Release the hounds
The Hounds Below, and how Jason Stollsteimer can't stop talking about them
Published: October 3, 2012
The Hounds Below play the Loving Touch on Oct. 6 with the Hand Grenades, Passalacqua (DJ set) and Phantasmagoria (DJ set), 22634 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-546-3644.
The problem that the Hounds Below have faced since the band's birth a couple of years ago is not an uncommon one for a group containing musicians of a certain prominence at a certain stage in their careers. In fact, it's to be expected. Singer and guitarist Jason Stollsteimer, you see, was the frontman with the Von Bondies, the garage rockers who, for a while back in the early-to-mid 2000s, had some chart success around the world. The Von Bondies headlined big shows in cities like London (where this writer saw them) and played well up the bill at festivals like Lollapalooza and Reading. As the focal point, Stollsteimer became a bona fide star, no matter how hard he might struggle against the concept. Damn, he even made international news when he took a punch from Jack White during an altercation at the Magic Stick.
By early 2009, with the global interest in garage rock at a low ebb, the Von Bondies ceased to be, and the Hounds Below came to be (although Stollsteimer went through a number of lineup changes before settling on the current group). The thing is, in interviews or during photo and video shoots, writers, photographers and directors want to focus on the "name" singer and, for the most part, largely ignore the other three guys. Nothing new. Just ask David Bowie how easy it was to get Tin Machine seen as a real band. How many people were able to see past Paul McCartney in Wings? Past David Grohl in the Foo Fighters? "Noel Gallagher and his High Flying Birds"?
Not that Stollsteimer is Bowie or Macca, or even David Grohl or Noel Gallagher, but you get the idea.
For the record, the other three members of the Hounds Below are Griffin Bastian (drums), Mathew Hofman (bass) and Skye Thrasher (guitar), and, after sitting with the four men for 90 minutes at the Ferndale park where the guys have recorded their recent music videos, it is very obvious that this is very much a band.
Stollsteimer, now 34, is the leader; that much is clear even if he doesn't want it that way, but all four guys are integral to both the sound of the group and the nonmusical tasks necessary to keep it running.
It wasn't always that way though. As the Von Bondies were winding down in 2009, Stollsteimer played a show as Jason & the Hounds Below at the Magic Stick with a band that included Ben Collins of Lightning Love on guitar, Ben Luckett of the Readies on drums, and Molly Jean Schoen of, among others, the Decks, on bass. That band put out a self-titled EP that same year, officially the Hounds Below's first release.
"We did one show and learned a bunch of covers," says Stollsteimer. "There was a comic book that a fan had drawn, and that's where I got the name from. I was a superhero with no superpowers, but the dogs had powers."
As to the end of the Von Bondies, he says, "I was sick of not hearing myself sing and just having loud guitars in the Von Bondies. It didn't matter what I sounded like singing – the guitars were so loud and the drums were the focal point of the band live. Everything was just high energy. I wanted to have a band where the music and the vocals mattered, not just how fast, how hard or how energetic we could play."
Former Von Bondie Marcie Bolen concurs, telling the Metro Times' Bill Holdship during a Silverghost interview in 2008 that "I had enough trouble playing and just singing in unison in the Von Bondies. I could never hear myself onstage and when I hear myself on tape, I was always like, 'Omigod, I sound terrible!' ... In many ways, leaving them is kind of like a breakup. It's my past and I'm glad I did what I did. I have no regrets or anything. It was a great thing for me. I had lots of fun. But it just got to the point where I wanted to do my own thing."
The "local supergroup" version of the Hounds Below couldn't, and didn't, last long.
"Everybody had something going on, be it Lightning Love or something else," Stollsteimer says. "They were helping me out along the way. Everybody always had one foot out the door to go do their own thing. Even if this band had succeeded, they would have still been out the door. So I'm glad it didn't succeed early. I tell people now that the band started when this lineup came together."
For their repertoire, Stollsteimer says, "We dropped every song from our old set list. We now just do the album and a Pixies cover ["Where is My Mind"]. At festivals, we might throw in one old song. We were even going to change the band's name but we voted against it. That first EP has haunted us though, because people expect the Roy Orbison vocals that I was doing then. Still, I think they're usually pleasantly surprised."
The fun part of sitting with the Hounds Below though is that Stollsteimer will stress again and again that he wants each member to get equal attention, yet the guy can talk. He will happily admit it himself; if you let him, the singer will yammer on for hours. It's part of what makes him so affable, but at times during the interview it's at odds with what he wants to achieve. That's where the writer has to butt in and make sure the other dudes get a turn.
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