Houndmouth, fresh out of the studio
by Kyla Rain
A phone conversation with Zak Appleby of Houndmouth, the day after the release of their third studio album, Golden Age (which, by the way, they made by shredded shit with razor blades??). We got to talking about the best aspects of recording and spontaneity in the studio, their recent, intimate show at Rough Trade Records, and Italian food. Lots of Italian food.
If I’m being completely honest with you, we had to cut quite a bit out of this piece. We may or may not have gone off an a half-an-hour, hunger-induced tangent. Important lesson learned: never do an interview on an empty stomach. You will end up spending the entire time talking about food.
P.S. Call up Zak for the best restaurant recommendations. Specifically Italian food.
Can you tell me a little bit of background about yourself and the band?
Well – we became a band in late 2011, and then we put out our first two albums, and now Golden Age. Is that brief enough? (laughs)
Can you tell me a bit about this new album and what inspired your change in tone? Because I’ve noticed it’s a little more electronic than the indie rock vibe of your previous releases.
We basically just had the chance to go into the studio and experiment a bit, which we’ve never been able to do before. Our first two albums were done relatively quickly - I’m talking a week each – but for this one, we had the chance to play around and figure out what we liked. We had two incredible people – Jonathon Rado and Shawn Everett – and from day one they said, whatever sound you guys can think of or have in your head, whatever it is, we can replicate it and put it on the record. So it was just like – okay, now we know that, we’re just gonna jump right in and make all these incredibly cool new sounds.
So you just let your mind go crazy.
Right, as opposed to just jumping in and trying to get it done quickly because we wanted the album to be released. We actually really took our time with this one and really reinvented our sound.
Is this a direction we’ll see your music follow in the future, or do you plan on taking another turn with your imagination?
That’s the thing - you don’t really know what it’s gonna be like when you head into the studio. It all kind of happened because we were there; it wasn’t a preconceived notion to make these new sounds. It was more like, hey, his is what we have in front of us now, and we’re just going to make that.
Why did you decide to have This Party as your first release?
It was talked about a lot and in the end it was the one we decided to go with. It’s kinda like an introduction to the new sound, I guess. The main theme behind This Party is like… have you ever been somewhere that sounded like a really cool, really fun idea, but then you realise once you get there that all the wrong people are there and you don’t really want to be there, you only want to be there with certain people, if that makes sense? That’s what it’s about.
If you had to visually depict the new album, Golden Age, what would that look like? Like, if it was the soundtrack for a movie, what sort of movie would that be?
Gosh, I don’t know. I want to say a mixture between – (laughs), I just saw a preview for the movie Say Anything, so I’m gonna say a mix between Say Anything and Tron.
That’s a robot movie, right?
Which song from the album do you feel like has the best story behind it?
The title track, Golden Age; the way it was produced in the studio was really neat. We used these different tapes – well, destroyed all these different tapes, actually, and got this sound through playing these messed up tapes back.
How do you guys come up with that kind of stuff in the studio? Would you say that’s one of your favourite parts of being a recording artist?
They’re not preconceived at all, we just end up in there talking about it. Like, so Sean was like, hey, we’ve got this cool tape loop, and he got this crazy look in his eye and was like, now let’s just fucking destroy it (laughs). So we did exactly that. We cut it with razor blades and scratched the fuck out of it, and when we played it back it made this weird lo-fi sound, undefinable, you know?
I think that’s absolutely one of the coolest parts of being in the studio, having all this gear and all these people at your side and at your disposable. Man, it’s just so much fun. It’s endless. Until you have to wrap it up because, you know, you’ve only got so many days and hours in the studio.
So it was kind of like a mixture of a song and an arts & craft project?
How did fans react to your show at Rough Trade Records, NYC, following the release?
Oh my gosh, yeah, so that was like – yesterday? It was a great response, actually! We had a tonne of fun, we played a stripped down set with six new songs and the response was truly incredible, even the signing went really well afterwards.
Were there any other names you guys were considering for the album? Or was Golden Age the only one you were drawn to?
I don’t even remember, actually. I think Golden Age was – that was just always gonna be the title track and it wasn’t really discussed too heavily.
