Houndmouth’s Homecoming

Matt and Shane of Houndmouth cross a street
Matt Myers (left) and Shane Cody

FOR MANY MUSICIANS, “making it” conjures up images of Los Angeles recording studios and highly paid producers. Houndmouth lived that dream during the creation of their third album, Golden Age (2018), a record they now see as overproduced and underselling. The band that once played on Conan and The Late Show with David Letterman recently returned home to record a new one entirely in a 19th-century New Albany shotgun house. Good For You (2021) sounds reminiscent of the music fans first fell in love with. Because the songs were written and recorded here, it’s fitting that Houndmouth will perform them at the Nickel Plate District Amphitheater in Fishers on June 18 as part of a nationwide tour.

The band—led by cofounders Shane Cody (drums) and Matt Myers (guitars/vocals)—refers to Cody’s longtime family home in New Albany as the Green House because, well, the exterior of the house is green. While the building’s nickname may not showcase Houndmouth’s writing prowess, the band swears the house has a creative energy that inspires their storytelling lyrics and folksy sound. The Green House’s influence on Good For You is immediately apparent upon listening to the album. The first words uttered on the record, “chartreuse and chandeliers,” pay homage to the home’s gold-green wallpaper and ornate light fixtures.

In the Green House, portraits of Cody’s great-great-great-grandparents hang above a drum kit, electric guitars rest against a large fireplace, and a soundboard has replaced the dining room table. Cody says the home feels like a Midwestern museum that happens to house a bunch of audio gear, the old books on the wall contrasting sharply with the recording technology.

While Good For You is the first full-length album the band recorded there, the Green House has been pivotal throughout the band’s career. Built in 1857, it first belonged to Cody’s grandparents, but has since acted as a rehearsal space, a storage unit for tour equipment, a home to multiple members, and now a fully functioning recording studio. Myers met Cody when he visited the Green House for a casual jam session. Once the band formed, they recorded their first EP there—minus the extensive audio equipment now adorning the home.

“It’s always been our home base,” Cody says. “I don’t think we would be where we are without it. There’s something magical about it. It’s just like our little tree fort.”

Houndmouth’s return to home base was intentional and, as many of their longtime fans would argue, necessary. The Hoosier band proved susceptible to L.A.’s allure after they signed their first major label contract with Reprise Records to produce Golden Age in 2018. But that album’s ’80s pop sound alienated the fan base. Reprise quickly dropped the band after the “complete flop,” in Myers’s words. Houndmouth needed a reset.

The band has been candid about the underperformance of Golden Age, releasing a tongue-in-cheek video titled “People Love ‘This Party.’” In the video, a narrator reads hate comments reacting to “This Party,” a single from the album. The cheery song plays in the background as comments including “genuinely dejecting,” “ruined my morning,” “good job evolving into a laptop,” and “seriously not even listenable” fill the screen. Houndmouth also poked fun at the album’s production over social media, tweeting, “Everybody’s third album has drum machines.”

“We had major label money and we just went for it,” Cody says. “Obviously, we went a little too hard.”

The departure of Golden Age from Houndmouth’s usual Americana style was only part of the identity crisis the band was facing. Katie Toupin, one of the band’s founding members, left to pursue a solo career shortly before that recording. Her vocal harmonies on hits such as “Sedona” (with nearly 200 million streams on Spotify) had been a huge part of their sound.

“The only thing I can relate being in a band to is marriage,” Cody says. “You’re gonna have good days. You’re gonna have bad days. You’re gonna have fights. You’re gonna cry. You’re gonna laugh. But there’s a love that’s deeper than just regular friendship.”

The band’s 2019 decision to return to Indiana following the departure of Toupin and disappointment of Golden Age extended longer than they bargained for due to COVID-19. Cody says the time spent in New Albany, where both he and Myers live with their wives and children, forced them to examine some critical questions as both musicians and humans. Namely, “What are we doing this for?”

