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Handsome Hound

Single premiere! "Carina" from folk-rockers Handsome Hound

Handsome Hound will be taking the main stage at Black Cat May 18th to premiere their new album. Supporting acts include Dupont Brass and Lauren Calve.

Urban folk-rock, is that a thing? Probably. The young professionals in Handsome Hound certainly seem committed to making it work. Their latest track, “Carina”, from their upcoming album Mountain on Fire is the latest intentionally rural sound to come from DC's young professionals. The tune's wholesome, folksy vibe places it in the category of other DC artists perhaps inspired by the city's geographical proximity to both the grinding urban centers of the east coast and the somewhat idealized rural population centers that lie not too far south of the DC line.

The song itself is quite well constructed. A lyrically clever song about a failing relationship, the tune drives inexorably towards its end, refusing to get bogged down in the somber tropes which typically define songs on this subject. Twangy guitar arpeggios keep the energy moving through the warm singing on the verses. Bridges and choruses are punctuated by energetic horn stabs and drum fills, with the bass steadily holding it all in place.

In all, an energetic song start to finish. To learn more about the band, and some of its more existential aspects, I spoke with lead singers Cuchulain and Claire.

1. One of the biggest things that appeals to me about your music is the singing. When did you guys first start singing for fun? When did you start to take it more seriously?

Claire and Cuchulain both started singing in organized settings (i.e. outside the shower) for the first time in groups in college. Singing together and writing songs has always been a big part of our relationship, either just the two of us, or with other people in a group. After we had written a handful of tunes that we liked, we decided that we wanted to record them and put them out into the world. That's how our debut EP, I Guess We're Doing Alright came to be, and following it's release, that's how Handsome Hound became a band. That's when we started getting serious about singing and producing music.

Many of our favorite musicians use tight vocal harmonies - Johnny Cash and June Carter, Fleetwood Mac, Shovels and Rope, The Head and The Heart, etc. Perhaps you could call us vocal harmony "enthusiasts." In the process of making our forthcoming LP, Mountain on Fire, our album co-producer Chris Freeland said some of the harmonies on this track "Carina" reminded him of barbershop quartets, which might not be surprising because Cuchulain has sung in barbershop quartets in the past.

Beyond singing in harmony, we've also learned a lot about singing melody. Singing a song you've written over and over again really forces you to figure out how to make form support function, or how to use the way you're singing underline the message you're trying to communicate. We think that comes through in a lot of songs on Mountain on Fire, in particular the title track.

2. I'm not sure if it's the lack of distortion in the guitars, or the subject matter of the songs, but it really seems like you guys are unusually wholesome. Thinking about the groups that are playing around town, most of them seem to be focused on trying achieve an edgier image, at least to a certain degree. And of course when you take a look at who's dominating the music market more generally, it's people like Mark Ronson or Cardi B. People who only express vulnerabilities in small doses, and only after they've built up pretty substantial credibility as being cool or tough. How do you guys keep focused on the sound you want to make? Do you ever feel a certain pressure to change your sound?

As musicians who have full time day jobs, we're pretty much constantly struggling to find time, and it would be hard to both make music and create a carefully crafted image for ourselves that's different from who we actually are. Music is our opportunity to say something important to us, and it would be a waste to put on an act or try to be something we're not. Plus, a lot of our inspiration also comes from musicians who manage to capture honesty and candidness in their lyrics without self-aggrandizing, and we try to emulate that in our music.

That's not to say we haven't felt pressure to be "cooler." We've definitely seen a bunch of musicians perform, locally and nationally, and walked away from their concerts thinking "damn we wish we were that cool."

3. Of course there has to be a limit to how vulnerable you want yourselves to be. As songwriters, how do you manage the balance between opening yourselves up and not putting too much out there?

Admittedly it's a tough balance to strike. Songwriting for us is partially confessional, like we're getting something out of ourselves that we need to work through. It helps us process. A lot of the songs on this album, Mountain on Fire, deal with serious issues - loss, isolation, anxiety, the difficulties of growing up - but we try to poke fun at those topics by holding them at arms length and laughing at them. We tend to approach serious subjects in our songs with a tongue-in-cheek tone.

This song Carina is a good example: at its core, Carina is a lovesick lament about a breakup. The protagonist has been left by Carina for one reason or another and is proclaiming, rather loudly, how badly they want Carina back. Losing love sucks! This song could've been super slow and sappy. But we opted to make it upbeat and danceable with a big brass section and an occasional reference to Greek mythological characters.

Another thing we do with our songwriting is to write someone else's story as if we were in their shoes. Neither Claire nor Cuchulain were going through a breakup when writing Carina, but by writing about the experience from a third party's perspective, we're able to have a little fun with it. Other songs on this album do that even more so, like Austin, which is available on Bandcamp with a pre-order of Mountain on Fire.  




Indie Folk dream team headlining Union Stage this Friday

Get hyped.  Handsome Hound will be hosting Andrew Grossman of The North Country, Nefra Faltas of Humble Fire, Kelly Servick of Near Northeast, and Kate Taylor Mighty in an epic night of covers and originals at Union Stage this Friday.  Featuring some of the biggest names in DC folk backed by a horn section, this event is guaranteed to be lit, or rather, in the words of the organizers, a “full-blown hullabaloo.

Tickets available here.

-Mike Dranove



DC indie-folk-rock upstarts Handsome Hound at Songbyrd this Saturday

Fresh from a weekend stint in folk friendly Charlottesville, Handsome Hound returns to their hometown this Saturday to headline Songbyrd in Adams Morgan. Well-crafted and soulfully entertaining songs are the key to this group’s success, as the indie-folk-rock outfit continues to build off of the attention garnered by the release of their first EP last year. Creative and well thought out, the music does justice to the band’s influences: Americana legends like Johnny Cash and modern folk stars Shovels and Rope.

Don’t miss Handsome Hound and Odell Fox this Saturday, April 22nd, 6:30-9 at Songbyrd in Adams Morgan.  Tickets on sale here or at the door.

-Written by Michael Dranove


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