August 30, 2018
A new era has begun for the Indiana trio Houndmouth. After kicking off their career in 2012 in the Americana folk genre, the group has shed their past material like snakeskin and now takes one giant leap into the chrome future. But, like any great metamorphosis, this change did not happen without some discomfort. These violent delights and pains of transformation are detailed with mysterious lyricism, a rosy pitch, and an unmistakable ‘80s chic on the group’s latest record, Golden Age, a ten-song exercise in growth that gives the listener an inside look on where the band has been, where they are now, and what happened in between. To understand why Golden Age is so markedly important for Houndmouth’s catalog, it’s crucial to understand what led them to this moment.
Six years, two records, and one key member earlier, the band was discovered by Geoff Travis of Rough Trade Records at a SXSW 2012 performance (one that would come to launch their career as they went on to play some of the largest stages in the world, including Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza). If that weren’t enough, the band played the late night talk show circuit as well, finding themselves on the stages of both Conan and the legendary Letterman before he made his exit from the show. So, the question is: with such a firm handle on a sound that garnered so much popularity, why change it?
“I was just tired,” vocalist Matt Myers put it. He spoke to me from his new residence in rural Indiana, where he’s taking a short break from the arduous life of touring before heading back out on the road. His newfound surroundings seem comfortabe to him as he describes the vast greenery, comparing it to the cramped lifestyle of metropolitan living. Before long, the jokes and stories of disgruntled New York talk show booking agents settled, and Myers got down to the brass tacks of his music, and what’s changed for him since the band’s last record.
“I’m trying to look at things in the big picture, and it probably doesn’t make sense to many other people. We had these two records and a solid Americana folk sound, and I decided that I was tired of that. I was tired of that music, I was tired of that whole scene,” he said. “I really like that kind of music, but I was just over it.” He spoke with an obvious exasperation, one that comes with being asked the same question too many times, but he answered with due diligence nonetheless.
His exhaustion is understandable in the grand scheme of being an artist in 2018. The expectation can be unreasonable– to cater to fans who want something new but not too new. Myers and Houndmouth have made it very clear that they are going to continue to write the way they want, keeping their frame of reference consistently within “the big picture.”
“[Houndmouth] has become this current thing, and I think it’ll take more and more albums to categorize our body of work. Obviously, this album sounds out of context, but we’re gonna do whatever we feel like we need to express. I think that over time, the complete body of work might start meshing a little bit better,” Myers said. There was a slight air of defense when it came to expressing his thoughts on the stylistic change, which comes as no surprise given the response from certain fans or, perhaps, former fans.
The most notable epicenter of this displeasure surfaced around the the band’s release for the video for their song “This Party,” which was met with a relative vitriol from YouTube commenters, many of whom seemed to expect the band to stay in line with their folk roots after keyboardist and vocalist Katie Toupin departed the band in early 2016. In response to this small circle of dissenters, the band released a video that can only be described as tongue-in-cheek, wherein some of the more inflammatory comments were highlighted in a flashy, ‘80s-style reel, exposing how mercurial and nonsensical fans can be when it comes to their expectations for their favorite bands.
“We put the song up and, when it came to Americana fans, we expected it to go over horribly, which it kind of did,” he said. “It’s really funny to us that it’s 2018 and there are actually people who are commenting things like ‘I hate synthesizers!’ Like, what the fuck does that even mean?” Even when discussing what can only be imagined as disheartening, Myers’ vision for what he wants out of his music remains steadfast and pointed. “The only thing that you can do in this life is to make things that come from within for yourself, because it’s all that we know.”
It’s impossible to talk about Golden Age without discussing the contributions of Jonathan Rado of Foxygen and producer Shawn Everett (The War On Drugs), whom Myers credits as some of the main factors in the bands’ sonic departure from their folk side. When it came time to talk about the studio experience, Myers’ voice buzzed with excitement as he recalled the time spent with the two greats.
“It was a collaborative piece. I enjoy seeing people in their creative process and learning how to create from different angles. They opened up a lot of doors. It was very much a team effort. Rado would go off on tangents and embellish our demos with melodies and synths and whatever he wanted to play. Shawn would horde all of these recordings and compile them, and then we’d go through them to find out where they fit best in the songs. It was a really interesting, fun way to work that I don’t think many people have experienced,” Myers continued. He noted how Rado and Everett influenced the production, citing their tinkering and manipulation of structure, arrangement, and helped guide the finished product of Golden Age.
In one of his final remarks, Myers culminated the entirety of the band’s creative spirit into one last defiant declaration. “Since I’ve been 18 I’ve been making songs, and that’s all I’ve been concerned about… Someone asked me if I wanted to call it quits once Katie left, and there’s no way. You keep moving forward and exploring and creating stuff. I’ve always wanted to write songs. That isn’t going to change.”