HOUNDSTOOTH'S NEW ALBUM, No News from Home, is not the product of years of touring, or the result of hard-learned lessons taken from the snaking roads of the United States and beyond. While such a sentiment might befit the tone of Houndstooth's guitar-rock oeuvre—and while the album's recent review on Pitchfork speaks to the contrary—the band rarely goes on the road at all.
"We were just in Everett!" says vocalist/guitarist Katie Bernstein, adding that the band is also working on a UK tour in September.
Bernstein, guitarist John Gnorski, and drummer/engineer Graeme Gibson (we're just missing Houndstooth's newest member, Cari Palazzolo) are hunched around Modelos and Triscuit nachos at the Liberty Glass bar in North Portland.
"We have that constant thing where people kept saying the last record [Ride out the Dark] was really great for driving," says Gibson. "Maybe it's a weird association that's come out of that."
"I will say it reflects the cumulative touring, because everybody has toured in bands a lot," says Gnorski.
Titles aside, No News from Home is the product of a reinvigorated confidence in songwriting. It's a commentary on adding to the continuum of music as a shared creative tradition. The band's pocket-tight grooves are indicative of their obvious sonic chemistry rather than being road warriors.
The popular misconception of Houndstooth as a battle-hardened traveling band is a compliment of sorts. While the group has done its share of live shows in Portland—including performing at Pickathon in 2014—their focus since their 2013 debut record came out has simply been to get better at writing songs.
Having undergone a series of lineup changes since the band's inception, that wasn't always a given. With Gnorski and Bernstein at the songwriting core, however, inspiration aligned to produce an album that transcends even the lofty heights of their praised debut.
"We didn't have a vision for the project at all in the beginning," says Gnorski. "I would argue that we still don't, but now we're just more comfortable writing songs. We've written a lot more songs and we're better at it. We don't have an overarching aesthetic, we don't make concept albums, and we don't have a genre."
The title No News from Home does allude to a nomadic element of the band. The themes of longing, wanderlust, and exploration permeate the album's 11 tracks, echoing Americana and roots-tinged rock tunes with traces of psychedelic jam-outs and lyrics from country songs. Merle Haggard, Jimmy Martin, and Charlie Feathers are each given a hat tip by way of borrowed lines.
"The deeper I get into songwriting, the more comfortable I feel borrowing," says Gnorski. "It gives me a real sense of connection to everything that's happened. It's a bit more meaningful to me. It's the way it's done. It makes me feel a bit less lonely."
On the strength of No News from Home, Houndstooth aren't hoping to go big or go home. Theirs is a more patient tactic.
"We're trying to be sustainable," says Bernstein. "We don't intend to tour for 10 months out of the year; we just want to make great records..."
"... And not force it down anyone's throat," finishes Gibson.
"We're definitely playing the long game," says Gnorski. "It would be great if in five or 10 years from now we're making records and having similar conversations."
"Or," adds Bernstein, "just be big in Japan."