Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Interview: Hounds Below

“My name’s Jason and I’m a crooner from Detroit.”

Jason Stollsteimer “wanted a full change.” The 32-year-old Plymouth-raised singer/songwriter may still be best known as leader of the “C’mon, C’mon”-cutting Von Bondies, but now, he’s got a new house, a new life, a new lady and a new band.

The Hounds Below just released the Ghosts of a Loaded Gun EP and Stollsteimer meets me a day after “cutting off all the Von Bondie hair,” the first time he’s had a short, kempt doo in twenty years.

He’s also proud, now…to represent Michigan. Ten years ago, he’d stringently avoided publicizing the Von Bondies’ connection to Detroit on tours, now, as he takes the Hounds down to SXSW he’s spurred on by, -first, his new project’s main musical distinction (“…these songs can stand on their own…” with a more staid, stylized, back-to-roots-and-rockabilly-styled pop, “whereas before” with the garage/blues bluster of the Von Bondies, “it was all about high-energy, having fun with the audience and jumping off amps,”) and, -second, “Detroit needs a resurgence.”

And with three new players added, at least the Hounds have gotten their own resurgence.


Three years ago Stollsteimer was alone personally and musically; divorced, with his flagship band winding down.

“But I was happy in that strange way; I felt like shackles to do a certain style of music or act a certain way were off. I started playing acoustic guitar for the first time, to write. I actually got to sing not from an angry place. I could actually sit and pick my brain.”

Thus, he grew away from Stoogesy, surface-level howl’s and moved into a strange hybrid of crooning lounge pop with light shades of indie-rock and curious spills of country twang. Far from “garage,” this tract mined deeper, darkly swirled ballads, with thornier moods and offered a chance to indulge taking off on his most formative vocal influence, Roy Orbison.

Stollsteimer praised his latest line up, newer collaborators Gjon Gjavelini (bass) and Nick Adams (drums), with longtime Hound Ben Collins (guitar), for its open mindedness and work ethic.

He’s the first to admit he’s not the easiest to work with, but never before has he had as comparably ready-and-willing types as Gjavelini and Adams, (Collins will depart for personal reasons after SXSW). The band has and will continue to revolve member-wise, as Stollsteimer puts it, it’s staffed by the best suited, talent-wise and availability-wise, who “get it.”

“As of right now, Gjon and Nick get it. Gjon and Nick and Ben are there to make the songs deeper musically; my job is to paint the picture with words and melody.”

“(Hounds) was always supposed to be an outlet for me to deal with inner-issues with life, with no one else in mind.” The Von Bondies, he’d realized in 07, had long resorted to a quasi-solo-project. Hounds grows somewhat out of that same notion – and its members are those who best understand where Stollsteimer’s coming from…

Ask him, traveling on a plane, or while he’s touring through Austin, where-he’s-coming-from, and now, he’ll tell you… Detroit. And he’s excited to be crooning. But he’d be particularly excited if he could get a keyboardist and a 2nd guitarist – as the original Hounds-vision was set up to keep Stollstiemer from ever having to play guitar again – traditionally, crooner’s just don’t shred.

Ghosts…EP was recorded at Jim Diamond’s Ghetto Recorders, with Diamond splitting mixing duties with guitarist Collins. When they get back from SXSW (late March) they’ll get cracking on their first proper full-length, with newer songs that “are their own entity and not so era-based; the vocals still sound 1950’s but the music doesn’t.”

Gjon and Nick, he said, have helped “modernize-it up.” Also, they’ve opened up his eyes, and maybe made him less hasty. “I’ll get like a hundred song ideas in a month and I’ll keep, like, one of them, it’s sad. But, Gjon and Nick give me the confidence to bring back a song.” Some songs from four years back or older, are being realized with the new rhythm section. The key distinction from Von Bondies, “the music’s not as bashing.”

Keyboardist Will Yates (Zoos of Berlin / Pop Project) will accompany the band down to Texas. “Cumberland's Crumbling” is out now, as the lead single. Look for more recordings in late Spring / early Summer.

INFO + Hounds Live - 3/5 - at Magic Stick with Telekinesis

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