While in Austin for SXSW I caught up with the band Houses, whose 2010 album All Night was one of my most-played last year when I discovered it. The band consists of adorable duo Dexter Tortoriello and Megan Messina, who are probably two of the sweetest, most down to earth musicians I’ve met. Read on for an interview with Houses and listen to a couple new tracks from their forthcoming album A Quiet Darkness and be sure to visit their website here!
You guys are playing four SXSW shows this year, is there one you are most excited for?
D: I don’t know, usually at SXSW the ones you least expect are fantastic.
M: I’m excited to play at the Mohawk! It’s exciting because this year we’re playing bigger venues than we ever have.
I’ve heard some of your new music, it’s great. Tell me a little bit about the new album and how it’s different from the last one.
M: Well now we have a full band, we have a drummer and guitar player for live stuff so there’s a bigger sound. And we recorded, not with a full band, but basically piece by piece with that in mind.
D: For our first record, none of it was ever intended to be played live… it all happened so fast that our live show was what it had to be at the moment, and it just stuck that way because we got used to it and it was fun. But with this stuff we recorded so that we could have a drummer and guitar player, and all have our own section. I think you can definitely hear that on the record. And Megan has a more prominent part on the record.
M: Yeah whereas the first album I just sang, on this album Dexter let me write my own parts so…a lot more involvement, it’s really exciting.
And you’re going on tour soon.
M: Yeah, with the Cold War Kids, starting in April! We’re so excited. We don’t have a whole lot of time to prepare for it…we’re leaving SXSW and starting to prepare for the tour right away.
What else are you going to do while you’re in Austin? Do you have any free time?
D: Almost no free time.
M: This year we’re just on a schedule. But our last day we’re pretty freed up so I’m really excited to see a few shows.
D: We’re lucky to be playing with some bands we wanted to see…like tonight Baths is playing right after us and he’s a good friend.
M: And our friends have a band called Madras playing the last day so we’re excited to see them.
Megan, how would you describe your personal style?
M: Comfortable. I love just basics…jeans, t-shirts. Neutral colors…I never want to be too flashy. That’s really important to me. I just like to be myself, and I don’t wear a lot of makeup.
Last time I talked with you guys you had been in Hawaii for a little while, just living off the land.
M: Yeah I actually just emailed the woman we were staying with, she was telling me so much has changed! They have chickens now, and so many reasons to go back… I really want to.
Do you think you will?
M: When we have time, absolutely. That was so life changing, just to be away from vanity. You wake up in the morning and you have work to do, and you just focus on living and being in the moment. We did it through the Help Exchange.
D: The basic rule is that you work generally 5 hours a day, five days a week and in return they give you food and shelter. A lot of people just live like that for a long time.
M: we lucked out because it was more vacation for us, we had a lot of free time. The work we did was cool.
D: Yeah, the woman we stayed with was a painter, so sometimes I’d update her website, or we’d work in her yard.
M: it’s really worth it, good soul searching.
I know the last record was largely written there, in Hawaii. What was the writing process like for the new stuff?
D: It was really different. We ended up with a concept album at the end of it, which wasn’t what we were trying to do. I started writing this before the first one came out, actually. There were like 90 songs, which is really intense. It was a matter of finding the right ones and putting them together to make a cohesive album. With the first one, it was like the only ten songs I wrote were the ten songs on the album. That was it. I listen to it and I cringe a lot through it, but it’s also perfect…it’s like a little moment in time caught on record.
M: I think what’s different too is the sound samples that we took. So the first album a lot of the sounds were taken in Hawaii, whereas this one the samples were taken here.
D: We sampled a lot of abandoned houses and stuff like that. I wanted to make a movie actually, I had this concept of a man looking for his wife, but I don’t even know where to begin with that, so I was like, I’ll make a cinematic album that can put you in the same place and make you visualize it without actually showing you. So I found a bunch of abandoned houses along highway 10 going through California and Nevada and Arizona and I sampled a bunch of sounds of kicking in doors, flicking light switches, peeling wallpaper…I basically got sound pictures of all those places…and a lot of the drums and melodies that are made up of that.
Are you guys always writing?
M: He’s constantly writing. We’ll go out on a date and he’s always taking sound samples of stuff.
D: Yeah, I have another project too and for that project I’m going to be putting out something in the fall so now it’s really polarized. Now I’m finishing that up, and I have to keep them very separate. But I’m generally always writing, for one project or another. With Houses I’ve decided I probably won’t touch it until late fall or winter.
And Megan, you’re an artist.
M: Yeah! I just took a screen printing class which is a new thing for me, and I’ve screen printed some Houses posters for our tour which I’m really excited about. So I definitely have involvement, even though I don’t always write my own stuff I’m still his sounding board, and I paint and draw in my free time.
Is there a place I can see your work?
No, not yet but hopefully soon!
Describe SXSW in three words.
D: Exhausting, filthy and tired! Just in the sense that at the end of the day you just feel really dirty. I literally haven’t not been tired since we landed.
M: Hot, hot, hot!
First and last image by Julia; others via the Houses tumblr.
More indie music from the BLDG 25 Blog.