Their debut album "Courage" is a strong-willed record of spaghetti Western sounds.
“Between the five of us, I guess we do have quite a resumé,” says Vox and the Hound guitarist Rory Callais with a laugh. He, vocalist Leo DeJesus, and keyboardist Daniel “D-Ray” Ray take a minute to think before they tackle the full list. Between their own musical pursuits and those of bassist Andrew Jarman and drummer Eric Rogers, it’s almost too many projects to name. Generationals, Empress Hotel, MyNameIsJohnMichael, Glasgow, and Big Rock Candy Mountain. “The thing is, we’ve dealt with the guy with the ego and we’ve dealt with the person who doesn’t want to be there,” Callais says. “By the time we came together with Vox and the Hound, we were all over it. And as trite and as cheesy as it sounds, it was all about the music.” The five-piece plays tonight at the House of Blues Parish with Sports and Leisure as they celebrate the release of their first full-length record Courage.
On the 10-track record, Vox and the Hound tip their hats to the world of spaghetti Western movies through imitation of deep guitar tones and pounding drum beats heard in the films' scores. Since a first gig at Foburg Fest in 2010, the band has taken much influence from folk-rock and Americana, think Johnny Cash meets The Doors. “We didn’t set out to write it this way,” says DeJesus. The band had most of Courage written years ago and has incorporated many of the songs into live sets already, but when the members sat down to create a record, it took a different turn.
“We were doing a lot of reading on these spaghetti Westerns,” DeJesus says. “Since our music influence was coming so strongly from this genre, we looked up the artwork, the music. It didn’t start out this way, but it became a concept album.” Members pulled up movies on their laptops and placed the films on mute while in the studio.
“I bought a guitar because it was the tone I was looking for,” Callais says. “I was borrowing someone else’s Fender Jaguar in the studio, and it ended up being on the record so much that I had to get one.” There’s no sampling on Courage either, only the sounds that D-Ray could create himself, the gritty twang of Callais’s guitar, and forceful, chant-like vocals.
“A big theme in all of these movies is courage; the protagonist is just a total badass,” says DeJesus. Lyrically and musically, the tracks on Courage already had western leanings. “There are family references, lyrics about mother, father, children,” DeJesus says, who writes most of Vox and the Hound’s lyrics. “Talking with a religious tone - that was a lyric tactic that Andrew and I were already interested in. But to be honest, the record’s mostly about women who suck. Women that give us trouble, relationship problems.”
The band recorded “Courage” at the Living Room, a Westbank studio whose clients range from Trombone Shorty to Calexico to Hurray for the Riff Raff. “It’s a renovated church, so there’s this really high ceiling, and pretty much all of the tracking is on analog tape. It sounds really warm, but you do have to be on top of your performance,” says DeJesus.
The album took two weeks to record, and the Living Room quite literally became the band’s home. “I spent almost every night there,” says D-Ray. “I had these 10 keyboards set up in one alcove, and I’d sleep in a sleeping bag right by the keyboards.” For Callais, who was enrolled in graduate school then, the studio doubled as library. “I was writing my thesis at the time, so I’d be in the control room writing," he says. "They’d call for guitar, and I’d hit save.”
Recording Courage was work, but it wasn't a chore. “We hang out as friends as much as we hang out as bandmates,” says Callais. When it came time to title the tracks, the band did what any five friends would do: use an inside joke or two. Their single “Madeline Kahn” is about adultery, DeJesus says, but the song title doesn’t spell it out.
“'The house is the marriage, the fire is the infidelity.' We just didn’t want to name it ‘Fire’ or ‘Flame Song,’ so we called back to Madeline Kahn’s monologue from the movie Clue,” DeJesus says.
“Inside jokes references are our lives,” D-Ray adds.
“When you can make the song title an inside joke without it sounding to the rest of the world like it’s a joke...”
“You win,” D-Ray finishes.