At Work: Katie Toupin

Larson Sutton on July 12, 2018

These days, the mere mention of Katie Toupin’s name comes with a preface: formerly of Houndmouth. The phrase is even included in her Twitter bio.

“I can’t really talk about it, if that says anything,” Toupin says as she looks ahead to the next stage of her career. “It was very clear that it was time for me to leave, and I left. That’s all there is to it.”

Her continued association with her former band is understandable. Toupin co-founded the Indiana-bred alternative-blues band in 2011 and spent five years singing and playing keyboards with the outfit as they steadily rose from Midwest clubs to the country’s biggest festivals as well as national TV appearances on The Late Show with David Letterman and Conan.

When she parted ways with Houndmouth in 2016, Toupin headed west toward Los Angeles. She admits that Louisville, Ky., no longer felt like home after so many years on the road and, after settling in Southern California, she started cultivating a mix of players to hothouse her budding repertoire, sharing demos through iPhone’s Voice Memos app. And, on hiatus from the perpetual party of touring, she decided to clean up her act.

“My dreams weren’t going to come true if I kept living that way,” the now 11-months-sober Toupin says.

However, her creative itch remained and, last year, Toupin filmed a recording session which she intended to post on YouTube. Without overdubs or edits, she recorded five songs at West LA’s Village Studios during a single block of time.

While each cut possessed its own unique vibe, Toupin believed that the performances were worthy of being heard as a cohesive, stand-alone collection.

She shifted the video concept and self-released the fistful of tracks in early 2018 as a debut solo EP, Moroccan Ballroom. “It felt like the right first step,” she says. As her confidence grew, she started scheduling a short slate of appearances in major cities, assembled a quartet to support her, and went back on the road.

Toupin embraced the freedom of her new role. She wore what she wanted—jeans and T-shirts, mostly—and played electric guitar. She hung around after her shows, signing CDs and posters long past last call. She even ran merch giveaways on Twitter.

“The hardest part is being responsible for the music and standing behind it, 110 percent,” Toupin says. “The song ‘Danger’ took me three years to write. I’m proud of it.”

Currently, Toupin is writing toward a future LP—analyzing and refining her process. “Anytime I’ve tried to control the angle at which I approach a song, it doesn’t really work.”

She’s also summoning the mettle to perform a series of truly solo gigs—just her and her guitar. “To me, that’s the most terrifying thing in the world,” says Toupin. “I love rock-and-roll. But it sounds really challenging to keep an audience’s attention entirely alone. I need to conquer that.”

If anything, then Toupin is now certain that she will always make her own music. “When you’re in a band, there are a million different egos floating around,” she says. “This is so fun. I will never be in a band again.”

This article originally appears in the July/August 2018 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more, subscribe here