Houndmouth: The Best of What's Next

Music Features Houndmouth
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Hometown: New Albany, Ind.
Members: Katie Toupin (vocals/keyboard), Matt Myers (vocals/guitar), Zak Appleby (vocals/bass) and Shane Cody (vocals/drums)
Current Release: From the Hills Below the City
For Fans of: The Band, My Morning Jacket, The Civil Wars, Blitzen Trapper

Less than two years ago, the members of the Indiana-based folk-rock quartet Houndmouth—comprised of keyboardist Katie Toupin, guitarist Matt Myers, bassist Zak Appleby and drummer Shane Cody—were recording their minimalist, self-titled EP using a few mics set up in Cody’s Indiana home, fondly nicknamed the “Green House.” If this year’s been any indication, things have changed in a big way for the members of Houndmouth. They’ve landed a record deal with Rough Trade Records, toured with the likes of Alabama Shakes and Drive-By Truckers, performed on Conan and Letterman, headlined their own tour and released their debut LP, From the Hills Below the City.

“None of us expected anything when we started this band,” says Myers. “We got together and we were just making stuff, and we kind of knew that it was nice—we really liked it—but we had no idea how it was gonna translate.”

Though the band was formed in 2011, the members of Houndmouth have known each other for years. Toupin and Cody went to high school together, Myers and Appleby played in blues and classic rock cover bands in high school and Myers and Toupin worked as an acoustic duo for three years.

“That was really hard,” Toupin recalls. “It was like four-hour gigs of acoustic guitar and my fingers would bleed. We wouldn’t get paid and nobody would pay attention.”

Their hard work, late night-practices and unfulfilling gigs leading up to Houndmouth’s genesis paid off when the band performed at the South by Southwest Festival in 2012. Geoff Travis of Rough Trade Records came down to watch them perform and, after meeting with the band, offered them a record deal.

Houndmouth’s EP was released in August of 2012 and they followed it with a gritty, folksy full-length From the Hills Below the City in June 2013. The LP was largely tracked live and was recorded with the help of producer Kevin Ratterman.

Thanks to their shared roots and familiarity, the four-piece share an intuitive, almost visceral connection, which is evident in the fact that Houndmouth has no lead singer; instead, all four members switch off on vocals.

Songs like “Hey Rose” feature Appleby’s twangy baritone, while Toupin’s powerhouse vocals lead the more bluesy ‘Casino.’ “It was never a question whether who was gonna sing what song,” says Myers. “If you wrote the song and brought it to the table, that’s who was gonna sing it.”

And while they write many of their songs separately, most of the tracks on From the Hills Below the City remain thematically and lyrically cohesive, spinning often-romanticized stories of down-on-their-luck wanderers, lawless vagrants or fictional towns reminiscent of bygone eras.

“That kind of took us by surprise: that we were writing about similar things and had all the same interests,” says Myers. “I think it’s kind of an unconscious kind of thing.  We were communicating through our brainwaves.”

As Toupin affirms, Houndmouth’s image was not premeditated, and their identity evolved naturally as they worked together. “We’d just have these practices, and someone would say, ‘Oh, I wrote this, let’s try this.’ Or ‘I wrote this, let’s work on this,’ and we’d work it out, and then that just became our set, that became our album and that became who we are.”

They do occasionally write together and swap lines, melodies and song ideas. “We all just kind of take from each other,” says Myers. “It’s just lines that resonate with our souls are what we’re after.”

Following their gut has certainly worked well for them. While on tour, they’ve taken the festival circuit by storm, performing at events such as Newport Folk Festival and Forecastle Festival in Louisville, with crowds nearing 1,000 gathering to sing along with their warm, rootsy twang.

With their close quarters on tour, songwriting—along with everything else— is becoming increasingly collaborative. “Instead of being like, ‘Hey, I wrote this song, let’s work it out,’ it’s more like, ‘Hey, I got this idea, let’s see what we can do with it together,’” Toupin says. “So I think that for the next album it’s gonna be a bit more collaborative on the songwriting aspect of it.”

Which is no surprise, considering that, as the band evolves, Houndmouth is becoming more in-sync than ever. “We aren’t even separate people at this point because of touring. We’ve been together so much this year,” says Myers.

Since touring, they’ve also had the chance to meet and learn from bands they’ve admired, including Alabama Shakes, Dry the River and Dawes. “You learn just by watching other musicians, you know, that have done this for a long time,” Toupin says. “Some of that bands that I’ve always listened to, I can call them my friends. That’s weird. Like, wait, I don’t belong here,” she adds, laughing.

Judging by the buzz and glowing reviews since the band’s EP debut, Houndmouth should fit in just fine. Besides befriending some of their favorite bands, one of the most rewarding aspects of the breakout success has been the overwhelmingly positive response from live audiences, especially those in hometown performances. Many fans even join them in singing the lyrics.

“That’s like one of those childhood things that you never think…“ Myers breaks off. “That’s what you always try and strive for. It’s just unreal. It’s so cool. We just—we really didn’t see that coming.”

Their catapulting careers don’t look to be losing momentum anytime soon, and the members of Houndmouth are handling their success like pros: sticking to their roots and staying humble.

“We’re getting pretty lucky. We kind of live it a day at a time,” Myers says. “We’re still just kind of learning and getting along, y’know. Riding it out.”

But they’re also excited for the future. “I’m looking forward to making a new record and doing it all again,” Toupin says. “Looking back now, it’s like, ‘Oh, well that was pretty fucking cool. It’s just part of our life now I guess.”