Can You Spot The 'Cattle In The Sky'? Jordan Slone & Jack McCoy Of Hounds Want To Perfect A Live Sound

The band Hounds have announced their next album, Cattle in the Sky, due out from BMG on February 5th, and their debut single and video from that album, "Shake Me Up" is out now. You might have also come across their cover of Jet's "Look What You've Done" back in October.

The history of Hounds goes back to high school for brothers Jordan Slone and Logan Slone, but the connection to the band goes back pretty far for Jack McCoy, too, who was a fan before he was a member, and the four piece is rounded out by Logan Mohler. Earlier incarnations included the band Clockwork, but with their debut album as Hounds in 2017, the group really established their sound, grounded in Classic Rock elements, focused on four-part harmonies when fitting, and committed to innovation in a way that keeps them from being too precious with tradition. That sound won them the "Who Will Rock You?" competition and scored them a record deal with BMG.

Both Jordan Slone and Jack McCoy took the time to talk to Tower's PULSE! about "Shake Me Up" and what we can look forward to from Cattle in the Sky.

Hannah Means-Shannon: I think your video for “Shake Me Up” is really fun, and I’ll be geeky and say that I really loved the colors used. The tone of the video reminded me a little bit of Monty Python and The Beatles films like HELP! I liked the humor that you used. How did you decide on those elements?

Jack McCoy: Some of it came from plans we made and some of it came from being who we are. We’re all just a bunch of goofballs ourselves. We kind of went for that Wes Anderson feel. Also, we are obviously huge Beatles fans, as a band who does a lot of four-part harmony.

Jordan Slone: It’s interesting that you bring up HELP! because on St. Patrick’s Day, we were all over at Jack’s place and one of the last things we did together was that we watched the film HELP! together. We’d had all seen it, but that’s something that’s very much a part of our lives. Also, Wes Anderson films are something we really like. When we filmed the video in May, everyone turned up with a bunch of random things that we thought would be interesting to put in a field. Jack brought a bag of 40 tennis balls and I brought some chairs. One thing you won’t see, because of a lighting issue, is all of us holding our drummer, Logan Mohler’s, drum kit in a fashion that made it look like we were the stands and he was playing through the songs. It was very much quirky Beatles and Monkees humor.

HMS: I totally should have said “Wes Anderson” too! It seems like very early Rock was about taking yourself seriously, but then that started breaking down, and maybe The Beatles were part of breaking that and bringing in humor.

Jack: It’s funny you should say that because I think that The Beatles did take themselves seriously in the beginning, then they realized that they had an audience just being who they were. In this age of social media where people can sniff out the bullshit pretty easily, it’s pretty apparent who is being genuine and who is not. We’re weird goofballs, and we like production when it’s appropriate, but some of our ideas around the video were just, “Why don’t we have fun? Why don’t we have someone dance since it’s a song that makes you want to dance? And then we’ll just mess around in the background.” We did what we would do. We didn’t take on dramatic acting roles.

Jordan: It’s very much a part of who we are is not to over-play it. Jack nailed it when he said we weren’t taking on dramatic roles. For a song like “Shake Me Up”, it’s not that it lacks any content to it, but to try to create a story about a love relationship kind of went against what we felt natural about. So the concept of the video is just my youngest brother Jacob. He’s not in the band at all, he just looks a little bit like me. We had him put on a shirt that our drummer’s mom found at a thrift store. We told him, “You go bananas.” We decided to do a bunch of stuff in the background and not make ourselves the focus.

Jack: Also, in times like these, things are so serious. If we can distract people from that from even a second, then we’ve done our job.

HMS: Agreed. It’s great to get out of our own heads right now. Also, you have a really great brother who agreed to do that! Get him a nice Christmas present. I did get a sense of your identity from the video, so that’s cool that you made it pretty true to how you feel about yourselves.

I did want to ask about the sound elements in that song, too. I could definitely hear the Classic Rock elements that people notice in your music, but my most immediate response to it was that the tempo was actually pretty modern in a way that felt fresh, too. That feels immediate.

Jordan: We definitely strive, especially on that song, for more of a Classic Rock ‘n Roll sound, but we’re also inspired by bands who are modern but who are inspired by classic stuff, like The Black Keys, who are a big influence for us. We love Rival Sons and bands who play with a psychedelic vibe. MGMT is another band we really love and look up to.