Without the sleek recording studios or roaring crowds, Cody says every musical decision turned painstakingly intentional. Unable to test out new songs at live shows to gauge their potential, they were forced to create the music they wanted to create pure of outside influence. The stark difference between Good For You’s minimalism and Golden Age’s elaborate production is rivaled only by the difference in the two albums’ recording processes.

“Being in a huge studio in Los Angeles, after a while, you’ll get comfortable,” Cody says. “But you’ll never be as comfortable as you are when you’re at home. When you’re comfortable is when you can express yourself the most.”

The themes of Good For You reflect the band’s return to Indiana, with quintessentially Midwestern characters and places popping up across the songwriting. Louisville radio host Kyle Meredith of WFPK has covered Houndmouth for years and was one of the first journalists to interview the group. He says the latest album feels familiar to him due to the descriptive, distinctly Midwestern songwriting.

“These people that inhabit this new record—they’re Midwesterners themselves,” Meredith says. “They’re the people we recognize as our friends.”

The radio host and band have kept in touch, and Meredith’s first in-person interview after the pandemic was with Houndmouth—at the Green House. He has followed the band for more than a decade because he believes they possess an unusual talent for songwriting.

“They’re just great storytellers,” he says.

What’s more, Meredith says he’s impressed with the band’s ability to put on dynamic live performances even as the number of original band members on tour has dwindled down to two. While Houndmouth released an official statement in 2016 announcing Toupin’s departure, fans have been left to speculate regarding bassist Zak Appleby’s absence from the latest tour. Appleby recorded Good For You alongside Cody and Myers, but has not participated in live shows, a fact the band has yet to formally acknowledge. On a podcast with Dean Delray, Myers and Cody said Appleby chose not to tour in order to be home with his kids. When IM asked the band’s press contact to comment on Appleby’s absence from the tour and status as a band member, they ignored the question and listed the current touring band: Myers, Cody, Sam Filiatreau on bass, and Caleb Hickman on keyboards.

Despite the turnover in members, Meredith remains confident in Houndmouth, and he’s not alone. Dualtone Records signed Houndmouth to its label in November 2020, shortly after the band was dropped from Reprise Records. Signing a band dropped from a major label due to a poorly received album might seem risky, but Dualtone president Paul Roper says he knew Houndmouth was the right fit. In fact, he had known for a long time.

Roper visited the Green House in 2011, before Houndmouth had even released an EP. He had seen videos of the band performing and knew he wanted to work with them. Houndmouth ultimately signed with Rough Trade Records instead, but Roper remained a Houndmouth fan over the next decade. Upon learning they were looking for a new label a couple of years ago, Roper seized the opportunity.

When asked if signing Houndmouth after Golden Age felt like a leap of faith, Roper’s answer is simple: No. “They were making the music they were passionate about and creatively felt they needed to make,” he says. “That’s always been the ethos of what our company does. We give the artists creative freedom to do what they want.”

Roper says it’s natural for Houndmouth’s sound to evolve with time, but the core of what makes the band special remains the same. To him, Houndmouth stands out because of their ability to put on a phenomenal live show. “I would just encourage people to go see the band live,” he says. “That’s what they do best. If folks are skeptical because of Golden Age or whatever, they shouldn’t be. They should come back out and see this band perform, because that’s where the magic is.”

Roper first witnessed that magic more than a decade ago at the Green House. Now, watching Houndmouth’s “Live from The Green House” video series (below) from October 2021, he insists the greatness of the people and the place has not faded over time.

Four albums, three record labels, and a couple of departed band members later, Cody says his proudest accomplishment from a decade with Houndmouth is being able to support his family while pursuing what he loves. The lyric he says most resonates with him comes from the title track of the new album and hints at his Hoosier family values and disillusionment with ambition:

“You want a whole lot and that’s okay, too / But if you want nothing at all, well then good for you.”