The Hounds Below’s Jason Stollsteimer picks songs by Michiganders

The Hounds Below’s Jason Stollsteimer picks songs by Michiganders

The mixer: Jason Stollsteimer comes from a long, proud tradition of Michigan rock ’n’ rollers, from Iggy Pop to Kid Rock to Jack White—though it might not be the best idea to compare him to the last one. As the frontman of the now-defunct Von Bondies, Stollsteimer merged Detroit’s garage- and indie-rock scenes for three great records. With his new project, The Hounds Below, Stollsteimer is mining some rootsier records, kicking up the sounds of classic balladeers with a little post-punk urgency. Since Stollsteimer is one of Michigan’s favorite sons, The A.V. Club figured he’d be a good person to ask to introduce us to some of the Mitten State’s choicer cuts. 

The HandGrenades, “Two Years”
Jason Stollsteimer: That’s one I’ve been dying to cover. They’re a fairly new band. They’re really the only band from Michigan that does three-part harmonies. And they’re amazing. They’re very young kids. They remind me of, like, The Beatles meets The Strokes. They’re cool and they hang out and party like The Strokes, but their songs are more like modern Beatles songs.

The A.V. Club: This is a generalization, but when people think “Michigan bands” they think garage rock.

JS: Yeah, there aren’t any left. I’m not even in one. [Laughs.] No more garage rock. No more ’60s influence anymore.

AVC: Why do you think that happened?

JS: I mean, you can’t even find a good grunge band in Seattle anymore. The only scene that’s stayed the same is New York, in that it’s kept pretty cool and Interpol-y over the years. Never smile in photos, you know. In Michigan we’re happy to have our photo taken, so normally we smile. “Hey people have cameras, and nothing’s on fire! It’s a good day!”

Fawn, “Pixels”
JS: I put them in no particular order, but Pixels and HandGrenades are the two new ones on this list. Fawn is the closest thing to a modern version of The Pixies that I’ve heard, and they happen to be local. They were on the CMJ Top 20 chart for a while; they just put out their debut album, and that’s their single. So I picked that because I knew that that’s the song that they’re pushing. And I like the song. I think their whole record is great.

Iggy Pop, “The Passenger”
JS: I lived in Ann Arbor for a few years when I was about 20, and I used to think about this song when I would sit and ride the buses in Ann Arbor, like Iggy Pop would. I always just thought about that. They have the skylight in the roof of the bus, and you can see the light coming in, and I guess I just dreamed that I was in the same seat as Iggy Pop. That’s what songs are supposed to be. The listener comes up with their own story. I’m surrounded by liars who tell me fables about Michigan folklore and music. [Laughs.] But that’s supposedly what it’s about. I don’t know, personally.

The Bob Seger System, “Heavy Music”
AVC: A lot of people—and especially people from Michigan—really hate Bob Seger.

JS: He’s polarizing. [Laughs.] But it’s the Seger System, not just Bob Seger. The Bob Seger System predates all the “Like A Rock” stuff. This song actually was a hit back in the early days when he was a soul singer. It was one of the first things that made me realize that Michigan does have a good history of music other than Motown.

AVC: Well, you’ve got Kid Rock.

JS: Kid Rock’s a friend, so I didn’t put him on here. And honestly, he’s got too many hits to pick one. [Laughs.] You can tell I’m being kosher right now, right? It’s a very small town. [Laughs.]

The Hounds Below, “Chelsea’s Calling”
JS: When we go to a town and play a venue, like a small 100-seater that’s half the size of Schubas [in Chicago], afterwards everyone wants to hang out all night, but we know that we have to be up at 8 a.m. to hit the road. But we still go and hang out because that’s why we love doing it. That’s what the song is about and has the energy of. Chelsea is not a girl, either. [Laughs.] At least I don’t think it is.

AVC: Is it a city?

JS: Yeah, it’s more of a city. But it’s not a city named Chelsea. It’s more like every city.

AVC: How do you think being from Michigan has influenced your band’s music?

