The Houstons: Back To The Future
The Tangents interview by Daniel Coston
For nearly ten years, brothers Matt and Justin Faircloth have pulled off a musical tightrope act like no other. Simultaneously playing multiple instruments while singing two-part harmony, the brothers perform with a dexterity that often leaves first-time witnesses in awe. The Houstons, as they now go by now (after being shortened from Houston Brothers), have recently returned to their original-two piece lineup, and released a new EP, The Archer, an excellent showcase for their ambient, literate sense of pop music.
Justin Faircloth is also a longtime veteran of the Charlotte and North Carolina music scene, with a resume that includes Jennyanykind, Flyweb, Goldenrods, Les Dirt Clods, and several others. But its the music that he continues to make with his brother that both friends and fans clamor for.
Tangents: After playing with other bands, what led you to form the Houstons with your brother?
Justin Faircloth: Matt and I had been bouncing this idea of a two person band for a long time, back to probably '97 when we were living in Wilmington. We didn't know how we wanted to make it happen and started out experimenting with a drummer and some keyboard bass, then I learned to play bass, then drums and guitar, acoustic guitars, you name it. Then I moved to Asheville and I was playing in a sort of country-punk band called The Rich and Famous and started to work on this keyboard and drumming thing, only it was with a snare, a small tom for kick drum and a Casio.
Matt and I booked our first show at Vincent's Ear and coming right up to it we didn't have a name, so our buddy Jeremy Boger named us the Houston Brothers. We played acoustic guitars and did some beat looping, etc. Maybe a little Rhodes. After I moved to Charlotte, and Matt moved to Asheville (!), we started in with the Goldenrods, which was a larger 6-person outfit and became this traveling entourage of everything rock and roll. Matt and I decided that we could make the Houston Brothers happen as a 2 piece and travel really light, and go for this really minimal sound that still had all the essentials to fill a room with tons of vibe and character. We bought some old Crumar bass synth pedals--the ones we still use today--and we were off.
Tangents: You play keyboards with your right hand, while drumming with your left band, all while singing. 1. How did you come up with that? and 2. How do you DO that?
Faircloth: Well, I touched on this above, but we were just trying out different ways of being able to create a full band sound without the extra members. Our fans and press have always made a pretty big deal out of the piano-drum-sing thing, but it's not much different than a good piano player that has a developed left hand for walking bass and comping chords. It all becomes one thing, not several, at least in the way that I hear it. I have to say that what Matt does, walking bass with his feet and playing guitar and singing has got to be just as difficult.
Tangents: Contrast the music of this new EP with the first two Houston Bros. CDs (pre-Still).
Faircloth: The first record, I Take Care of You, was very different. It's out of print now, and is soundtrack music with a dark bent and perhaps a preview to our eventual Houstons vibe. The Houston Brothers, or the blue record as we call it, is probably the most similar to our new release The Archer. Matt and I play nearly everything, with a few guests here and there. We use the instrumentation that we use live with only a few extra parts, usually supporting guitar textures, synth bits or percussion. Thematically, though, we're talking about two records that are about 8 years apart and the songs really illustrate that span of time in ways I couldn't hope to describe. Matt wrote two songs on the blue record, and that is something we intend to bring back on our next release.
Tangents: How did The Archer come together? And describe the music on this EP.
Faircloth: Matt and I had a collection of songs that we wanted to release as a more stripped down production, relative to Still. Our friend Mark Lynch got involved with pre-production and insisted that we track the songs as we play live, the keys/drums and bass pedals included. Two of the songs were years old and the other four were new tracks. I'm not going to tell which ones are which! But they all fit cohesively and were a good representation of where we are with the Houston Brothers, ten years from when we started.
The songs are a bit more outwardly aggressive in some ways than ever, but I'd like to think also more refined in scope and in theme. We have always wanted to relate our lives through the music and I think these do just that. For now. It's more appropriate for me in my life now to rely on love rather than be angry with it, for example. We are celebrating life and at the same time targeting some aspects that we find provocative. That's the art, I suppose.
Tangents: After starting as a duo, you spent a few years working with other musicians in the band, culminating with a six-piece lineup for the 2006 CD Still? How did the music change during that time?
Faircloth: The songwriting changed a bit before we put he band together. . . I was in a more introspective place and trying to put some pieces of my life together. The songs on Still basically chronicle those times, or as much as I would want to put out there. Matt and I also felt that we needed to try some different sounds and new directions so we put together a band packed with badass musicians. We made the record with very little rehearsal and some highly charged-up creative days, mostly at my house in Charlotte. The recorded music became quite a bit more arranged and dense--interestingly, on a collection of very personal songs. Our live shows were fun, I got to really focus on singing and improved at that quite a bit, and we had great rhythm sections and textures. We were both able to open up quite a bit relative to having to do so much at once. I think this was a time of really learning about who we are and what we really want to do.
Tangents: What brought you and Matt back to the two-piece lineup?
Faircloth: We felt that we had lost some of our uniqueness. To be honest, a bunch of our friends and fans demanded it. And it's really hard to even hold a band together when you're not 20 and everyone has tons going on in their lives. It's so easy for Matt and I to travel together, find the vibe we want, learn songs really fast. . .whatever. It's what we do naturally at this point. As much as we want to break free of the constraints sometimes, they can become what sets our creativity free. My wife would call it Tantric.
Tangents: What's next for the Houstons?
Faircloth: We're taking most of the summer to quiet down and write, record, experiment, play new instruments. I think that whatever we accomplish at the end of the day, I want it to constantly grow and change around our minds and what we find interesting, provocative, outrageous, compelling. I don't want to ever make the same record twice and I don't want to regurgitate issues or themes. I'm learning how to write an unbridled love song and a song for nothing but dancing.
Tangents: How has your fanbase changed over the years?
Faircloth: They've grown up with us. Which is awesome. I mean, we attract fans of all ages and I am still surprised by some folks that love us, who I thought would hate us.
Tangents: How has the Charlotte music scene changed?
Faircloth: It's larger and more diverse. More than ever when traveling I hear other artists, musicians and otherwise, asking me about what is going on in Charlotte. I think our Southern town is almost a city. But what I really love about Charlotte musically is the people--there's very little hate and a whole lot of love. We support each other no matter what the opportunity or style of music. Our label, Chicago-based Chocolate Lab, just signed another Charlotte artist (our friend Jon Lindsay), so we are seeing more and more interest. And the successes of folks like The Avett Brothers and Benji Hughes are pretty awesome.
Tangents: So what happens if and when your kids form their own band?
Faircloth: We're already on it! Their first experience will be our family band. They are both incredibly musically talented already and writing original music. So it's on. Whatever they do later. . . what can I say? Dad's seen it all. Well, most of it.