Houndmouth — Mike Myers Interview
Matt Myers of Houndmouth Talks Bringing An Album Home and the Many Meanings of ‘Good For You’
Houndmouth have recently released their fourth album, Good For You, and taken a pretty sharp turn by recording it entirely at the Green House, a large home location that’s also their rehearsal space, which contrasts strikingly with their previous album’s LA studio experience. They couldn’t be happier with the results, capturing moods and sounds with the help of their producer Brad Cook, and also recording several live play videos from the same location for fans to enjoy. The songs themselves run the gamut in terms of tones and ideas, but they have a fresh sense of energy and a directness that feels very much at home with the band.
We spoke with songwriter, guitarist, and vocalist Matt Myers about this turn of events and why it’s been life-changing for him to record the album in this way. We discussed his painterly approach to crafting lyrics over time and how time constraints for creating a few songs for this album became a fun challenge with meaningful results.
Americana Highways: Houndmouth has just come off a bunch of shows, and you’ve got another group coming up. Was that the most shows you’ve played in a long time?
Matt Myers: Yes, there was a string of six days where we played seven shows consecutively and I ended up having to cancel one because it was just too much.
AH: I imagine it must be like going to a restaurant after two years of no restaurants and ordering way too much food.
MM: Yes! Exactly.
AH: Does the new album come purely from writing and recording, or was there live play development for them?
MM: We didn’t have a chance to test out the album, so that’s another reason we are really proud of the record. We really had to trust our instincts and simply the songs down to the best versions we could make. We were already recording the album when the pandemic hit, and then we had to figure out a way to finish the album. Now, our touring is focused on doing the new album plus a few old songs to make a good show.
AH: How were your recording experiences different this time around?
MM: We recorded this album at our place in New Albany, our rehearsal space. It’s a nice, big house that’s really cool and old. Our producer came to meet us there, Brad Cook, after he had heard some demos. There was really no plan. We asked him what he thought of making the album at the Green House, our spot. He said it was totally doable, so our engineer flew in, John Ashley. We set up shot and followed his lead.
We’d never recorded with this much intention and care before. On our first record, we went to a church that had been converted into a studio to record, and on our second record, we went to Dave Cobb’s house, which was relaxed, but studio-esque. For our third record, we were all around studios in LA, and I think that really turned us off doing things in professional studios.
AH: I guess that set you up for a good experience doing Good For You at home.
MM: Exactly, this was bringing it all back home. This was where we grew up making music. It helped the writing process. It was awesome.
AH: How much did you separate out the tracks while recording the album versus trying to do live takes?
MM: It was mostly separating out the tracks, but there was some of both. I would play guitar to a click track, then sing over it. The songs were all written on the acoustic guitar, so then they’d have the most natural feel with the vocal take. Everything else could then complicate that.
AH: It’s great that you were able to get good enough sound in a domestic environment.
MM: Yes, I think it works better. I’ve always liked the more human aspect of music as opposed to an electronic feel or the more pristine. I like sounds beating off each other and odder sounding things.
AH: I get that sense from a lot of your work, that you have a foot in both worlds. As you said, there’s a lot of intention here with the recordings, but at the same time, you’ve released these really cool videos of live performances of these songs from the same house. Is it the same room?
MM: Yes, it’s even the same room. The way that the band approaches music has always been more inherently reckless. [Laughs] And energetic. If we are recording ourselves, we’re usually just drinking beers and hanging out, kind of throwing stuff out to see where it lands. But when Brad’s there, it’s very tranquil and we’re having more in-depth conversations. It was an awesome approach to music for us.
AH: Fans benefit from that because they can listen to the studio album with headphones and really dig in, and they can also be with you in those live performances.
MM: Absolutely. I would have never made an album like this otherwise, and the total approach to everything has changed my life.
AH: Did it make you feel like the lines between your work and your life were more blended?
MM: It’s crazy to say, but yes. As long as I can remember, being in this business, I’ve felt like I’ve been living two lives. I just turned 33 and this year has been the most fluid of any time in my life. It’s like everything has synced up.
AH: A lot of people get more rigid as they get older in trying to separate their musical life from their personal life, just as a way of keeping things on track, but this sounds like the opposite.
MM: Yes, that’s what Golden Age was for me. It was a rigid time in my life. There was a lot of ego shit to be dealt with, whereas this album was just a nice experience with awesome people.
AH: It’s funny because the album title kind of resonates with this topic.
MM: I think so, yes! Writing is so funny. A lot of time, I write songs and I won’t really know exactly what stuff means, because it’s like painting a little bit. I’m trying to put the right stroke here, which is the right word or syllable. And you won’t really know until the end. But yes, Good For You has a lot of meanings.
AH: Listening to these new songs, I often felt that there was more than one story in each song, with multiple bits and pieces that fit together in different ways. Though the narrative and storytelling aspects of these songs seem to be getting attention, I felt there were multiple narratives involved. Am I wildly off-base?
MM: I think that you’re spot on. It’s kind of all over the place, but it kind of flows together.
AH: You were talking about painting, is it like Impressionism or Pointillism where you have to step back to get the complete picture? Then you get the total vibe.
MM: Yes. I’m so glad that you said that, because I don’t know how to address the idea that there’s a narrative when people ask me what the songs mean. I can’t explain that.
AH: I think people go for talking about narrative because of the texture of detail that you put in from the outside world. Then people start trying to create one coherent story from it, but the audience could actually create their own story out of some of these details.
MM: Yes. This is giving me more confidence for future interviews! I’m not crazy, either.
AH: It seems like mood is the main thing. Do you get a feeling for mood when you’re working on certain songs and then it’s about staying true to that?
