Jason Stollsteimer looks both resolute and relieved as he talks about everything that's going on with his band, Hounds Below.
"This is full-time," Stollsteimer, who fronted Detroit's Von Bondies from 1997-2011, says over a plate of red pepper hoummous at Anita's Kitchen in Ferndale.
And, he might add, it's about time.
Stollsteimer started Hounds Below in 2009, about the same time Von Bondies were winding down, although the two groups co-existed for a time. Hounds Below -- which released an EP in 2011 -- is due out with its first full album in May, and the group will perform at this week's Metro Times Blowout (11:20 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 29, at the Garden Bowl in Detroit) along with several shows at the South By Southwest Music + Media Conference during March in Austin, Texas, and a full-scale European tour that begins May 25 in London.
It will also appear on NBC's "Last Call with Carson Daly during the spring.
Stollsteimer, 33, notes that "it's been a gradual ramp-up" for the quartet, whose lineup has finally solidified after going through 11 previous members.
"From the very beginning, I have zero people left in the band," Stollsteimer notes. "Sometimes it's just because we didn't get along, which happens in bands all the time. Another person is possibly too deep into drugs and they kind of disappear. Other people are in, like, 10 different bands. So we never had a chance to grow ever because it was changing so often.
"With all of the mistakes I made in my old bands, I learned that you've got to find people whose whole life is music -- not college, not their girlfriend, not their boyfriend, not being popular. They love music and they want to tour and that's all they want. I just asked my drummer (Griffin Bastian), 'What do you want to do after you're done playing music?' and he goes, 'I'm gonna play until I can't.'
"That's what I'm talking about. That's what we need for this band."
Hounds Below is starting from ground zero in a way, but it does have a bit of history thanks to Stollsteimer and Von Bondies. That band, which formed in Ypsilanti and became a top name in Detroit's burgeoning garage rock scene of the time, released three albums, made several late-night TV appearances and had a minor hit with "C'mon C'mon" in 2004. Stollsteimer also made less welcome headlines when he was assaulted by Jack White at the release party for the group's "Pawn Shoppe Heart" album -- released by the major label Sire Records -- at Detroit's Magic Stick.
Detroit was fertile territory Von Bondies, but Stollsteimer recalls that its impact was actually greater outside of the city -- and especially overseas. "Recently our old manager was letting me know, 'You know, Michigan wasn't even one of your Top 10 states, and Detroit wasn't one of your Top 10 cities," Stollsteimer says. "In Europe we would do, like, 2,000-seaters. It's weird to be very sought-after in other places than your home.
"But in America, the Von Bondies were a failure on a major label. We didn't succeed enough to sustain us, and I knew that would be the case. I couldn't believe they signed us. We had a bunch of two-minute songs with no choruses and stuff. It wasn't a standard kind of pop band, you know?
"But I kind of dug that, because I didn't have to satisfy anybody's needs in Michigan. I could just come home and be normal."
Stollsteimer started Hounds Below as a quieter, more rootsy alternative to Von Bondies, but the roster merry-go-round began nearly as son as the group was in motion -- much to Stollsteimer's chagrin.
"Every single time you have a new band member it's like you're kind of falling in love again," he explains. "You fall in love with what they do and what they bring to the table. And then they take it away and you say, 'I never loved them anyway!'
"So it's been kind of a flatline for a long time. It's not whether the band is good or bad, but you have to pay for plane tickets and stuff for everybody and all the expenses that come with a band, and you start to think that 'I'm not gonna spend all that money on someone who is going to flake out a week into the tour.' I've had 11 flakeouts in two and a half years -- that's a lot."
The turmoil was good for creativity, however; Stollsteimer notes that two of the songs for the new album were inspired by the abrupt departure of a bass player a week before the recording sessions earlier this month at Ann Arbor's Big Sky studios. "I didn't have a girl to be bummed about, so I wrote about that," says Stollsteimer, who lives with his fiance -- former Boys Night Out member Kara Dupuy, now a pre-med student -- and her four-year-old daughter in Ferndale. "So that last break in the band kind of helped me out."
The Hounds Below sound, meanwhile, has shifted since the band started.
"There's a lot of anger and spite and aggression now," Stollsteimer says. "I was feeling pressure because I couldn't get the songs in my head out because of what was going on with the band. I was sitting there with this anger and frustration and constant let-down; I took that and made it into songs that are now my favorite songs -- and they even sound happy sometimes."
One of "Hounds Below's" new songs, a driving and hooky modern rock track called "For You and I," has already been posted by the web site Consequence of Sound. But Stollsteimer says that's just one direction the group -- drummer Bastian, guitarist Skye Thrasher and bassist Jesse Shepherd-Bates -- took with the new material.
"It's all over the map, really," the frontman explains. "Some of it's pretty heavy. Some has a little bit of an 80s vibe. We were just trying to have fun and write good songs."
Stollsteimer hopes to take the group back into the studio to record three more songs for B-sides and other uses. The album will be released on his own Intheact Records label, available only online and at shows. Stollsteimer, who's also managing Hounds Below, anticipates some record company interest once the album comes out and the group hits the road to support it, but he's perfectly happy being on his own for the time being.
"I want to see how far we can get without the help," he says. "A real label, a bigger one, should only sign a band if the band can thrive and succeed on its own, so I want to get us to that point.
"The main thing is we better go out there and be good. No matter if I have a fever or a broken leg, I've got to at least roll around on the ground sneezing as fast as I can for an audience, to be entertaining. We've got to go out and bring it every night, but I feel like we can do that. I think we have a chance."
BLOWING IT OUT
The 15th Annual Metro Times Blowout runs Feb. 29-March 3, with 185 acts playing in 15 venues.
The festival starts on Wednesday, Feb. 29, with a pre-party and performances by Hounds Below, K.I.D.S., Belle Ghoul and others in the Magic Stick and Garden Bowl, 4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Rust Belt Market will also host a craft bazaar that evening. Blowout then moves to Hamtramck from Thursday-Saturday, March 1-3, with shows at 13 clubs and halls around the city. The Night Move shuttle will run all three nights.
Tickets for the entire festival are $20 until Feb. 29 and $25 thereafter.
For a full schedule and more information, visit www.blowout.metrotimes.com.
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