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
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.”
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