I actually can’t tell you what the tempo of that song is because we purposefully recorded it without a click track. We did that so it would have more of a breathing feel.

HMS: Can I ask you about the title and the artwork for Cattle in the Sky? The title feels weirdly Western, but the imagery feels mid-Century. Where does all this come from?

Jack: I think all of us are fans of that mid-Century aesthetic. When we came across that photo and realized it was available to use, we just jumped on it. We collaborate together artistically, so something as simple as an album cover can be a huge bone of contention. Everyone wants it to be right and we’re all working towards the same thing. The original shoot that we did for the album cover was of us, a photo of us. And the title of the album lends itself a little more to that theme. But when we came across that picture, it was definitely the classic, timeless vibe we were going for.

Jordan: I really loved the colors in that photo, too. This ties into the video ideas, too, but it was also not about us. There are many writers in this band, so the name “Hounds” is kind of a shelter for us that we can all share in. Many great artists out there go by their names, like Ariana Grande and Justin Timberlake.

We hide little bits of our character in things instead, like the aesthetic of the album cover, with the mid-Century Modern look and feel. Even the name “Cattle in the Sky” is built on a game that we play on the road called “Cows, I Win!” Whoever sees the most cows and calls it first gets a bed to themselves. Seeing cows before the other person and guaranteeing a bed for yourself is like being in the sky. That’s where you want to be.

Jack: Drifting away into the night. It’s like cows jumping over the moon.

HMS: [Laughs] That is the best thing! I come from a big family prone to long road trips, so I can really sympathize with this.

All of it raises questions, the band name, the album title, the artwork. There’s a lot to be said for raising questions in peoples’ minds, making it an experience you can’t quite pin down. All of that keeps peoples’ attention.

Jack: As far as questions, the more the better. As long as things feel coherent and fit together, we have success there.

Jordan: The identity of Hounds is that it is kind of a question. That’s cool to me. One of the first records that made a big impression on me was the Love album by The Beatles. I didn’t realize that it wasn’t actually an original collection of songs, but a collection of all the moments that were really loved by George Martin for the Cirque de Soleil. It seemed so masterful that at the time I realized, “If this can be a record, anything can be a record. There are no rules.” It’s more about what’s inspiring and makes you feel something.

HMS: You’re right, there are no rules. I think the constraints on music ebb and flow, but right now, particularly, we are in a very open time regarding genre and possibilities.

Jack: I think we’re lucky that we are a band that’s with a label, but we have a label that lets us explore and flesh out pretty much whatever we want to do. There’s a level of trust there. There are also things that we aren’t as knowledgeable about, like promotion, but we know music.

HMS: That’s wonderful to hear.

Is there a live history for the songs on Cattle in The Sky, or are they all newer compositions?

Jordan: Quite a bit. “Much of Nothing”, from this record, has been around for a long time, like “Shake Me Up”. Everything on this album is done new, but there are a couple that are really special to us. We recorded a lot of our previous band records with an engineer, Matt Amelung. He really helped us become Hounds. We came to him and said, “We want to do something really risky. We want to record the whole album as live as we possibly can.” We didn’t want him to tune anything or add new layers.

We pushed ourselves to be as exposed as possible and still be accessible. We used some of the bones from those recordings on this upcoming record because we wanted to bring him with us even though he passed not too long ago. So there’s a lot of live history on this album. We’ve also got two new songs on the record which were written in the studio, which we’ve never done before, then there are a handful of songs which have been with us for five or six years. We’ve also been writing the next record, since we’ve been in quarantine.

Jack: Quarantine has given some history to these songs since we’ve been sitting, waiting to release these songs. The two newest songs on the record are “On and On” and “Three Hits of Acid”. “On and On” is our longest and newest song. I can’t wait for people to hear it. It’s a journey.

HMS: Why was it important to you to record your previous albums, and Cattle in the Sky also, in as live a manner as possible? Where does that drive come from?

Jordan: For me, as a musician and as a music consumer, one of the most disappointing things is when you go and see an act, and they just don’t impress you. The road is really hard, so if you do it at all, you’re a champion. But more than anything, we want our live show to be something that is unmatched. That’s what we love the most. We are incredibly particular and hard on ourselves. Sometimes we have worked so hard on a live show to make it great that even if one thing goes wrong, we beat ourselves up about it.

