Today in outsider antifolk: Breatherholes | Bleader

Today in outsider antifolk: Breatherholes

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I'm a sucker for a "less is more" musician who can rustle up a song that's as striking as anything bursting out of a Marshall stack. So I was basically fated to like Lew Houston, who records solo antifolk tunes as Breatherholes. I heard about him late last month, when Decoder Magazine published a blog post about Breatherholes' new full-length, Come Home, and Houston's work won me over instantly.

Decoder posted the slightly messy and melancholic "From in the Grass," whose home-recorded charm comes in part from its shortcomings—its kitchen-sink percussion is ever so slightly off the beat, an acoustic guitar rings out a little too loud, and the overdubbed vocals sometimes slide out of tune. If anything, though, those "mistakes" underscore its heart and sincerity. That song, combined with the econo DIY aesthetics of the Breatherholes cassettes I've seen and the project's enigmatic online presence, reminded me of a certain local antifolk musician I stumbled upon nearly two years ago. Naturally I had to reach out to the person behind Breatherholes to find out more.

Lew Houston grew up in northeastern Pennsylvania, where as a teenager he picked up a guitar and, in his words, "just kind of fucked around." He played in a few short-term groups before heading to college, where he dropped music. After college he roadied for a couple bands, including Carbondale pop-punk outfit the Copyrights, and moved around the country—including into an attic in Carbondale with his friends from the Copyrights—before settling down in Austin, Texas. There he finally started making music again, as the singer for a punk group called Party Garbage.

A few years ago Houston cofounded another punk band, Wild America, and around the same time he found himself in need of a new place to live. Some of Houston's friends lived at a house with an RV in the driveway, and Houston asked the owner—a "strange" guy named Chango—if he could move into the RV. "I've always liked living in weird places—basements, attics," Houston says. Chango gave him the thumbs-up, and after a little cleaning it became not only Houston's home but also a recording space.

Wild America fizzled out about a year ago, at which point Houston decided to focus on songs that didn't make sense in a live setting; he launched Breatherholes and began recording warm, intimate tunes using a simple setup and sparse instrumentation. His "studio" was above the RV's bed, so he turned its couch into his sleeping area to avoid dismantling his setup every night. He eventually wrote and recorded enough material for a couple full-lengths: last year's Give It to U and the new Come Home. There's a dreamy delay all over both Breatherholes albums, an effect Houston perfected while making Come Home by recording the guitar and vocal parts into a four-track and a digital-eight track at the same time. He also used a toy piano and small percussion instruments throughout Come Home, but they're just decoration for the acoustic guitar and Houston's heart-wrenching and wistful murmur—both of which are so heavy with reverb they can sometimes sound huge and booming.

The back cover of the Come Home cassette reads in part, "recorded in an rv in a driveway in austin, tx in the 4th month of the 12th year of the 21st century." Not that Houston couldn't have kept working beyond April: "The owner of the RV traded it to my old roommate for an El Camino," he says. "That kind of gave me a kick in the ass to finish up that tape." He wrapped it up and moved into a house with friends, and now he's considering his next step. "I'm thinking about starting a proper band again," he says. That might mean the end of Breatherholes, but we'll still have his oddly beautiful home-recorded songs to listen to.

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