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INTERVIEW: Houndmouth

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Houndmouth’s second LP Little Neon Limelight was released last year and since then they’ve been on the tour circuit playing headline shows, festivals and TV appearances. The success of that album, on the back of their well-received debut From The Hills Below The City, has led them to book the long-haul flights down to Australia and New Zealand for the first time. Ahead of the trip frontman and main songwriter Matt Myers spoke to Post To Wire from his home in Indiana – giving some insight into their songwriting, early years and where they might be musically heading next.

What was the original idea for the band when you first formed five years ago – in terms of ambition and the style of music you wanted to play together?

I guess it was to play music that was half time. I was playing acoustic music and wanted to play something with a heavy backbeat and in half time. It started like that and then we got some momentum and then we got signed (Rough Trade). Then we didn’t focus on the backbeat as much, more just on making more and better music. There was a conscious idea floating around that we wouldn’t play a lot of local shows starting out. We put a few songs online and played ten shows in two months and then we went to SXSW and that was where we really got started. If you just play locally in the same clubs you get pigeonholed and typecast.

Were you surprised at the positive reaction of both fans and critics to your first record or did you know you were onto something good?

We knew the songs were there and it was the first time in a studio as a band which, at the time, was awesome and we felt great about it.

littleneonlimelightWhat’s the writing dynamic in Houndmouth? Is it a collaborative process or are you the primary songwriter?

I do the heavy load of writing. I like it. I’ve just started piano so that’s a new form to play with. I’ve always doodled and had parts and we all write separately so it’s always great and fun when we get together and work on those ideas. We have tons of hooks and scraps laying around and some work and some get scrapped. I want to do a concept record actually, that’d be a good way to go. In terms of arrangements we are all pretty in tune with what works and what needs to change. It all works pretty well. We’ve always kept it pretty loose. The bands that have the choreographed thing going on – people like Jack White and St Vincent, I’ve always admired what they do though. Even if we do something like a concept record we want to keep it really loose.

I’ve always loved the balance between the roots music influence in your songs and the full embrace of pop hooks and big rock melodies. Was that a conscious songwriting decision or just the natural sound the four of you make?

I like the aspect of roots music because there is so much soul involved in it. That hasn’t really translated to the pop world though. It just seems like artificial and mechanical soul. The roots stuff comes a lot more naturally to me. It’s always fun writing pop hooks too and we all do that. You have to approach songwriting in different ways, not just one direction. It is quite instinctive, we always know when to gang up on  a vocal and all chime in.

People often talk about the second album syndrome and how it can be more difficult than the first. How did you approach the writing and recording of Little Neon Limelight?

Having Dave Cobb producing made a huge difference. That was really eye-opening and fun and a great learning process. He was awesome to work with. Dave is really in his prime, absolutely crushing it consistently at a high level at the moment. Our first record wasn’t a great success but it got our foot in the door. This one got a lot of airplay but I think the next one will be more like a real sophomore record. That’ll be the real test for us. Hopefully I haven’t put the mockers on us. I’d like to work with Dave again but I’m not opposed to a new producer either. We’re still writing and putting stuff together at the moment, we haven’t really thought about the next record yet.

Have you encountered any difficulties in figuring out where your music fits in, between the Nashville world and the indie scene? Is that something that you think about, from a marketing and songwriting perspective?

I’d rather be in limbo than in a category. I don’t know. It’s hard to think about the way other people think about you and your music. We don’t get played so much on country radio, more on AAA stations and some alternative stations on the west coast – which I didn’t see coming, even though there is a song called Sedona on the new album.

What have been some of your favourite touring experiences in recent times?

Everything melds together after a while. We’ve just  moved from a van to a bus after three years. That was a happy moment for all of us. We’re still trying to sell the old van. Coming to Australia and NZ for the first time will be a real highlight. We’re hitting some cities for the second time on this album cycle so it’ll be great to play to new people.

What have you got planned for the rest of the year? It looks like you’ve got a busy run of Spring festival dates coming up in the US.

Yeah, I think after this run it’s mostly just writing new material and I assume recording at some point, maybe later in the year. It’s important to make enough time to get the next record right with the best songs and a cohesive story. I’m pumped! We leave a lot of space in our songs to do things differently but you do get burnt out playing some of the same songs so a break makes a big difference and keeps things exciting.

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