The Americana-and-more quartet hails from New Albany, Ind., which is the across-the-river backyard of a much larger and far more fertile musical metropolis, Louisville. Houndmouth didn't discover specific inspirations in New Albany that led to the dozen songs on its debut album, From the Hills Below the City. It also didn't pound the pavement of hometown haunts (or even ones in Louisville) before landing the gig that got them discovered.
The members of Houndmouth Toupin, guitarist Matt Myers, bassist Zak Appleby and drummer Shane Cody were all friends and collaborators before joining forces and issuing an independent EP.
"We've all played together separately before Houndmouth in some form," Toupin said. "Me and Matt sang together for three or four years, so I can harmonize with him all day long; it's just second nature. Also, Matt and Zak played together in blues bands all through high school, so they know how to play off each other really well. So it was sort of a natural thing that occurred. It wasn't like, 'Oh, we want to be a band where everybody sings and harmonizes.' But when we stepped into our first practice, that's just how we did it because that's how we knew to do it."
Initially, gigs were in short supply, but a revivalistic Houndmouth tune called Penitentiary (first honed by Myers and Toupin during their days as a duo) started to gain notice in the blogosphere. Then came an invitation to play at the huge, influential 2012 South by Southwest showcase in Austin, Texas, but at a dubious gig at a club named Molotov deemed so "horrible" that even their booking agent advised the band to pass on it.
"It was the first time we had ever been on the road any of us as a band," Toupin said. "We hadn't done any traveling before Houndmouth, either. We had played probably four or five shows. So many bands play for years in their hometown. That didn't really happen for us. We put that song online and it started getting some buzz.
"But we just wanted to go to South by Southwest. Our booking agent kept saying, 'You don't have to come down here for a show like that.' And we were like, 'No, we really want to come.' So we did, against his advice."
Among the invited guests at the Austin show was Geoff Travis of the seminal indie label Rough Trade. Travis signed the band, putting the wheels in motion for From the Hills.
"The house that we practiced in was Shane's great-great-great-grandparents' house," Toupin said. "So we got to take over this old historic home. All of the furniture was antique. We've done several music videos in the house because the vibe, the whole aura of the place, has influenced the sound that came out of it."
An equally colorful setting was chosen for the actual recording sessions, which were overseen by Kevin Ratterman. Having previously recorded bands in a makeshift studio set up in a funeral home, the noted Louisville producer began work on From the Hills in a renovated church. The name of his studio couldn't have more apt given its placement as the creative starting point for Houndmouth's fanciful but still rootsy new music: La La Land.
"It wasn't air-conditioned, so it was like 100 degrees in the church," Toupin said. "We used the church organ. We used the piano from the chapel. So we worked in a lot of stuff just from the church itself. It was a really neat experience. And we did it all in a week. It was really cool."
Since its release, Houndmouth has been a guest on Conan and The Late Show with David Letterman; has opened shows for Drive-By Truckers and Alabama Shakes; and has performed at the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island, Bonnaroo outside Nashville and, fittingly, the Forecastle Festival in Louisville.