Only a few years removed from her successful stint with the band Houndmouth, Katie Toupin has burst back onto the music scene with her debut EP, Moroccan Ballroom. While Toupin originally intended for the six-hour recording session to be more of a demo experiment, she quickly realized the resulting tracks were worthy of public release...and I couldn't agree more. The finished product is 100% authentic - five newly-written, edit-free songs that exhibit both her jazzy vocals/keys ("Danger") and pop/rock ties ("Shake Baby").
In light of her new project, I caught up with Katie to talk about her background, the journey to her solo career, and her furry sidekick, Cheeto.
MG: A huge congrats on the release of your debut EP, Moroccan Ballroom - what all went in to your first solo project?
KT: Thank you! I have been writing since my departure from Houndmouth. I had done some recording here and there, and nothing was really landing as the “right” first step forward. I had been rehearsing with the guys who played with me on Moroccan Ballroom and felt like some songs were really coming together in the rehearsal space. So, I chose five songs that all offered something a little different and decided we could do them live and film them at The Village Studios. I am friends with the Village guys and was there a lot hanging out, but I had never really used the studio. I thought maybe if one turned out alright, I’d put it out on the internet as a way to dip my toes back into playing music publicly. After six hours in the studio, I realized that not only did I get some great videos, but I had recorded an EP.
MG: How has your experience been working with The Village Studios?
KT: I love the Village! It’s a home away from home. John Alagia, a producer there and fellow Kentuckian, introduced me to everyone there a while back. Jeff Greenburg (the owner) put me up at his house while I was transitioning from Kentucky to LA. I have been lucky enough to spend a lot of time there hanging out...mostly playing Alagia or other clients in ping-pong. So it was really special for me to record my first release there. It couldn’t have been more fitting.
MG: What was it like to go back to the drawing board as the primary songwriter? How did a change of scenery in LA help you jump-start your new venture?
KT: It has been a challenge to find my own voice outside of my time with Houndmouth. I had spent the entirety of my adulthood with the band members, so moving and having adequate time and space from that has been crucial to the songwriting. I have come to find it mostly liberating!
MG: Speaking of, it has been just over two years since the public announcement of your departure from Houndmouth. Was a solo career your ultimate goal all along?
KT: I’m not at liberty to speak about the details of Houndmouth. It was not my ultimate goal, nor was it premeditated, but I have found this new chapter to be the best thing that has ever happened to me.
MG: Let's go back to the first chapter - can you touch on your background growing up? Where do your musical roots come from, and who are some of your biggest influences?
KT: My dad is a blues guitar player, so he was probably my biggest influence. I grew up listening to a lot of Beatles, but a little later found Otis Redding, Patsy Cline, Etta James, Billy Holiday - all while simultaneously getting into whatever was popular at festivals in high school. I was listening to the Rolling Stones a lot when Houndmouth formed. When we got “The Band” comparisons, I started listening to The Band and Bob Dylan. I fell in love with folkier music for a long time through listening to Gillian Welch. It goes on and on...
MG: And for the readers influenced by your music - tell us about your current band members. How did you assemble a group that would exhibit the sound you were looking for?
KT: My backing band for “Moroccan Ballroom” was Brian Griffin, Jerry Borge, Whynot Jansveld, and Brandon Walters - which we loving refer to as “The Unit”. I was lucky enough to also have these guys available for some East Coast shows. But, many of them have other obligations - Jerry plays with Ziggy Marley, Brandon with Lord Huron, Whynot is on some arena tour in Japan, and Brian has a Richard Marx thing...
For the upcoming shows on my calendar, I will be completely solo - so the renditions of the songs will be slightly different.
MG: Are you looking forward to your solo shows, including the KAABOO Del Mar festival? How was touring with "The Unit"?
KT: I’m absolutely looking forward to it! The shows I got to do with “The Unit” were an absolute dream come true. I have never felt more supported in my life than getting to tour with those guys!
MG: And for the Cheeto fans out there - what’s the scoop on your mini partner in crime?
KT: I have had Cheeto for about five years. I found him in Arizona at a shelter on death row when he was about a year old, and I couldn’t believe someone gave him up! I’ve posted a lot about Cheeto - when I was playing in New York, the crowd even gave Cheets a chant! So I decided that milestone meant for Cheeto to have his own fans with his own Instagram @cheetotoupin. I also started an adorable Cheeto blog!
Katie has already booked a handful of upcoming gigs on the West coast, so stand by for future show announcements in a city near you. In the meantime, be sure to check out Moroccan Ballroom - available wherever you get your music fix.