Katie Toupin left Houndmouth in April of 2016 and released her solo debut, Magnetic Moves, in 2019. She’s since learned a lot about herself and who she was all along; self-examination that was aided by sobriety, which Toupin has successfully maintained for four years now.
This year, she released a “little album” titled Little Heart. It includes two tracks that have earned her a lot of attention at AAA radio–“Astronaut” and “Ghost.” And she’s learned to do things her way, taking a hands-on approach to every detail in the writing, recording, releasing and promotional process.
We spoke about rediscovering herself and finding a new kind of happiness.
I think you’re calling Little Heart a “short album” rather than an EP. Is that right?
Yeah, we’re just calling it a little album [laughs].
Is that the nature of how things work now? Do you see yourself releasing things 5-6 songs at a time? Or do you think you’ll go back to 12-13 track albums at some point?
Anybody can do anything anymore. And for this, these songs felt like they belonged together as one project and it was done. It was a fully realized album. I love albums and their being a cohesive piece of work, but it’s just not really how people listen to music anymore. Who knows what I’ll do next? I’d still like to make albums, but it’s nice to be able to make singles and just put them out because I’m fully independent, so it’s quite expensive to make a great sounding album.
This group of songs felt a little more hopeful than some of the things that you’ve done in the past. Do you feel like that’s accurate?
Yeah, I think so. I think I’ve become a much more positive person. I’ve never written a happy song until I wrote “Astronaut.” [laughs] I have friends that–that’s what they write. And they couldn’t write a sad song if their life depended on it. I’ve always drawn my creativity from struggle, and that’s just not really the case anymore. It’s growth in who I am, and hopefully we don’t revert back to the super sad stuff, but you draw creativity wherever. At the time, I don’t feel that sense of struggle that I felt ten years ago–or even five years ago.
I assume that a lot of those songs were written over the course of the pandemic, which is an odd time to find positivity. How did you find positivity throughout that time?
They weren’t all written during Covid, but they were recorded during the lockdown. “Ghost” and “Glitter and Gold” and “Don’t Wanna Die” were all written in Austin probably a year before Covid in 2019. Those were written with Scott Davis and Josh Blue. That was a little group writing session; they are the two main instrumentalists on Magnetic Moves. When I write songs with Scott, it just works.
I’ve been sober for four years now. I had been sober for a couple of years then, and I had just started to feel better and really kind of take charge of how I think. I put a lot of energy into that now. With “Astronaut,” I wrote that one when the lockdowns happened. I was touring, and I had to come home to Kentucky. I thought, “I’ll just spend this month or whatever it’s gonna be with my mom.” And a month ended up being four months and now I live here in Lexington.
I was in her basement, and I felt like a little kid. I was living at my mom’s house! I was surrounded by my niece’s toys, and there was something very innocent about it all. The longer that I am sober, the more I dive into this chapter of my life, the more that I am trying to reconnect with the person I was when I was a child anyway. That’s what we do. We try to get away from who we are when we’re in our 20s, then it’s like, “Oh, no. That version of me was really pure and really good.” I’m kind of remembering that version of myself, and that’s what that song really nods to; the feeling of, “I can do anything. I can be anything.” Childlike innocence and wonder that we all innately have.
“Maybe Maybe Someday” – I had a crush on somebody during Covid and I couldn’t get to them because of Covid. That’s where that song came from.
You’ve gotten interactive with fans over the past year or so, opening up a text line. How has that worked for you? Has it been a good way to communicate?
It’s the best thing that I’ve come across. I prefer it over social media, over the email lists, over anything. I can be sure that people are seeing the thing that I’m trying to show them. That’s the thing that I’ve run into since I’ve been solo that can be frustrating–I’ll play a show in Chicago, and the next day without fail, someone will ask, “When are you coming through Chicago?” And it’s like, I’ve been promoting this and putting this out there for months and months and nobody sees it.” It’s so disheartening.
The texting thing is cool because not only can I just respond to people, which is cool for them and cool for me–I can hear how it is impacting them, but they’re also impacting me. But I can also text based on location or age or gender. Location is wonderful. I’ve texted anyone that is within a 100-mile radius of Birmingham for the Birmingham show. Granted, I have 19,000 Instagram followers and I have 900 people that have texted me. So not everybody is over there. That’s why I’m pushing it so hard. That’s why I’m growing it so hard. Email these days – people see an email and send it straight to junk. I manage myself for the most part, and there is a lot of trial and error. Texting has been by far the coolest.
When you left Houndmouth, you took a few years off. Did you take that time off entirely? Were you working on the sobriety thing? What was happening during that time?
It was unplanned. The leaving was not very planned; it was just necessary. I knew that I needed to play music again. I played music with those guys since I was a kid. I really didn’t have any confidence as an artist without them. The experience didn’t give me that much confidence either. I knew that I needed to do this for myself just to prove to myself that I can. It was always on the radar; I was just struggling quite a bit. When I left, that had been my identity for my entire adult life–from the time I was 17 until I was 26, I played music with those people. That was who I was and what I did.
I had to start over from scratch. I felt like I had been stripped of my identity. It was relearning who I am. It was quickly learning, “Oh you can’t party like this.”
“You can’t party like this and still build something and function.” I just didn’t know because that’s how that band operated. That’s how it worked. The sobriety thing came later; maybe a year or so after I left the band, I got sober. I had a moment of realizing that none of my dreams were gonna come true if I kept this. This was the thing that had to go.
It’s been a main focus, but it wasn’t a reason for leaving or anything. I think people assume that a lot, because I’m really open about being sober. It happened at a similar time. But it was really a repercussion of leaving rather than a reason to leave.
I know that with getting sober, folks worry about the quality of the art. But everything you have put out has gotten better each time. Is that something you feel within yourself? That your art has benefited from your sobriety?
Yeah, of course I do. What happened was that I learned that I had all these other voices in my head; other people’s opinions, other people’s thoughts that, when you’re in a band, you have to listen to. At first it was a lot of trying to get those voices out and trying to get back to, “Who am I and what do I like?” Because I didn’t know the answer to those things; even while I was in the band. I never had that space because I was influenced by those people. That’s what a lot of the process has been for me; slowly getting those opinions out of my psyche. “Okay, this is what I like. This is what drives me. This is what I think is cool.” The more that I get away from thinking about what other people might think, I think the songs get better. They’re more authentic to who I am.
I hear that a lot; people getting sober and losing it a little bit. It’s a process. When you’re doing things sober, you are like an infant all over again. When you think about the span of someone that has used or drank, it’s generally started in their teens. So they really don’t figure out who they are because they’ve never had enough of that time sober. You really have to learn how to grow up all over again. And unfortunately when you’ve already made it, other people have to watch that process.
Do you find doing this on your own significantly more rewarding than the artist that you were as part of a collective earlier in your life?
Yes. When I hear other bands talk about, “I’m so glad to be up here with my best friends…” I never had that experience in the band. It didn’t give me that. Now I do it by myself and for myself, and that’s much more rewarding for me. I get to choose the people that I surround myself with, and it’s a much more positive experience for me.
Katie Toupin will perform on Friday, August 6 at 9:30 p.m. on the Avondale Brewing Outdoor Stage at Secret Stages.