Family Of The Year

Sat · September 15, 2018

Doors: 8:00 pm / Show: 9:00 pm

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In the last four years, Houndmouth have learned what it means to be a band. On their second album, Little Neon Limelight, they wear that wisdom like a badge of honor.

Less than a half-decade ago in the small Indiana city of New Albany, four pals were crafting tunes on their own, with few ambitions of turning those songs into a spectacle. That all changed when these friends crossed paths, and joined forces. Matt Myers, Shane Cody, Katie Toupin, and Zak Appleby became the drums and keys, guitars and harmonies of Houndmouth, and those personal numbers became the irrepressible core of an outfit turned magnetic.

In 2012, the group issued a self-titled EP on Rough Trade Records, the legendary imprint that signed them after seeing a single gig. One of 2013’s most incandescent debuts, their From the Hills Below the City LP affirmed what label owner Geoff Travis had heard: the sounds of Americana, renewed by the youthful glow of songwriters, musicians and pals unafraid to both celebrate and desecrate them.

Others noticed, too. The Guardian noted that, with From the Hills, “reservations fade,” while Rolling Stone’s David Fricke lauded the “earthy melancholy with a rude garage-rock streak.” Treks with the Drive-by Truckers and the Alabama Shakes followed, plus performances at the Newport Folk Festival, Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo. In cramped clubs and big theaters alike, Houndmouth earned a reputation as a must-see act, their hooks, energy and charisma making them feel like a lifelong friend you’d just met.

That success, though, turned what had started as fun into something closer to work. Houndmouth learned that being full-time musicians required much more than the nine-to-five endeavors they had left behind in Indiana. But they grew into the role and grew from it. Experiences accumulated; perspectives expanded. Relationships stalled; others progressed.

“We’re not in party mode all the time anymore,” says Myers. “We’re refining how we write songs, writing about people we love, more important things than just nonsensical stuff.” If that was the charge, then Little Neon Limelight is an unapologetic success. These eleven songs sparkle, fade, and sparkle again, mixing innocence and experience, acceptance and aspiration, horror and hope.

Recorded by Dave Cobb in Nashville, Little Neon Limelight pairs the energy and nerves of raw first takes with the accents and moods of a more contemplative, thoughtful unit. Hearts are broken and friends are exiled, love grows cold and drugs do damage, leaders make mistakes and money turns tricks. On the acoustic “Gasoline,” one of the most poignant moments of Houndmouth’s catalog, Toupin barbs the confessions of a perennial party girl with the specter of mortality. “Maybe I’ll meet my maker on a bedroom floor,” she sings, her voice fighting against its own existential fade as bowed cello traces her words. Haunted by samples of the buoyant opener and single “Sedona” and the noisy filigree of a Moog, the beautifully downcast “For No One” stalks through personal blues with conviction. Its world-weariness has been incubated by the world it surveys.

But all of these feelings aren’t worn on Houndmouth’s collective sleeves: Despite the turmoil embedded within many of these songs, they are equal parts energetic proclamation, built with choruses that can’t be denied, harmonies that can’t be escaped and rhythms that can’t be resisted. With its carousel keyboards and start-and-stop drums, “Say I”” is a combination come-on and kiss-off that might make Keith Richards blush. For “15 Years,” Houndmouth conjures barroom bluster to voice the woes of a prisoner, backing the cries of his soul with howling organ and slashing guitar. When all the action drops into a shout-along, gospel-strong bridge, you might feel the urge to bust the fella out yourself. What’s the point of having the blues, Houndmouth seems to say, if you can’t have fun with them, too?

Nowhere is that balance of tragedy and triumph better than on the romp “My Cousin Greg,” a Band-style saga where each member takes a turn with a verse. Written about Myers’ actual cousin and former cover-band bandmate Greg, these four minutes present the title guy as a mischievous, enlightened and acerbic genius. He leaves Florida with his master’s degree in physics for a brainy job in Los Angeles, raising metaphysical hell and questions along the way. Greg thinks his cousin has it made, touring the country by van while playing the songs he’s written.

But Myers disagrees: “If you wanna live the good life/Well, you better stay away from the limelight,” the quartet sings as one in the chorus, repeating the mantra as though it were their only lifeline to sanity. For those long drives, it’s a reminder of the thrill and toil of what they now get to do. “For the first record, we were floating around after having been thrown into this,” explains Myers. “This time, we were able to write more about experiences than random stories, because that’s where we are in life. There had to be an attachment to what we recorded.”

For Little Neon Limelight, the charged, charming and preternaturally mature Houndmouth did exactly that.