What inspired the name for the track, then?
Golden Age is about a certain time… it can be any moment in time really, but it’s like that moment in your life when you’re figuring out and defining how you want to be perceived and how you want to be recognised as a person. That’s your golden age moment, you know what I mean?
That’s something I can really resonate with, yeah. So - what do you imagine as the most ideal setting that people should listen to this album in?
See, it’s funny, because everyone listens to albums differently. For me, I have a spot in my basement on my couch just in front my record player and speakers and that’s where I like to listen to music. I like to be completely absorbed and not distracted by anything else, just focusing on the music. You hear so much more that way. You can listen to a song a thousand times over, but when you really listen to it, you can try and tune out the vocals, the prominent guitar bit, and you can hear to all the stuff in the background. That’s what really makes the song.
What non-musical people, places, things do you draw inspiration from for your music?
I think you have to keep your mind open all the time, and just realise that you have to engulf yourself in everything. Like, right now I’m in this hotel room, and it’s really small but the lighting is just perfect. I’ve got this one little snake light tucked under the desk and I think it’s just the perfect light – and that can be inspiration, that can spawn creativity. Just the silliest of things.
What’s your favourite set of lyrics off the album? What do you feel resonates the most with you?
It’s funny, because I guess I don’t really sit down and listen to our own albums. I’d have to go with Modern Love, lyrically, though. I think it’s just very in tune about how involved modern love is with technology – you know, you stalk people on social media, and that’s how you feel like you get to know somebody. It’s a really weird, modern way to fall in love or become infatuated with somebody. I think it’s an amazing topic and I love how we wrote that song.
What can fans expect in the future from you guys? Anything you want to throw out there?
The album just dropped a few days ago, and we’re super excited about that. Right now it’s a really fun time because we’re beginning to figure out these songs and how to do them live. The album is so different to our past albums, so figuring out how to manipulate those sounds live is incredibly fun.
I think it means a lot when an artist can be excited about playing. Nowadays you see a lot of complacency, people just sort of going – yeah, I’m gonna go out and play the same song, and blah blah blah – and I think that’s a bad way to be. If you get to that point, you can’t really improve yourself and you can’t really improve your playing. But right now we’re in this amazing spot where we’re super excited about everything.
I love what you said about being excited to play live shows, because if the band’s excited, that directly translates into the live show, and how they feel the music has a really big impact.
Right! It’s all about energy and where you get the energy from. It has to be visible and felt by everybody.
What have you enjoyed the most and least about touring?
I’m a big foodie, and I love trying new stuff and trying to find quaint little places to eat. It’s hard to find something off the radar now, because of yelp and everything, but we try it all. Like, last night, there was this little Italian place next to our hotel, and we tried it, and it was horrible (laughs). But at least we’ve scratched that one off the list, you know? And tonight – I don’t know where we’re going tonight but I’m really excited to try a new spot we’ve never tried.
That’s one of the best things about touring – having the opportunity to go to these new places and see all this new stuff. I would never have travelled this much without music in my life. And I try not to take it for granted, ever.
My least favourite part of touring… let’s see. Gotta be after the show. We go back to the green room and it’s just like – okay, let’s load all the gear. (laughs) It’s the biggest buzz kill. But it’s also super humbling, because you get off stage and you’re on this high and you feel like you could take on the world and then our tour manager, Jason, is like – okay guys, cut the shit, let’s get out there, lets pack it up so we can get to the next city. It brings us back down to earth.
Could you give us your top favourite places to eat out of EVERYWHERE you’ve travelled?
That’s such a touch question! There was this one place, right outside of Jersey, and it’s not there anymore, but that was the best Italian food I’ve ever had. You just walked in and you knew it was a family place – lit by candlelight, smelling like garlic… and every time we went there we knew we were going to over indulge on wine and smooth pasta. It was fantastic.
The interview then dissolved into an in-depth conversation about Italian food, pasta varieties and meatballs, and just listening back I can feel my mouth watering. Huge thanks to Houndmouth for hopping on the phone with us. Check out the new album here!