Roughly a week has passed since Houndmouth has played a string of hometown-ish shows, culminating in a Saturday evening performance for Louisville’s Forecastle featival. But it is the Sunday set apart from the band that has frontman Matt Myers talking. That placed him in the company of a multi-genre band organized by Louisville Orchestra conductor Teddy Abrams that allowed a series of guest vocalists, Myers being one, to sing songs that are purposely not their own.
Myers’ picks were the obscure Neil Young gem “Motion Pictures,” Tom Petty’s ultra poppish “Don’t Come Around Here No More” and, by special request, Billy Ray Cyrus’ country-pop dance staple “Achy Breaky Heart.”
“‘Achy Breaky Heart’ was my fiancé’s request,” Myers remarked. “She said, ‘You’re in Louisville with the conductor of the Louisville Orchestra and an amazing band. You have to play ‘Achy Breaky Heart.’ We were killin’ it, too. People started line dancing.”
The Forecastle weekend was one of the initial pushes to introduce a new Houndmouth lineup, a new album and, to a degree, a new sound. It prefaced, by about three weeks, the release of the New Albany band’s third album, “Golden Age.” The recording whittled the core Houndmouth lineup down to three members — Myers, bassist/vocalist Zak Appleby and drummer/vocalist Shane Cody — following the departure of keyboardist/vocalist Katie Toupin. But the Houndmouth formation playing Forecastle was seven members strong, incorporating a pair of saxophonists (holdovers from a previous tour) to expand the band’s stage sound.
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Here’s the curious part, though. Horns weren’t featured on “Golden Age,” a record that took Houndmouth into bold pop territory inhabited by synth-savvy orchestration and dance-friendly beats.
“I don’t think it was really the result of a conscious decision to change something that would interfere with the music we were making,” Myers said. “That never came up.
“We just didn’t have to abide by any rules this time and could take our time. Like the song ‘Black Jaguar’ (a wild guitar/synth mashup confection from “Golden Age”). We recorded that six different ways and put them all together at the same time. Then we started muting certain ones and finding combinations of tracks, so we got all these varying moods that go through a song. It was like, ‘We’ve got time. Nothing is impossible.”
While many initial reviews of “Golden Age” viewed the album’s overt pop accents as abrupt changes from its initial band sound, there were definite hints of what was coming within the more rockishly pop works from Houndmouth 2015’s sophomore album, “Little Neon Limelight.” Among those tunes was the summery and spry “Say It,” which doubled as a performance highlight of the Forecastle set.
“See, I didn’t think it was that big of a deal, either,” Myers said. “Then all of a sudden everybody, like, flipped out. We’ve always been kind of interested in this sound, in doing songs this way. Finally, we were afforded the luxury.
Houndmouth spent over two years promoting “Little Neon Limelight.” It was actually during its final stages of touring behind the record that the band first began using horns onstage.
“There was no real reason to add them,” Myers said. “They just sounded great and it helped us out, especially in touring behind ‘Little Neon Limelight’ for so long. By the end there, by the last four months of touring behind that record for 2 ½ years, we needed something to get us through. That happened to be saxophones. “Now we’ve come back with this new record and there are no saxophones on it. So we’re like, ‘You guys have got to learn some new stuff.’”
When Houndmouth began to make waves outside of its native New Albany and its considerable fanbase across the Ohio River in Louisville with its 2012 indie album “From the Hills Below the City,” its earthy, homemade sounding folk, pop and roll was labeled as Americana. Those still clinging to that tag are likely to be the ones to be the most resistant for the synth-laden pop soundscapes of “Golden Age.”
“That word ‘Americana’ means a lot to me because The Band kind of created that thing. Then we would tour around and see everybody doing Band covers and it became this whole big (expletive) of Americana. Once you’ve labeled something, that’s what it is.
And that’s just insane. If somebody is labeled as pop music, their world is endless because pop music is such a wide genre. So terms like ‘folk revival,’ ‘alt-blues,’ ‘alt-country’ and ‘Americana,’ they’re just labels.
“It feels great, though, that we worked hard on this new record and know that we have a bunch of work ahead for us. I mean, in the end, I just want to watch more good movies, listen to more good music and figure it all out. “
Houndmouth is the headliner for the outdoor concert that includes performances by Liz Cooper & the Stampede, C2 & The Brothers Reed, Frederick The Younger.
If you go
When: Doors open at 5 p.m., show at 6 p.m., Aug. 25
Where: Outdoor at Manchester Music Hall, 899 Manchester St..