“And I know there will be brighter days, but for now I’m stuck in idle ways.” So howls Jim Campo of Berkshire Hounds, who knows how to act hopeless without killing anyone’s good time. Lesson one to be learned from the Hounds: why despair when you can rock out?
As Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto explained in the eighties, “To hurt yourself playing guitar on stage is more noble than to be sitting weeping to yourself somewhere.” For anyone who deeply loves rock (and anyone who can’t stand emo), this maxim is the key to understanding its value as art. But the secret weapon of Campo and company isn’t their philosophy. It’s in the music.
Since forming last August, the Hounds have been hard at work perfecting their own sound, drawing equally from the British Invasion and Southern Revival to erect a sonic environment so inviting you’ll wonder why no one did it before — then you’ll realize it’s been the Holy Grail of Austin’s hippie/blues hybridizing for decades.
Hearing the Hounds at work, you’ll witness the exhilarating, almost reckless combination of the various elements of rock and roll. It’s a bit like watching the impatient kid in your chemistry class mixing everything in sight while the teacher’s looking away; you can’t help but expect a big kaboom. To take one example, the laid-back slide guitar, harmonica and honky-tonk piano of “We Go Home Together” give the song a blues-rock feel, until a psychedelic chorus melody enters, doubled by straight-eighth bell overdubs, and kicks the band from Exile On Main Street to “Penny Lane” in four notes flat. And somehow it works.
Credit for the band’s trans-Atlantic alchemizing is due to songwriters Jim Campo and Spencer Garland. The pair live together at their house on Berkshire Drive, where they are currently rehearsing for this weekend’s show with their new horn section and songwriter, Caleb Landry Jones, whom the band will be backing for some of his songs.
The Hounds’ lineup formed organically around the core duo. “We just kind of acquired people from work and school,” Garland explains. Most members were “stolen” from other bands, and one was recruited at Jimmy John’s. But now that the group is expanding, Garland wants to get serious and focus on their identity. “We’re not classic rock,” he insists. “I mean, we’re not AC/DC. We’re rock and roll.”
Campo is more worried about being associated with insipid psychedelic rock. “This band is founded on the principle that there are too many bands writing about love, colors, clouds, and Giggle City,” he declares while referring to local band Marmalakes’ “The Adventures of Jubilant John in Giggle City.” Despite what their flanger-fried vocals and Sgt. Pepper arrangements might suggest, Campo and the band’s lysergic love affair is strictly aesthetic. “We don’t go on shrooms and talk philosophy. We make money and hang out with our friends,” he said.
Of the band’s six members, drummer Jordan Cook is probably the most staunchly principled (or maybe he’s just stubborn). Despite Campo and Garland’s exhortations, Cook has consistently refused to appear in band photographs and take part in formal interviews. Cook’s explanation? “I don’t do PR.”
Unlike most bands that list Hendrix and Led Zeppelin as influences, Berkshire Hounds have the chops to hang with their heroes and the drive to take the classics even further. And at the heart of it all is the spirit of rocking out and keeping it simple. Garland’s mission statement says it all: “Take all your influences, make it loud, and keep it melodic. Then the audience will come to you.”
Printed on Friday, February 3, 2012 as: Harmonic motley finds home in duo's music equation