JS: You know how when you look at a political map and generally the left-wing states are on the coasts? And the middle of America is right-wing? I really think that being by the water gives to the ability to dream and to see past what’s in front of you and think about something bigger than yourself. And that fact that we live on the largest inland peninsula and we’re literally surrounded by water, to me, helps with that. Even though I know on the other side, it’s just Canada or Chicago. [Laughs.] It still makes me feel like there’s more out there. If I hadn’t gotten into music, I never would have left Michigan besides to go to Florida when I have kids at, like, 50. [Laughs.] Seeing the water made me dream that there was something bigger out there—like the early explorers or something. There’s got to be something more. That definitely influenced me personally. I think people dream bigger when they live near water.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., “Nothing But Our Love”
JS: The music video for that song was the specific reason I picked it. It’s a good song, but the music video captures a moment. I can’t think of the song without the video. It’s them with little box cars around their waists acting like they’re driving, which is only funny because they’re Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. The video just goes hand in hand. That was my favorite video from a local band that is now not local, thanks to Lollapalooza, I guess.

Marvin Gaye, “What’s Going On”
Stevie Wonder, “Living For The City”
Aretha Franklin, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”
AVC: Speaking of not-local bands, your last three tracks are from big acts—Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Aretha Franklin. Detroit claims them, but they are really the world’s bands now.

JS: The Marvin Gaye and the Stevie Wonder, those are just about being in a hard city, whether it’s Flint or Detroit. I feel that they sort of set the precedent for the belief that if those cities can revive themselves one day, then the rest of the world will be a better place.

AVC: Well, you’re living in Michigan, so do you think that’s ever going to happen?

JS: The only way that it’s going to happen is if we get our heads out of the sand. We need to look beyond today and think about it. It’s just simple things. There are towns that are thriving about a mile away from Detroit. Detroit needs to recentralize. Michigan is one of those states that doesn’t do well with urban sprawl. They need to have everything centralized. People can’t afford cars. The police force and the fire stations and stuff can’t keep up with the distance and the amount of people who don’t pay taxes. But if we made all those people stay within one five-mile radius, the resources could be used better.

AVC: That’s probably easier said that done.

JS: God, I sound like I’m running for office. [Laughs.] I mean, politicians say, “Hey, look, I know you’ve lived in this old house for 50 years, but we will trade you this house for a new one in the city and we will bulldoze this one.” It’s cheaper, but they can’t see that. They’re only in office for a few years. You would have to have huge incentives since so many builders are out of business because of the whole housing-industry collapse. But they just need to entice them to come back and say, “We are going to use our budget to build 20,000 new houses in a centralized area of downtown Detroit and get rid of these 50,000 empty houses sprawled out over the suburbs.” Nobody lives in them. The fact that it’s an eyesore isn’t even the worst of it—it’s the fact that they’re dangerous. If someone goes in and starts a fire, that’s thousands of dollars to put out a fire in a house that nobody even lives in. It’s just wasteful. 

They need to suck it up and fix it. And that’s what I always think about when I hear the Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye songs. They had their problems, but now we have economic problems that are not based on color. It’s based on the whole culture of Detroit. It’s city discrimination. Outsiders think, “I’m going to go to Detroit and take pictures of that shithole.” It’s not that bad. There are bad areas in Chicago—really bad areas. I think they just need to become centralized. And I hope that explains why I like Stevie Wonder. [Laughs.]

AVC: Young people who have stayed in Michigan have to be commended, especially those who are making art and working to better their state. Those people really want to do be there. It’s the same thing in other Rust Belt cities like Cleveland or Pittsburgh.

JS: Cleveland got hit really hard as well. Losing franchise sports teams doesn’t help. But the thing is, I live one mile north of Detroit right now because I have a family, and there are no schools in the city. I would love to live in a city like Chicago or New York if it was in Detroit. [Laughs.] There’s nothing wrong with them, but I think I’d like to move to Australia if I moved anywhere. But more than anything I want Detroit to get fixed. Maybe during my kids’ time, but I’m starting to doubt it.

AVC: It’s important that you stay, too. It’s important that you guys are making music out of Detroit.

JS: True, true. The biggest thing is that nobody has jobs. You’d have to work at a bar for the next 50 years, because there’s no music industry here. Bands just leave and get signed by Chicago labels. We have a better chance of being discovered in Chicago than we do in Michigan. I’ve given 34 years of my life to this state and the problem is that you need people like us to stay in Michigan and in Detroit. Give us a reason. Being a diehard fan even if the team loses 50 games in a row—people lose interest eventually. We’re so spread out. There is no public transportation worth taking. Nobody can afford cars to get to work. And then there’s just tons of crime. No more than any other big city, but when you consider how many people are actually living in the city…

But back to Aretha Franklin: I definitely like singing that song, even though it’s definitely not about me. [Laughs.] I like singing that song. I don’t know why. That’s my main reason. I like singing about being a natural woman. I’m confident enough with my manhood to do that, so it’s all good.