For me, I want to preserve the live feel because a lot of the bands we look up to recorded live. They recorded to tape. We’re lucky enough to have another take. We also want to be professional enough to be able to cut to tape. It’s a continued motion of hopeful perfectionism. It’s not that it’s a competition, but I’m so competitive that I want us to be the best.

Jack: At the end of the day, we are a live band, and we want the record to convey that accurately. If people are responding to what we are doing during a live show, why wouldn’t we record that way? If we tracked it all separately, it wouldn’t sound as connected as if we were together. Also, for me, I was a fan of this band before I was in it. I’m not the newest member, but I’m the outlier. Part of the thing that always stood out in their previous forms was their live show.

HMS: No one has actually ever said that to me: That the reason they like to record with a live sound is not to be spontaneous but because they are actually perfectionistic about live performance and are bringing that to the recording process. That’s very interesting. It does remind me that to some extent The Allman Brothers and The Grateful Dead struggled with a way to package their music in a way that conveyed their live shows properly.

Jordan: We are not in bad company there! We really do strive for that. But we also don’t really know how to use tracks in a live setting. We’ve never been able to create production on that level on the stage. We don’t want to be bringing a MacBook on stage to work it out.

Jack: Also, creating four-part harmonies and all the stuff we do on stage is a pretty good safeguard against drug and alcohol abuse. There’s no way that I could step on stage and sing in a four-part harmony blotto.

Jordan: We do also enjoy ourselves, really. We just push ourselves pretty hard.

HMS: You mentioned this song, “Three Hits of Acid” and I was really intrigued by listening to it, not just by the title. That song, to me, has the more electronic and synthy elements coming in, but the more classic vocal layers. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the implications of something you said a moment ago, which is that this song was recorded without a lot of tracking. Knowing that’s all live is blowing my mind now. That’s very impressive. How did you develop that song?

Jordan: That was a song that came along post the time that we thought the album was completed. We thought we had finished. But after that, the engineer, Jason McEntyre, sat me down and said he felt like we might be missing “THE song” that would make the album complete. He suggested I work with Ted Bruner, and we got together for what turned out to be kind of a therapy session. He just kept asking me questions and he kind of pulled the song out of me that I wasn’t realizing that I wanted to write. He’d worked with some other acts before, like Miley Cyrus, and Katy Perry, and many more. We had a writing session and went through different possible stories.

One was from when I was 17, in psychology class, going over psychedelics. Then I wanted to try mushrooms, couldn’t find mushrooms, ended up finding acid, not really knowing what it was. I ended up taking three tabs of acid. It was my first psychedelic experience. It was pretty crazy, but the story of the song was built around what I experienced during that time period in my life, including the first girlfriend I really had, and the emotional turmoil and angst of being 17. The song itself was built around those things, lyrically. At the time I was newly listening to a lot of Post Malone and things that made me want to dance.

I wanted to create something beautiful, with an ascending feeling, even if the lyrics are kind of sad. It’s about losing your mind, and the chorus is, “That’s it. I’ve had enough.” It was intense to have that back and forth between the sound and the lyrics. One of the key components of the sound was that we used this huge keyboard to come up with sounds we liked and then, when we came together as a band, we decided how we were going to make our bass, our guitar, our keyboard rig, and drums sound like those.

Jack: My favorite parts to play in that song live are the “wahwah” bass parts.

Jordan: There’s also this swirling reverse-delay layer that happens. I’ve been fortunate enough to partner with a company who makes pedals called Strymon. They put out a digital tape delay machine, with the ability to play “sound on sound replay” which you can reverse. So I’m playing a C Major triad, then I record it live, then I set it on infinite repeats. Then I reverse the infinite repeats and I can stop and start the tape reels. It makes a warpy sound and it plays underneath my guitar playing. It’s been so stressful to make sure that I get it right because all I have to do it hit one button and everything just blows up in my face. It is a task and a challenge.

Jack: I think that speaks to the level of musicality that we shoot for. Jordan is playing guitar over guitar he already played live earlier in the song. All of the layers are there.

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