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Salt of the Earth

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Hoots and Hellmouth
Soapbox Laundro-Lounge
Sat., 3/24 • 10:30 p.m.
$7 or $10 under 21

WHO’S HOOTS: Hoots and Hellmouth of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, offer up folk tunes that enchant the core of its listeners. Courtesy photo.

Strings and percussion truck on like a coal-burning train rushing along the westward rails. A soothing voice invites eardrums to give way to its message, while second-long glimpses of growling grit suggest rebellion. Background vocals float effortlessly like falling leaves, fluttering to bring it all home. Toying with harmonies and playfully increasing and decreasing intensities, Hoots and Hellmouth create the type of music that’s inspiring and uplifting—the songs we’d listen to while taking off in a beat-up car, destination unknown.

The group comprises lead vocalist, songwriter and founder Sean Hoots and his current band mates: Rob Berliner (guitar, mandolin, banjo, piano, organ, vocals), Mike Reilly (drums, vocals) and Todd Erk (upright and electric bass, vocals). Though the Philadelphia-based group originally began as a duo with Andrew Gray in 2005, they have gambled with various players until reaching its current footing.

Sharing stages with the likes of Grace Potter and Carolina Chocolate Drops, the folk-rock act claimed Best College Record Label Album from the Independent Music Awards for its self-titled debut. They followed up with 2009’s “The Holy Open Secret,” 2011’s “Face First in the Dirt” and their latest release, “Salt.” Earlier works from the band careen boisterously as compared to Sean’s more relaxed and engaging softness found in their current audio—yet all Hoots and Hellmouth pieces are morsels to be savored.

On Saturday, March 24th, they’ll play not once but twice in New Hanover County. The first show is a performance at the 16th annual Wing Fling in Carolina Beach, when they’ll be joined by RocketSurgery and Jonathan Tyler and the Northern Lights. Hoots and Hellmouth will look to Soapbox Laundro-Lounge for a late show Saturday night. We caught up with Sean in anticipation of their busy Wilmington schedule.

encore (e): Can you tell me a bit about the group’s evolution from your duo to its present state? How was the group affected sound-wise with changes? Are you confident in and proud of the current quartet?
Sean Hoots (SH): Andrew and I comprised the two elements of the original H+H molecule, and as such that formative pair set the stage for everything that has come since. Passion, soul, blood, sweat, tears—those were the building blocks we used, and that structure still stands as our fundamental underpinning. The writing is perhaps a bit more focused now that there is only one songwriter involved, but the M.O. is still very much intact. Our latest album, “Salt,” is in some ways a departure from those previously released, but that has more to do with my own writing process, chasing the muse, etc., than personnel changes.

Confident and proud? Hells yes.

e: What’s the story behind “Salt”? Why that album title?
SH: The true backstory here is older than the hills and would require many moons of campfire re-tellings. More to the point, the title comes from a mineral common to Earth, utilized in a variety of capacities the world over—from simple table flavoring to complex processes interconnecting every being, sentient and non. Kinda like us.

e: How do you feel you’ve grown as a writer? What subjects move you the most?
SH: With every stanza I compel myself to continue peeling back the layers of my onion-soul. Sure there come tears, but, ultimately, they are cleansing in nature, and everything feels a little more refreshed on the other side. Connecting internal forces with those external seems to be the mode. Subjects range the gamut, as do objects. Perception, relation of viewer to viewed, dissolution of those boundaries and definitions, the creation/destruction dance of Shiva… These keep me interested, alert, creating.

e: What prompted you to become a musician?
SH: I liked the way Slayer sounded in my walkman on the ol’ school bus.

e: Tell me about your experiences at Wakarusa and SXSW as they compare to playing farms and dive bars. As well, being from Philly, what is it like playing the Philadelphia Folk Festival?
SH: Bigger events invite more listeners, but only if they have nothing else on their agenda at that time. Farms and dive bars offer a more captive (and hopefully captivated) audience. The Philadelphia Folk Fest is the best time you’ve never had. Community, real love of music, recreational psychonautica, mud. They have it all! And they’ve always shown love for the hometown boys. They make us feel like rockstars and little brothers all at once.

e: What’s next for Hoots and Hellmouth?
SH: That’s a big question, isn’t it? Lots more shows, miles on the van, smiling faces, screaming mimis, homesick feelings, BBQ, affirmations, denials, crushing defeats and glorious victories. Oh, and we’re re-releasing “Salt” on April 10th.

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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