When Drive by Truckers arrives at Cain's Ballroom this Thursday night, Jan. 24, most Tulsa fans know what to expect. Although bassist Shonna Tucker departed the group in late 2011 to focus on her own project and guitarist Jason Neff recently left the group, the Truckers continue on with Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley at the helm.
There's no cause for alarm as the group has always been a shifting entity and has weathered a number of personnel changes over the years. If anything, the current lineup of Hood and Cooley with Brad Morgan on drums, Jay Gonzalez on keys and guitars, and Matt Patton on bass has got the band playing leaner and meaner than ever. Still riding high on the critical acclaim of its last album, GoGo Boots, the bands vaults headlong into 2013 with another string of shows and plans to head back into the studio this year to work on its next opus, as well as a re-release of its long out-of-print 2000 live album, Alabama Ass Whuppin'.
With a flurry of activity and the loss of the band's close friend, Craig Lieske, last week, Hood and Cooley weren't available to chat about the current tour, but I did get to catch up with Matt Myers of Houndmouth, the hot young band that Drive By tabbed to open this string of shows.
As it happens, Houndmouth just released its self-titled debut EP on Rough Trade Records in August after forming in 2011 and the group has already been gathering a strong response.
When asked about how the group came together, Myers said that he and Katie Toupin had been playing together as an acoustic folk duo (The St. James Hotel), but didn't find it gratifying. "I had played in some Motown cover bands with Zak [Appleby, on bass] in high school and Shane [Cody, drummer] and moved back to town, so we all started playing together. We put out the first song 'Penitentiary' and got some write-ups and it all pretty much took off from there."
Of course, it takes more than a couple good write-ups to land a record deal with Rough Trade and the band's debut EP proves that "Penitentiary" was no fluke. Sure, the group's folk background comes into play, but as Myers said, "Once we plug in, the folk kind of goes away."
What's left behind is a classic rock sensitivity that goes beyond these kids' years. Elements of The Band and Neil Young sneak up on you, adding an extra punch to tunes that float upon melancholy harmonies of all four members singing. It's Toupin's voice, however, that transcends when she takes the lead, drawing comparisons to contemporaries like The Head and the Heart or Civil Wars. Once the band's grit kicks in, however, you know there's something else at work here.
When discussing influences, Myers said, "For me, it's always been Randy Newman -- and a lot of James Brown," which explains his lyrical turns. "I also really got into Bob Dylan -- he's just peerless with words," he added. "I didn't really get into The Band that much, though until I read that Dylan had played with them and then we all really got into them."
When discussing the writing process, however, Myers said that he doesn't write much when he's listening to anything particular. "I try to recluse myself a little bit, so I don't end up sounding like whoever I'm listening to when I write," he said. "Actually, we all kind of retreat and try not to listen to much outside music when we're writing so it doesn't affect our sound."
What ends up coming out is a gritty Americana that blends folk and classic rock with a slightly soulful croon, all of which coincides with the band's upbringing and roots in southern Indiana. Without many venues in southern Indiana, however, the band largely built its chops playing in Louisville, Ky. -- a music scene that caters well to the band's more lyrical and songwriter-oriented approach.
With the EP released in August, Houndmouth departed on its first national tour with Drag the River in the fall, taking the band up and down the East Coast and throughout the Midwest.
That was quite an inaugural road experience for the group, but they're primed and ready for more. The band's current tour saw them play a few shows with Lucero before hooking up with Drive by Truckers for a week of shows that bring them to Cain's Ballroom this Thursday evening. The band's gritty sound makes for a nice complement, leading into the Truckers' more soulful, southern rock vibe. Lyrically, however, both are on a similar plain, drawing out stories of despair and redemption. They make a good pair.
Looking forward, Myers said that Houndmouth already has its full length debut album completed, with a release date yet to be set, but likely to arrive before the summer. In the meantime, the band is enjoying the attention it is receiving for its debut and continuing to build its live chops while on the road.
An appearance at SXSW is already confirmed and on the books, a good sign that we'll be hearing much more from the band before the year is over, especially as the label gets behind the debut and keeps them on the road with acts like Drive by Truckers.
If you're looking to get a glimpse of this year's rising stars while getting your southern rock and soul fix, you won't want to miss this Thursday night's Drive by Trucker's show. Just make sure to arrive early in order to catch the opening act and get a preview of what you'll likely be hearing more of later in the year.
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