By Andrew Ellis
Here is a look at how the 2019 ALBUM OF THE YEAR came to be.
Plott Hounds lead singer Noah Alexander knew it was time to go out guns-blazing. Put all the chips on the table so to speak. And he and the band knew it had to be a full album.
“Doing a full record was important to us,” he says. “We did an EP and kind of redid some old material on a double live album. And this was like ‘hey, the tanks are kind of on empty to a degree.”
A few things had changed for the band, too. Over the past few years they’ve gone through several lineup changes. They’ve had a couple female singers who helped Alexander on lead and provided harmonies. Now he’s the main singer and they added Kevin Coughenour on bass, who Alexander saw as the final piece.
“I think Kevin was the final, ‘okay, we’ve got our five,’” he says. “And everybody’s got kind of their one unique thing that they can bring to the band and just deliver flawlessly. And that, when it really comes together, it’s great.”
Just a Singer in a Band
With a solid lineup in place the process of working on an album started. And one thing Alexander wanted to stress was that this record is a band effort.
“It’s not my band. It’s everybody’s band,” he says. “It’s this kind of egalitarian group where everybody’s ideas are merited and warranted.”
Allowing everyone to put their mark on the record happens in a few different ways. When it comes to the new bassist it’s about telling him to stick to his style. Don’t change for the band.
“His style of playing bass is really unique because he comes from kind of a funk, indie rock background,” he says. “So really not country all or even country rock.”
Honing the Songwriting Process
It also comes into play during the songwriting process. Alexander writes ideas down and puts them away until he’s ready to start writing. But he never brings a song to the band fully finished.
“A lot of times what I’ve found before on older songs I’ve written is that if I write an entire song it then limits what we can then do collaboratively, right?” He says.
Now he comes up with the song’s basic foundation. It might be a verse, chorus, chord pattern, or basic structure. Then he brings it to the band and as plays it the creative process starts rolling.
“My goal is to really get the basic idea and message,” he says. “And then everyone in the band is so great at taking that and then helping it fully develop.”
Alexander is Sidelined
Even with the songs fully developed they hit a crucial snag as they were getting ready to record. Alexander got sick.
“It was probably one of the most stressful times of my life, because we were talkin’ about this record and we all committed to leave no stone unturned,” he says. “We are going to put everything we got into this
record, and I’m totally feeling fine and all of us instrumentally nailed all of our stuff. And then it came time do lead vocals and I got hit with the flu.”
He tried to push through so he didn’t disrupt the rhythm of the process. He told their producer Zach Hol-lander he’d drink a few beers and do his best to power through — but Hollander resisted.
“I’m so thankful Zach was like, ‘Nope. Stop. You don’t have it,’” he says. “And it’s not an easy thing for anyone to say to anybody. But me and him have that relationship of just working together and knowing each other that he kind of saved the record from that perspective, because I would’ve kept trying to do things that I wasn’t able to do.”
Alexander’s recovery set the recording process back three weeks. It weighed on him, too. His band mem-bers were nailing their parts and he couldn’t pull his weight. He wasn’t at 100% when he got back, and he can hear it when he listens back, but he knows every artist thinks they can do better.
“That’s never gonna go away, and at the end of the day I’m incredibly proud of not only my performance on it, but everybody’s,” he says. “Instrumentally, the background vocals, and how the whole thing got mixed and put together.”
Who Are The Plott Hounds?
What came out was a record with a solid sound, but with songs that all had their own identity. One of the key ones is the album opener “Country Blues.” And it’s no coincidence that it seems to be the band’s statement for who they are.
“We get asked this question all the time,” he says. “‘Are you a country band? Are you a rock band? Are you a blues band? I don’t have an answer, ever, and we never really think about that stuff writing or recording.”
That lack of being able to nail down a sound for them, or put them in a specific genre, has actually worked to their benefit. Their music has gotten airplay in different formats such as 93X and 102.9 The Wolf. But the song is the best statement they have of their band.
“We’re inspired by Southern rock and old school country,” he says. “But at the end of the day, we just play how we play and this is the music that comes from it.”
An Album Full of Battles
Alexander also wanted to be as real as he could when it came to his songwriting. And that meant writing about topics such as the realities of married life on “Old Photos.”
“That’s just kind of a song of it we focus too much on where we’ve been, we’ll never grow back to-gether,” he says. “And to me this is all very real.”
Then there’s the title track. Its key difference from the other songs is the narrative — it’s fictional. But the theme is very real.
“It’s literally a metaphor for when your back is up against the wall,” he says of the title. “And you just gotta bust through whatever it takes to get something done.”
Real life battles are a common theme on the record. They can be heard on songs such as “Not All Torna-does Come Through Texas,” the letter to his troubled younger self “Laid to Rest,” and the Kevin James
Pertinen penned “Goodnight Buddy” about a little boy who was killed in a Tornado. It’s the only outside song the band has ever recorded, and it’s a full circle moment for Alexander.
“He’s actually the first musician I ever saw perform when I moved to Minnesota,” he says of Anoka resident Pertinen. “And he was just incredible. He plays this song. He wrote it. And it just chokes you up when you hear it, and I’m thankful he was kind enough to let us record and put it on our record.”
One Album, Two Missions
The Plott Hounds set out to make a record that laid everything out on the table. And Alexander admits there were a two other goals they had. One had to with making music in Minnesota.
“You don’t have to go somewhere else to do it,” says Alexander. “And then I hope that people will realize that despite that it’s from Minnesota that it stacks up with anything else out there in our world that we live in.”
They also wanted to make a record that referred back to the records they grew up on. The ones that would tell an entire story from beginning to end even though each song could stand on its own. And Alexander hopes the new record brings people back to that.
“I think if we can start get listeners to look at records back to how records used to be looked at where it’s a collection of work and not a single collection of random songs, it could mean and do a lot for other songwriters, for other bands, and for the music industry as a whole,” he says.
There is one more goal, too. It’s a very simple one, but one that any artist strives to do with their art. It’s why they start this crazy journey in the first place. It’s about the connection.
“I think the biggest goal is I hope it just makes them feel something,” he says.
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