HOMETOWN HEROES

Let’s get one thing out of the way up front: Just because Houndmouth stylistically resembles all those “Hey ho!” neo-folk bands, one thing is not necessarily like the other.

First, Matt Myers, Katie Toupin, Shane Cody, and Zak Appleby are actually from small-town Middle America — New Albany, Indiana to be exact. Second, their expansive harmonies and symphonic arrangements don’t tell boring, narrowly individualistic stories about romance and nostalgia; instead, as all four Houndmouth members trade off lead vocal duties, narratives shift from junkies and convicts to grad school superstars and oil titans to gadfly cousins and lascivious ladies’ men. Third, you won’t find a banjo, mandolin, or well-groomed beard within a 10-mile radius of the band. And fourth, while most Americana stars embrace antiquated 19th-century getups, Houndmouth has gravitated to fur coats, sequined jumpsuits, capes and similar glamorous attire.

“I always felt more comfortable writing and hiding behind a persona or a character,” guitarist Myers tells Folio Weekly. “And that extended to onstage, where we started wearing bellbottom jeans and weird shit to disconnect ourselves from the whole Americana thing. Like, suspenders and top hats? What kind of bullshit is that?”

That no-nonsense attitude mirrors Houndmouth’s start. Though Toupin, Myers, and Appleby knew each other in high school, they pursued music individually before randomly coming together in 2011 with Cody, who’d recently returned to Indiana after a spell in New York. Four months later, against all rational logic, they traveled to South by Southwest in Austin, on their own dime and with no plan. Booking agent Matt Hickey convinced Rough Trade Records founder Geoff Travis to attend one of Houndmouth’s shows, Geoff liked what he saw and signed the band, and by the following year, they were touring relentlessly and headlining festivals on the strength of debut album From the Hills Below the City.

The group’s 2015 album, Little Neon Limelight, broke Houndmouth even bigger. Producer Dave Cobb, who’s worked magic on recent alt-country masterpieces by Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson, convinced the band to record everything live and break out of its own self-reinforced box. “We called him and asked him if he wanted to make a record with us,” Myers remembers. “And he said, ‘Yes, but I’m not gonna make another fucking Americana album. Let’s put our hats on and get weird.’”

“Weird” might be a bit of an exaggeration, but “diverse” isn’t. Songs like “Otis” hit impassioned soul heights, and big hit “Sedona” packs a dusty, desert-rock punch that skewers the California dream but will still lodge itself in your subconscious for weeks. And there’s no denying how well Houndmouth does gritty, dirt-road folk on “For No One” and “Black Gold.” “Nothing is conscious,” Myers says. “It all just comes out — we absolutely have no plans for anything. No set time to sit down and write songs. They happen when they happen. All four of us are constantly recording on our own, throwing ideas around, gathering information when we’re on the road, and then hopefully putting it all together when we’re back home. The whole [writing process] is just up in the air.”

What’s not up in the air is how much success the band has achieved in such a short amount of time — or how little it seems to have changed its four members. Myers says they still look back fondly on playing “really shitty, divey 200-capacity clubs” while relishing the opportunity to headline at more dignified spaces like Ponte Vedra Concert Hall. And he describes the band and its immediate orbit of hangers-on as like a little commune. “Our manager is a buddy who was sitting on the couch with us at our first practice,” Myers says, “and our tour manager started out with us, too. Everything is still close-knit, with a good family vibe.”

Myers says that vibe extends off the road, too, when the band has a chance to return to normal life in between tours. “Home’s like a vacuum, and I love it,” he says. “Especially on our side of the river in Indiana. Louisville is super-artsy and creative, but there isn’t much of a scene here in New Albany. But I could never live in LA, New York, or any major city. There’s too much noise going on. I prefer to see the world from a tiny town — all the relentless touring has instilled my faith in being an Indianan. Even if I can’t walk to the convenience store wearing skinny jeans without getting my ass kicked.”

About FOLIO