– Grayson Haver Currin
Family Of The Year
Family Of The Year
Among an average population of 15,000 people on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, you typically hear about a small and select headline-grabbing few.
Like Cape Cod’s answer to The Hamptons, all of the shine goes to The Kennedys, The Clintons, David Letterman, or whatever other magazine-covering celebrity spent his or her summer vacation there. A stone’s throw, yet leagues away from the ritzy cocktail parties and Hollywood glitz and glamour, you can find the cozy working-class home where Family Of The Year’s brotherly core—Joe [vocals, guitar] and Sebastian Keefe [drums, vocals]—spent their formative years after moving from Wrexham, Wales. Long before the brothers linked up with bandmates James Buckey [guitar, vocals] and Christina Schroeter [keyboards, vocals], earned a massive hit in the form of “Hero,” generated nearly 200 million cumulative streams, garnered countless syncs, and toured worldwide, they can recall life-shaping moments on “the other side” of the Vineyard.
Many of those memories bubble to the surface on their 2018 fourth full-length album and Warner Bros. Records debut.
“One of the byproducts of living in a place like that is it’s a crossroads and a melting pot,” explains Sebastian. “You get exposed to a lot of incredible, talented, and worldly people. On the one hand, it’s inspirational to mow the lawn of a movie star. On the other hand, it’s a bit of a bummer. We lived in this tiny house. Joe and I shared a room and my drum set was crammed between our beds.”
“Music was an escape,” adds Joe. “It’s how we bonded with some of our best friends to this day.”
“If you didn’t have anywhere to be after school, you spent those unaccountable hours learning how to fucking play Nirvana and Led Zeppelin songs and smoking weed at 12,” laughs Sebastian. “Because you’re parents weren’t around or working all night, that’s what you did.”
It laid the groundwork for the group’s quiet rise. Following 2009’s Songbook, they toured relentlessly and organically attracted a devout fan base. 2012 saw them release Loma Vista. In the aftermath, the musicians earned praise from the likes of USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, Billboard, Interview Magazine, and Paste in addition to performing on Jimmy Kimmel LIVE!, Conan, and more. Its breakout single “Hero” would figure prominently in the trailer and soundtrack for the Academy® Award-nominated and Golden Globe® Award-winning drama Boyhood and surpass 170 million Spotify streams. Coming off the road in late 2015 in support of the self-titled Family of the Year, they began crafting new music. The quartet first retreated to a rental house in Mount Washington during January 2016 before holing up in Bear Valley Springs throughout the spring.
“For this record, we decided to start from scratch,” Joe recalls. “While making the last album, we were on tour, and we just put together pieces of other ideas. This was a blank slate. In Bear Valley Springs, we spent two months waking up and trying to write personal songs all day. It was quite a fucking emotional rollercoaster.”
At the same time, interpersonal relationships started to fray under the weight of too much time together on the road and intense creative pressure.
“We were drinking and taking lots of drugs,” admits Sebastian. “We thought we were going to create magic, but we were just fucked up. We went crazy. I know I was drinking and doing too much, so I stopped. The band went through a fucking identity crisis. We wanted to write something deeper, but we weren’t going to get there due to the partying. I made changes for myself. We all made changes. It was about being more thoughtful and introspective and showing respect to those around me. It was a philosophical shift. That had to happen for us to reach our potential for honesty, vulnerability, satisfaction, and creativity.”
During this period, the brothers endured the loss of their mom, and the concept of “home” came into focus for Joe. That brings us to the new album and one of its standouts “Latchkey Kids.” Awash in dreamy hummable harmonies, robust percussion, and pristine guitars, the song paints a picture of how “mom worked overtime and dad was gone,” but “I could be whatever I wanted.”
“I think it’s weak when people complain about growing up in broken homes or poor,” says Joe. “I wanted to write about how great it was to have the freedom to do whatever we wanted when we were young. I love the fact that our parents weren’t rich and strict. That made me who I am. I hung out with the bad kids and did dangerous and stupid things. I was exposed to scary shit and forced to feel the value of what I did have. I don’t know what the fuck I would be like if I didn’t experience that.”
“It’s a very accurate depiction of how life was,” agrees Sebastian. “At the same time, Joe wouldn’t have minded some of the other stuff, but that’s part of his personality. He finds the bright side, while I’m the depressive one,” the drummer laughs.
The album’s infectious lead single, “Hold Me Down” tempers danceable synths, keys, and production with a propulsive handclap-driven chant. “That’s about wanting someone to help you settle down and become who you want to be,” Joe continues. “It’s a crazy world out there, and you need help to turn a corner and feel safe.”
Then, there’s the follow-up “Let Her Go.” Over sparse piano chords, the opening line sets the tone for a new beginning—“Do you want to know how far I’ve come?”
“It’s a breakup song,” says Christina. “You’re trying to prove, ‘No, I’m different now, so let’s give it another shot.’ It’s so hard to accept when someone is gone.”
Throughout this journey, Family Of The Year got closer than ever. In the end, their name has taken on a new meaning.
“We’re just trying to create the family we never had,” Sebastian leaves off.
Joe continues, “I started a band so I’d never be alone again. The name came from a family in Newport Beach who won the ‘Family Of The Year’ award. On the outside, they looked perfect. A few years later, everyone found out they were seriously fucked up. I had this running joke in my head that we were a dysfunctional family — but we are a family together, nevertheless. None of us feel alone.”
Venue Information:
The Commonwealth Room
195 W. Commonwealth Ave.
Salt Lake City, UT