From Indiana to SXSW, Matt Myers + Zak Appleby Discuss Houndmouth’s Humble Beginnings
During a recent visit to New York City, Houndmouth frontman Matt Myers and bassist Zak Appleby (far left and far right, respectively, in the picture above) swung by the Diffuser offices for a quick chat. During our conversation, we discussed their new album, Little Neon Limelight (set for release on March 17), the fundamental role SXSW plays in the band's career and what it's like being from the great state of Indiana. Check out our exclusive interview below:
Is it hard to believe Little Neon Limelight hits stores tomorrow?
Zak Appleby: God, is it already Tuesday? I keep saying it’s in a couple of weeks.
Matt Myers: See, he says it should already be out and I don’t feel like it’s coming out for another few months.
Zak: It’s crazy that we’re already singing the songs, so I'm just like, “Oh, wow, it must already be out!”
How does it feel to be at that point where the album is out, or almost out? You’ve put your time and effort into recording it, so are you done with it emotionally, or do you go back to it and listen and reflect on the whole process?
Matt: I think we’re done with the first record [From the Hills Below the City], like we’re completely done with that one. This new one, I don’t even think about it, I’m just happy to be able to play new stuff.
Zak: This one is just now getting started for us. We love these new songs. We played that first record so much. To play them in front of people is, of course, enjoyable, but to practice them is a whole other thing. And to practice this new record is a blast.
Matt: And these songs are still subject to change. [Laughs]
What was the recording process like?
Matt: It was short and sweet. We had Vance Powell come in and he engineered it. He got all the mics set up, all the tones. And this was also the first time we worked with a producer, Dave Cobb. It was nice to have that separate third party to really push us to know where the songs are going to go. It was really fast. It was like a week and a half.
Wow, that is fast.
Zak: Yeah, we did everything live. We just did a few overdubs. Even the vocal tracks were done live.
Matt: Yeah, it was nice to do everything on eight tracks. And then we went back with Moog and added some sounds, some space noises, some lasers.
Lasers are a cornerstone of any good album.
Zak: Right, right, right! [Laughs]
And a huge congrats on all of the success surrounding the single, "Sedona." That thing keeps rising and rising on the Triple A radio charts.
Matt: We had no idea! We had the song written and we wanted it to be the single. From industry people and higher-ups, they pushed us to go back into the studio and write another song. We were like, uh, okay, we can try.
Zak: We literally wasted two days in the studio trying to do this. The second day was like, “F--- this!” And we went with “Sedona.”
What did the beginning of the band look like? You're all from Indiana, right?
Matt: Yeah. Basically we all went in a room, over to Shane’s [Cody, drummer] grandparents’ house. It’s like a museum, nothing has changed since they moved in. So we all go in, each of us with our own songs. I’d play the songs that I wrote and then they would play the songs that they wrote and we didn’t question anything, we just put our heads down and played music. Then we did the same thing at venues, we’d go out and just play our music. So, we decided to go to SXSW and that’s where we got picked up.
When you were in that room, was it immediately noticeable that this was something special?
Zak: It wasn’t to us. We were just having a good time, drinking beer, playing some music. Our buddy, Chris Thomas, was over there -- he’s now our manager -- he was on the couch listening and just said that we need to think about doing something with the music.
Matt: And we weren’t really doing anything. [Laughs]
Zak: So we started throwing music out on Soundcloud and get on Facebook and tell our friends about it. We did this with four songs that were eventually on the first album. Chris was like, “You have to stop just putting this music out. You have to make this a real thing.” He kind of let us know that it was special and pointed us in the right direction.
You mentioned SXSW. That’s obviously a very important part of your history. So, you played a show and then you got a record deal, right? [Laughs] It’s always that easy.
Matt: [Laughs] Yeah, that’s it! So we were told not to come down to SXSW actually. Our booking agent, he lives in Austin and he said we didn’t want to come down because we didn’t have any good shows set up. But, we did have this one show at the Molotov, and it’s not even there anymore. We decided we were going to do it and take whatever money we had and get down there. We played our show at the Molotov and apparently Geoff Travis [founder, Rough Trade Records] was there because our booking agent tipped him off to come. We didn’t meet Geoff that night, but the next night we played Heartbreaker Banquet because we were already in Austin and our booking agent kind of felt bad for us, so he put us on this stage. We were part of this show that we definitely shouldn’t have been a part of. [Laughs] We played it. Geoff had left Bruce Springsteen’s keynote speech early to catch us, but he missed us completely! But, we had a chat after the show and were in touch ever since.
When you were in that living room in Indiana and you started putting music out and playing shows, did you ever think you’d be on a label like Rough Trade?
Matt: It’s weird. I don’t want to say we live in a hole in Indiana, but I didn’t know anything about anything, I hardly even listened to music. Reading about Rough Trade and going through its history, it’s an unbelievable thing to be a part of.
Zak: Honestly, the word “label” never even crossed our minds. We figured we would just be a local band around town. Not even Rough Trade, just any label.
You’re set to play SXSW this year, in just a few days. To you guys, SXSW must be something you hold very dear.
Zak: Absolutely, but ...
Matt: Well, it is and it ain’t.
Zak: How do I say this? When you’re there, it’s a clusterf---. You’re thinking, “Oh my god, how do we get out of here alive?” But afterward, you see the repercussion of all of your hard work.
Matt: There’s no easy time at SXSW, but it's all worth it.
Do you immerse yourself in the whole experience and culture of SXSW?
Matt: You have to just to get through it. We don’t want to know our schedules, we just want to go and enjoy it and show up when we need to show up.
You still live in Indiana. Do you find that you’re influenced by the Midwest at all when you come to New York or when you play a huge festival?
Matt: Yeah, but I can’t articulate it. It’s just a feeling, it’s just this vibe being from the Midwest. We have a good buddy that lives in our neighborhood. He’s from New York, his name is Adam and we’re all good friends with him. He always says that he loves living in Indiana because you can walk to the store and there’s not a pair of skinny jeans for miles. We’re completely isolated from “the scene.”
The new album will be on vinyl. Is that something that’s important to you guys?
Zak: I enjoy having it on vinyl. We get test pressings, and that fills my need.
Matt: If the record does well, that test pressing is like a retirement fund. We can just sell it one eBay! [Laughs]
Zak: Things are moving in that direction, why wouldn’t we release it on vinyl?
Personally, is it something you invest in?
Matt: Yeah, I like it, but because all of my friends are buying it now, I’ve sort of renounced it. [Laughs]
It's everywhere. Whole Foods is even selling vinyl now.
Zak: Cracker Barrel will be selling it next. I swear to god I’ll burn all my vinyl if that happens.
Matt: That’s when I’ll boycott Cracker Barrel. [Laughs]
The album hits the streets this week, you're in SXSW ... what's next?
Matt: We wrote the new songs and recorded the album so fast and then had to rehearse -- we really haven’t done much new writing.
Zak: We’re consistently writing, but we haven’t brought any songs to the table to bang them out together.
It sounds like the beginning of Houndmouth was very collaborative. Is it still that way?
Matt: Everyone writes separately and then we all bring it to the table. Things get scrapped, but then there’s this community bucket of words and phrases and stuff. It can get heated, but then we just read the handbook: “Don’t be a punk.” [Laughs]
Zak: It’s a vulnerable thing, to just throw yourself out there.
Matt: Each band member isn’t going to let the other person put something out that’s bad. We’re in good hands. If someone brings a song, we’re going to work on it together and as hard as we can. It’s been that way since day one.