Southern Indiana natives Houndmouth have been on a tear since performing at South By Southwest in Austin this year. Between playing on Conan and Letterman, touring Europe, and playing festivals like Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo and Austin City Limits, Houndmouth’s relentless promotion of their Rough Trade Records debut, From the Hills Below the City, is certainly making road warriors out of the young band, and national stars of its musicians, like frontman Matt Myers.
It’s one of those days in New Albany where you can feel the autumn season closing in, with a perfect amount of shining sun to be perfectly comfortable in just a t-shirt and jeans, which is what both Matt and I are wearing when we meet at the New Albanian Brewing Company in the early afternoon.
Of course I don’t expect him to order the Houndmouth brew on tap there—that’s too existential for both of us to handle in that moment, probably. But neither do I expect him to order what he does: a “Deano.” When I ask what it is, he explains that it’s named after his dad, his favorite drink: rum, ginger ale, bitters and lime. We talk about bourbon, how France’s supply of bourbon is mind-blowing even when compared to our area, and move into what it’s been like to be on the whirlwind ride that has been Houndmouth:
Steve Fowler: Tours can obviously wear you down, physically and mentally. How do you stay engaged with your music?
Matt Myers: We’ve been home for 4 weeks, which was the longest break we’ve had in awhile. We really needed it, it’s been great. We’ve been able to go and travel to visit friends, but also work on some new material. We’ve been trying to do some new stuff, throw some new songs into the set. Obviously we’re still promoting our album; we wouldn’t just work up a bunch of new material and play it live right now, that’d be kind of pointless. But we’ve worked up a few covers which also help keep us interested and content.
SF: What makes for a good cover song to you?
MM: I’ve always liked My Morning Jacket most regarding covers a band does, especially The Band song they covered with Brittany (Howard, of Alabama Shakes), “It Makes No Difference.”
But we aren’t the kind of band that will cover a song sounding exactly how it’s intended. So we always are trying to find our niche, and we really go for not replicating the song, trying to put our own spin on it, almost sometimes to the point that it’s not recognizable.
MM: Jeff Tweedy (Of Wilco) covered Bob Dylan’s “Simple Twist of Fate” and I liked that better than the original, I think.
SF: What’s touring in Europe like?
MM: Playing was good. The crowd was always into it, and they love guitar solos, so I enjoyed it.
SF: Did you feel any disconnect due to the language barrier?
MM: In France, it’s really weird. We try and speak a little French. Katie knows a bit, Zak a little bit, and we’ve developed a little on-stage banter. But not only that, but our whole stage presence just doesn’t quite go over. We like to be silly sometimes and have fun, but I feel they want to see a show with everything put together, where nobody smiles and you have to look cool. So we kind of embraced that we weren’t in America, but we still did not change for France.
SF: When you were touring elsewhere, did you find anywhere that reminded you of Louisville?
MM: That’s the thing… nothing was like Louisville. I’ve spent a lot of time in Nashville, and every venue I go to is another place where I see the best guitar player I’ve ever seen. Every musician is so good at what they do. But that actually makes me respect Louisville more because I think, personally, it’s so much better when you’re not perfect at what you do. Then you’re making art that isn’t cookie-cutter, made to fit neatly in packages.
SF: Did you think you had to leave Louisville to be successful in music?
MM: When I was growing up, before I did the songwriting thing, and I just wanted to be a guitar player, yeah, I thought I probably had to go somewhere else.
That made me uneasy, it just felt so unnatural to feel like I needed to go somewhere that would plug me in. Why can’t I be successful doing what I want to do where I want to be?
For example, take this guy Spencer Cullum Jr., who plays pedal steel. He’s from London, where no one plays pedal steel. He’d be guaranteed work if he had stayed in London, but he goes to Nashville, which is full of pedal steel guitarists, and he’s still so good that he kills it there, which is awesome.
SF: What do you think of the Louisville area music scene?
MM: We’ve been to Nashville, Austin, everywhere. As far as authenticity goes, Louisville is the best music scene going. It’s so broad, you can do anything you want, and you can speak your mind about things. The community is very supportive, and Louisville just seems very in tune with music in general.
SF: You feel that you can speak your mind? I find there are people in Louisville, including journalists, who feel that some of its music scene can struggle to take criticism constructively.
MM: I think musicians in general can’t handle criticism. Like if I don’t like something, like a song, I don’t have to ask someone “Do you know these guys?” I can just say it, and it’s fine. But I truly don’t deeply dislike anything coming out of Louisville right now.
SF: What are the things you want to know about musicians you admire?
MM: In interviews, I love hearing the off-the-wall details, that don’t have anything to do with music. Interviews lose some of the spontaneity, whereas conversations reveal more about quirky things that might inspire you to write songs.
Tomorrow, we’ll post part two of this conversation where Myers opens up about some of the quirky things that he loves and that inspire him. Blues guitarists, The Last Waltz, unusual tour requests, Ralph Macchio and more in part two.