practice makes perfect.” All three of the Thieves are quick to point out that the foundation of their latest work is a reflection of their travels, their interactions, and their time on the road. The band has shared the stage with bands like The Lone Bellow, Houndmouth, and fellow New Englanders Dispatch over the last couple of years. Playing in front of six and playing in front of six hundred both happen with regularity, presenting their own sets of challenges and rewards. Of course, one of the greatest takeaways is the shared experience with any audience, and the creative fuel that it continues to produce.
“The experiences we have with friends, fans, and strangers when we perform is what keeps me wanting to explore this art form further and discover all that it has to offer,” says Earley. “Simple human connection is a beautiful thing and I'm very grateful to be playing music that allows me to experience such feelings on a regular basis.”
For The Ballroom Thieves, this family tree has only just begun to bloom, but its roots give the trio a strong and solid structure from which to continue to build. A Wolf in the Doorway documents this growth in the most authentic way, sending any listener off with a heavier heart and a purer soul than when they arrived.
Venue Information:
Mercury Lounge
217 E Houston St.
New York, NY, 10002
http://mercuryloungenyc.com