Release the hounds
The Hounds Below, and how Jason Stollsteimer can't stop talking about them
Published: October 3, 2012
As Hofman points out, YouTube pretty much is the new MTV. Many users visit the site for the primary purpose of checking out bands, either through live footage or with the band's latest music video. The downside to that is there is simply so much footage on there, much of it shot using a damned cellphone, that it's difficult to find the good stuff. The upside, besides being able to find pretty much anything if you dig long enough, is that band's don't have to compromise their vision to get on there. In his past life, Stollsteimer had to do a little compromising.
"The Von Bondies did CD:UK [a now-defunct British teen music show] where you don't get to play live at all, but I had to sing live," the singer says. "So the music was perfect, but my vocals were not. I was so nervous. Our managers said that it was a big deal, and we were No. 8 in the UK at the time with 'C'mon C'mon.' I hated that. I felt like I was selling out. Or at least, what I thought was selling out."
And besides selling out there's crap to put up with. Like "meet and greets."
"Meet and greets were sometimes weird," he says. "You have radio winners who have won the award of meeting us, but they were often literally calling about something else. 'I don't know your band, but do you know if Dave Matthews tickets are still available?' One out of every hundred people you meet at a meet and greet is like that. I like meeting kids after the show that have been to the show. I don't like people who ask for autographs before the show and don't come to the show. Then you see them on eBay. Boston was the place. These two guys would ask for autographs, they'd never come in, and a week later we'd see the picture that we signed, an 8-by-10, on eBay. The last thing I signed something for them, I wrote 'not for eBay' on it, and I saw it on eBay. That was the 'suck it up' time."
The Hounds Below are, by their own account, in the midst of a creative whirlwind. The debut album, You Light Me Up in the Dark, is about to drop, and the band already has songs written for the next record. They can't, or don't want to, stop working, and Stollsteimer says that the sound is constantly evolving.
"It's getting more tomorrow than yesterday," he says. "I feel like our new songs are dark while still being extremely poppy, which is what I love. I feel like our music is dark, with a really strong pop hook underneath. That's how I look at life. I'm a pretty goofy guy, but I'm sinister at times. When I look at the backdrop of a beautiful sunset, I think of something the opposite of that. I watch True Blood a lot."
Even on the debut album itself, the sound and style ducks and dives and shifts gears around the central idea that guitar-driven rock music doesn't have to be played at 1,000 mph at top volume with feedback and shouty vocals layered on top. Subtlety is more than OK, and melody is always welcome. There are hints of the Arcade Fire in there, despite the fact that there are only four people in the Hounds Below. The band knows how to be lush and emotional, but it is not at all afraid of the word pop. Stollsteimer has found his footing as a vocalist. No longer the screaming garage guy from the Bondies days or the Roy Orbison-like crooner from the early Hounds period, he now seems comfortable singing, in his own voice, and allowing the natural passion he feels for the varied songs to shine.
"I don't think it sticks to one genre," says Hofman. "We're writing what blows out of us right now."
Despite their success, the Von Bondies only recorded three albums, and the final one didn't get properly released. He's hungry for more and expects it this time.
"With this lineup, I think that these guys are in it for the long haul and we're all work horses when it comes to the idea of being in a band. We're not just here to party and get laid. If that happens it'd be awesome. My fiancée would be happy if that happened more often."
If they're not here to party and get laid, what are they here for? Maybe to be a family, as Hofman explains it.
"Jason's the poppa, the big daddy, of the group, but we all take care of business," says Hofman. "We all do something on the side which has something to do with the business of the music. So not everything is in Jason's hands. He has a lot of the connections, but we're doing a lot of the work that needs to be done. We all do our fair share."
"Name one person besides Chris Martin in Coldplay," says Stollsteimer. "How can you not? They're one of the biggest bands in the world. I didn't want to be in a band where you only knew one person. We would get photos taken and these guys were out of focus. I'm the only one in focus and I look the worst. A photo shoot or a video shoot is a good example. They're going to shoot how they want to, and the end product we don't have much control over. Let's say the director tells these three to dress all in black and me to dress in hot pink. I'm going to stand out. We represent our city and state. We're all from Michigan, though I can't say Detroit. There's the whole Michigan pride thing, and we're part of that now. With the Von Bondies, I never felt that way. I always pretended we were an American band, not a Michigan band, for fear of getting lumped into the garage rock scene."
If hard work can get the band members equal recognition, then they have nothing to worry about.
"I'm thinking the new record will be done by summer time next year, so we'll have it out around the same time next year," says Stollsteimer, implicitly saying that the disc about to be released is already the old one, in the band's eyes. "If we have a month off, I'll get in the studio and at least get rough demos down immediately. We made two videos so far, and we're doing two more in one weekend. I've never done that. It's a big deal, although they're not going to get on TV any more. People that are inspired by our music to make videos are just as inspiring to us."
Stollsteimer is visibly excited about the pending release of You Light Me Up in the Dark and the requisite party.
"The Hand Grenades are opening, only one band," he says. "We'll have Passalacqua then Phantasmagoria DJ-ing. The Loving Touch has a full stage as of two months ago, and they've hosted most of my favorite band's CD release shows now, including Fawn. They've just bought a new PA. They do one show a week, so it's a great place to play because it's not overplayed. The Hand Grenades are the best vocal band in Detroit. They're like the Strokes with three-part harmonies."
Stollsteimer, whose humility will perhaps be surprising to some, can't resist big-ing up his boys one more time.
"You're only as good as the worst member of your band," the singer said before we wrapped up. "Which would technically be me now, on guitar. That's a good thing. I'm the worst musician in the band, guitar-wise, I mean I can sing, but that's awesome. I feel like we're leaps and bounds ahead of other bands I've been in, in that regard."
And that's just about that. We all shuffle out of the park, the four members of the Hounds Below filling the width of the sidewalk, almost arm-in-arm like a freaky Ferndale version of the Monkees.
Brett Callwood writes City Slang for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
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