MM: Absolutely. It’s not even a matter of trying to stay true. It’s just that there is a vibe and it’s finding the words that go with. But it doesn’t happen in a day. It takes months to piece it together. Every time I sit down to start the process, I don’t know if I’m even going to be able to do it. I don’t know if I’m going to finish the process or if it’ll turn out okay.
AH: Wow, that’s heavy! Is there a lot of material that’s fragmentary that stays around and you just hope that someday it’ll be finished, or is there a time limit where you just move on?
MM: No, I feel like I can hold onto stuff for years and years, and still access the feeling that came from. For example, there was the little guitar riff for “McKenzie.” I had that for like three years, and I said, “I’m just going to wait on this one until the right phrase or syllable works.” It was the same with the song, “Good For You.” I had the guitar part for like five years. I said, “I know there’s something good here.” So I just sat on it and chilled.
AH: That’s a lot of patience! That is even more like painting, since people often take a really long time over paintings. With “McKenzie,” that one is a little simpler in terms of narrative for people who are looking for a story. It seems to focus on one period of time or one memory.
MM: Yes, I realized that was the story because we were working against a deadline on that one. We had seven songs done and we had to record three more, “McKenzie,” “Las Vegas,” and “Ride or Die.” I think I made a more linear story with “McKenzie” because of time constraints and wanting to put out a record this year.
AH: Do you think the realities of the pressure got your engine going?
MM: I liked it. I have the freedom to create any time without those constraints, so when it happens, it’s almost like a game. I had fun.
AH: “Las Vegas” ended up being one of your really big songs on this album, too, and you chose to make a video for it.
MM: That was the one the label chose for the single, but I think other songs could have done as well, or better.
AH: Using a place name gives it a certain vibe, but I found the lyrics challenging because they upend feelings or assumptions people might have about Las Vegas.
MM: Absolutely. Things weren’t synced up, but that was a purposeful thing.
AH: It’s very high-energy, too.
MM: It is very high-energy and that’s attractive. I’m not complaining.
AH: Did you like wearing a driver’s suit for the video?
MM: It was the most natural-feeling thing that I’ve ever put on my body! [Laughs] It altered my personality. It was great. That was Shane [Cody’s] helmet from when he would drive a moped around town. We chose a racetrack because we didn’t want to hit it right on the nose with Vegas stuff. We went to the Sportsdrome in Kentucky with a camera crew and a bunch of cars. There wasn’t a whole lot of thought put into it, which is how I like to operate sometimes.
AH: Have you played that one live, now?
MM: We’ve just started opening with it. It kicks things off pretty good. It’s good for a Friday or Saturday night.
AH: What about “Make It To Midnight”? I would be surprised if that doesn’t become a favorite. It has a really strong feel to it and you’ve also released a live play video which kind of shows how you all feel about the song when playing together.
MM: That’s my favorite track.
AH: There’s something so universal about trying to reach a goal or trying to keep one’s energy up. It could be about being young trying to stay up and party, but I think we all have that feeling sometimes of having to push ourselves to go a little further.
MM: It’s like everybody all the time. It is the society that we are living in, and it’s an insane way to live.
AH: You are so correct. Also, with the pandemic, the exhaustion is something we’ve had to push against the entire time just to function normally.
MM: Yes, totally. I started writing that one before the pandemic, but for me, the pandemic was a huge surrender, in a way. The song also has inherent Mid-West vibes to me. When kind of painting the picture, it looks grey to me, with the overpass and powerlines. It’s also dark, almost like a murder-mystery. I always pictured a serial killer travelling.
AH: That’s hilarious in a very dark way. The isolation theme is there, but there’s also chosen isolation, like in the line, “Cut your old family ties.” It feels like there’s nothing but that moment.
MM: Yes, it doesn’t matter what anybody thinks. But you still “…kept your mother’s menthol eyes.” You still keep those traits. So nothing really matters, but you also can’t change who you are.
AH: “Miracle Mile” is a very different song. All of these songs are really different from each other. There’s a kind of positivity in there, but part of that’s more due to the sound, I think, with a stronger country or folk base to it.
MM: I feel like the positivity comes from a more playful energy there. It’s about the people we’ve met on the road. Not a lot of thought went into the words, really, since it was more off-the-cuff stuff.
AH: It made me think of people I’ve met through the years who seem to have a lot of things stacked against them in life, but they choose to maintain a certain low-grade optimism.
MM: It can also be kind of a dark trait, like bad people trying to be good.
AH: It did occur to me at one point that the person speaking might not be the most reputable person on Earth.
MM: Absolutely! There was a guy in Arkansas once who wanted to fight our tour manager, and all these years later, he still messages our tour manager. He carries all this rage with him. He was still pissed about something. I had a conversation with a buddy the other day, and I realized that an old boss of his was like his Black Knight in life. I told him that he needed to talk to a professional about this.
AH: We really can project this stuff.
MM: We do it unconsciously, and we don’t even know we’re doing it.
AH: Does writing a song do some good for you?
MM: Yes, especially when I bring a song to the guys, and they say, “You shouldn’t have a problem with this or this. This is cool. I can see why you want to work on this part.” Then everyone will dive into it. These are people I can really trust, and I value their opinion. Everybody’s time is invested, and we all care about the same goal.
Also, when I feel like I can’t write a song, I feel like I’ve lost a bit of myself, and I have to recenter myself. It’s like the outward projection of me centering myself when I finish a song. My confidence isn’t just dependent on me being able to write songs, but it does reassure me.
Find Houndmouth information here: https://www.houndmouth.com