Houndmouth

Houndmouth

Chris Crofton

Mon, May 7, 2018

Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm

$30

This event is all ages

Houndmouth
Houndmouth
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
Chris Crofton
Chris Crofton
John Denver, Bread, The Carpenters, Gordon Lightfoot — “Those are artists I listen to, and I listen to it them because the melodies are fuckin’ strong as shit,” That’s the case singer-songwriter Chris Crofton makes for the influences he draws from on his shockingly earnest new album Hello, It’s Me.

The album showcases an honest, vulnerable Chris Crofton, a renaissance man who cut his teeth as a comedian, musician and actor in New York City, before making a name for himself in his adopted dual hometowns of Nashville and Los Angeles. He’s also a man full of aesthetic contrasts and contradictions, whose love for Reagan-era chart-topper Lionel Richie is rivaled by that of Washington D.C. DIY post-hardcore flagbearers Fugazi.

“I like really sentimental music — I’m really sentimental — and I also like stuff that makes you wanna overthrow the government,” he says.

There is a dedicated cult of fans who love Crofton for his work as an edgy stand-up comedian. Vulgar, acutely analytical, swaggering, and self-deprecating - as a comic Crofton takes on topics ranging from bad sex, political and cultural decline and gluten-fueled urban gentrification. His razor-sharp wit and trademark curmudgeonly delivery have seen him sharing stages with party rockers Deer Tick and fellow funnymen like Neil Hamburger, Scott Thompson and Bob Odenkirk. He's acted as well, onstage in NYC experimental theater ptoductions, and in TV and film roles for projects as diverse as CMT’s sitcom Still the King and director Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers. AND Crofton has a regular gig as the advice columnist for Music City alternative weekly publication the Nashville Scene.

Crofton’s former Nashville-based power-rock outfit the Alcohol Stuntband, which channeled not-so-easy-listening influences like AC/DC, The Jesus Lizard and Fugazi, was also complicated. Punked-out anthems that seemed to celebrate dysfunctional relationships, drug-fueled all-nighters and hard drinking are actually revved-up blues exercises, describing the terrible consequences of that lifestyle.”

Onstage, and eventually offstage as well, Crofton realized he was hiding behind a persona, saying he was doing his “best Bon Scott” as a way of masking who he really was — an insecure alcoholic from Connecticut. “I used to call myself the Alcohol Stuntman,” he recalls. “It’s plain as the nose on my face that I was in a character, and I was protecting myself from something."

“I used to think that I could change the world with dirty rock songs,” Crofton continues. “But I feel like, really, love songs, if they’re genuine, hold more importance...Those songs remind me that what is at the bottom of everything is love and sincere relationships.”

At this point there’s little that could come out of Crofton’s mouth that his followers might find shocking, save perhaps for an album stacked track to track with unapologetically romantic, gorgeously heartfelt, sweetly and vulnerably crooned, punchline-free ballads about heartbreak and how finding and losing love is what makes a man feel alive.

“This record is the outcome of getting sober for me, because it’s the first time I was able to make a clear-headed, predetermined piece of art,” Crofton says, explaining how, in 2014, he penned focused, tonally singular 10-song set capturing his headspace at a time when sobering up saved his life, while a pivotal relationship had dissolved in the process.

“Once I wasn’t drinking I was...back to my young self,” he recalls. “Toward the end of my drinking I realized I was gradually becoming a stereotype - and possibly a statistic…I was falling apart. I had gotten really lost. And then I had this wonderful relationship that didn’t work out, but during that relationship I quit drinking, and then when the relationship ended I was able to write the first adult songs I ever wrote. These are those songs.”

Of those songs, Crofton’s most proud of the twinkling, string-section-boasting “It’s all My Fault,” a reflective, ending-credits-to-sad-love-story confessional the singer says is the a better song than he’d ever thought he could write. “It’s the prettiest song I ever wrote. That’s what I felt I’d been working up to for 15 years.” It’s also worth noting that Crofton wrote the opening line, “Hello, It’s Me,” to the album’s title track a few years before pop superstar Adele did. “She got it out first because she probably had her life together better [than I did],” Crofton jokes.

Crofton cut the album in an inspired two-day session at Louisville’s La La Land Recording Studio with producer Kevin Ratterman. He was backed by a trio of Nashville cats: drummer Matt Hearn (Bully), bassist (and brother-in-law) Dave Dawson and keyboardist James “Matt” Rowland (Jamie Lidell.) The recordings were rounded out by guest vocalist Katie Toupin (Houndmouth) and lead guitar from My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and Houndmouth’s Matt Myers. They had to work fast, as Crofton was plotting a move from Nashville to L.A. at the time. Ratterman, best known for his work with the likes of My Morning Jacket, Ray LaMontagne, White Reaper and many others, had previously produced two Alcohol Stuntband records, so he certainly didn’t expect a sober Crofton to show up on his studio doorstep with an acoustic guitar and a set of stunning soft rock songs.

But the producer was happy to oblige Crofton in making Hello ‘s should-be-hits. The wistful, depressively whimsical “UFO Hunters,” the barroom-ready waltz “Find Me in the Bar,” and the lonely country weeper “Numbers Game” glimmer with an open, Laurel Canyon-ready resplendence that makes them sound at home alongside the ’70s, AM-radio-gold, countrypolitan story songs of Neil Diamond and John Denver - staples that the singer fondly remembers listening to on car rides with mom as a kid. “That music is burned on my brain,” he says. “It still takes me to a very wide-eyed place.”

“I’m a romantic person,” Crofton goes on, noting how, even at his most debauched, his true sentimental side was only barely buried beneath the surface. “I sat in the same smoky bar with a whiskey and a pint in front of me, listening to Rod Stewart’s version of ‘First Cut Is the Deepest’ on the jukebox for, like, eight years straight in the 1990s thinking I was the star of the world’s saddest movie - and I loved it. I romanticize everything. At its worst, this leads to acting like Charles Bukowski, and I think at its best it means trying to communicate love in a way that you think maybe will reach people.”

Hello, It’s Me shows Chris Crofton at his best.
Venue Information:
The Teragram Ballroom
1234 West 7th Street
Los Angeles, CA, 90017
http://www.teragramballroom.com/