Release the hounds
The Hounds Below, and how Jason Stollsteimer can't stop talking about them
Published: October 3, 2012
Matt Hofman is the baby of the band at 21, though you wouldn't know it when talking to him. The talented bassist displays a maturity way beyond his years, despite the fact that he dropped out of Wayne State University to play with this band.
"I was in college, but I had to stop because we had some good things coming our way," says Hofman. "I was playing in bands around Detroit, like the Kodaks and the Good Things. I was working in Royal Oak, trying to live a normal student's life. A friend of mine gave me a phone call, saying that he knew a guy who was about to go to tour Europe, hit him up on Facebook. I was listening to the Von Bondies since eighth grade and loved them, so I thought it would be a great opportunity for me. I tried out, made it and here I am. So basically social networking helped me."
"Matt reminds me what it was like to be young and fertile," adds Stollsteimer. "Matt is the most energetic person on stage. He has this way of floating on stage. Not like a fairy, but he closes his eyes and loses himself on stage which is what I want, but you can't tell somebody to do that. He jumps around and we randomly run into each other because both of our eyes are closed. It's like when you close your eyes to kiss."
Drummer Griffin Bastian, 29, had been playing around town with electro-rockers the Macpodz.
The aforementioned Ben Collins of the original Hounds gave him the tip that Stollsteimer was looking for musicians. "That was right around the time that the Macpodz were taking a break. So it was good timing. I was going to go to school and do freelance and session work on the side. I enrolled and everything, and I almost paid for my classes but didn't. I couldn't have asked for better timing."
And then there's Skye Thrasher (and yes, that is his real name). The 29-year-old guitarist was living in a trailer in Grand Junction, about 30 miles west of Kalamazoo, when he joined up with the Hounds.
"I was playing in a couple of bands on the west side of the state," says Thrasher. "I was in Ohio with one of them, and one of my buddies said that he knew this guy Jason who was looking for a guitar player and they want to do a lot of touring. He gave me Jason's number. I got home, got on the YouTube and watched a video of the Hounds at Spaceland in LA, playing 'Crawling Back to You.' That's what led me to want to try out, the fact that it wasn't necessarily rock 'n' roll, it was more laid back, more in the Pixies vibe, and I hadn't done anything like that so I was intrigued. I usually like dirty rock. One of the bands I was playing in was named Bastard Train. Trailer park rock. I did live in a trailer in Grand Junction, the trailer park, and meth, capital of the world. When you wake up and there's blood in the bathtub and meth in the sink, you know you had a party."
Quite. And if that's not enough debauchery for you, here's a little anecdote for the ladies. "One time in New York, it was a hot sweaty night and we'd been doing some drinking," says Hofman. "You rent a hotel room and can only have two beds to save on money. Jason and Griff share a bed, and Skye and I share a bed. We get there and are kinda drunk, we get naked down to our underwear, and we woke up back to back in the morning. I remember trying to move but I couldn't. There was this rough noise as our backs came apart. The temperature had cooled down in the night and all that sweat had solidified."
Mmmmm. Band members really don't get any closer than that. It takes a special sort of bro-ship to be OK with the memory of your combined sweat morphing you into a sort of Siamese musical duo. These guys are close, and that "all for one" mentality transfers over to the songwriting.
"I have really strong root ideas and sometimes I need to hear a section of it hammered out and played as a whole over and over again, just so I can mumble off melodies," Stollsteimer says. "No matter how good the music sounds, if it doesn't inspire me to write lyrics and melody, I can't do it. There are some good riffs we've thrown out, just because I couldn't think of anything. Matt's the first to start playing along, then Skye comes in. Sometimes I tell them to save a part, don't show the hand. Griffin is a really quick study. He's not happy with his drum part for a long time though. He'll write something that I like, but he's just trying stuff. I basically organize what they throw into the picture. They don't know what I'm singing. I don't write lyrics sometimes for months. ... Thom Yorke [of Radiohead] doesn't have lyrics for his songs at first. I know what the melodies are 100 percent though."
The Hounds Below are already on the receiving end of some hefty national attention. Very early in the band's life, they made an appearance on Last Call with Carson Daly after one of the producers, a Michigan native and Hounds fan, used his power for the good of a band. Just before that, the band was a hit at last year's South by Southwest.
But plenty of bands have had high hopes from an early surge. How does Stollsteimer expect to make lightning strike twice?
"I think the big thing is knowing that there is an audience for all different types of music, as dubstep and screamo and hardcore country and dub-folk has proved," the singer says. "No matter what kind of music it is, there's an audience so you don't have to worry about that. It's just being the best you can in that genre, and realizing what your shortcomings are. Hopefully there are very few. Knowing what your limits are at that point, and knowing what things you want to become your strong points. Here, there are very few weak points in the band. We have to go tour, and most bands don't want to go on tour anymore. These guys do, thank God. I think having everybody on the same page is important. If somebody's goal was to play Saturday Night Live, they'd be out of the band because it's probably not going to fucking happen. It's not something that you can work towards – it either happens or it doesn't. I've had people in the band who have said sentences like, 'I want to headline Lollapalooza.' That guy has lofty expectations. I want a band that's realistic, yet has a common goal. I think that's the sanest way to go about it. There are a lot of bitter, great musicians out there that have failed because they might have been aiming for Led Zeppelin status but it's fucking 2012. Led Zeppelin status doesn't exist anymore. Nobody has a private jet full of girls having sex with fish."
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