Q&A: Matt Hobbs of Puppy Songs, “Cheese Tax” TikTok hit


The cheese tax! The cheese tax!
You’ve got to pay the cheese tax
Every time you’re cookin’
When the cheese comes out
This puppy comes lookin’

If you’ve been on Instagram or TikTok at all in the last month, there’s a solid chance you’ve come across this earworm. “Cheese Tax” is one of over 150 short songs about dogs from Atlanta-based singer-songwriter Matt Hobbs, creator of the social media account Puppy Songs. Hobbs writes, performs, and produces these wholesome and catchy tunes that accompany videos of his two senior pups, Leni and Marley (aka Mar Pup). Hobbs took some time out from creating hilarious canine jingles to chat with 360°Sound about the viral success of “Cheese Tax,” the lush vocal arrangement of “Please Rub My Belly,” and the cute Pomeranian-Chihuahua mixes that inspire him daily.

Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

360°Sound: How did Puppy Songs come to be?

Matt Hobbs: I’ve had a number of different jobs over the years, but I’ve always been writing music and performing. I worked in theater. I performed as a singer-songwriter, writing songs for myself, for musicals, and all kinds of things on the local scene here in Atlanta. I had a full-blown day job until 2019 when I left to pursue a career as a creative entrepreneur, musician, songwriter, and everything in between.

That was starting to ramp up by early 2020, and then everything shut down. I needed more practice producing my own tracks. I had Logic Pro. A lot of times at home, I naturally made up songs for the dogs from their perspective. I wanted a project where I could rapidly start and finish recording, arranging, and mixing songs just to get as many repetitions as possible. That was where it started. I just had so much fun making songs for Leni and Marley. I think I had done 10 or 12 songs by the time the pandemic hit, experimenting but not really committing to it. It became something I put a lot of effort into it starting March 2020. I’ve never turned back.

Was “Cheese Tax” (Puppy Song #155) the first song to get a ton of attention?

Yeah, that one has been different. About a week before, another tune, “Couch Indentation,” kind of broke what had been a trough of TikTok performance. We just weren’t getting shown a lot for whatever reason. “Couch Indentation” was the first tune and video to crack a million on TikTok. And then “Cheese Tax” came out, and it’s just been a wild month ever since. It’s been really fun. I’ve had a number of cool conversations and have been getting to meet lots of cool folks. Most memorable was I’ve done a couple of morning radio shows in different parts of Australia. Getting to drop in at 5:30 in the afternoon to talk to a morning show in Melbourne was a treat.

For “Cheese Tax,” I had fun doing the vocals. I started having even more fun with the verses once I found that floor-tom rhythm. It came together quickly and with energy and excitement. I was laughing the whole time. I was like, “Oh my god, this is so silly.” I can definitely say that I had fun, and maybe that was detectable in the final product.

There’s no real telling what’s going to take off with folks. I’ve done like four other songs about cheese. This is probably the fifth song involving how my dogs like cheese [laughs]. I love musical theater, and this definitely had a bit of that. I’ve described it as borrowing vibes from “Master of the House” from Les Misérables or “Poor Unfortunate Souls” from Little Mermaid. It’s the villain song. A lot of [Puppy Songs] is trying to grab things that are familiar to people but still finding some new way to do it. I think that’s what it’s like making music in 2023.

Tell us about your two pups, Leni and Marley, that inspire all these songs.  

These are my wife’s dogs from before she met me. Leni and Marley are 13, and she’s had them since they were very little. They were accidental puppies from Florida, where my wife used to live. She’s been with them for a long time, and I’ve been on the scene with them for seven years now.

Leni and Marley are awesome. They’re Pomeranian and Chihuahua mix. They’re from the same litter. Leni, the shorter-haired one, presents way more Chihuahua. She’s way feistier and more protective of my wife. Big personality. Sweet but also fierce. She’s got this little voice where she’s always a little anxious. I guess that’s where the Leni voice came from. It sounds a little bit like Cartman in South Park.

Leni has that nasally voice, and Mar Pup has that big rounded “Oooh yeah!” Mar Pup needed that complimentary voice so they could sing together and not be too tonally rough. Mar Pup is more of a ham. She’s way more Pomeranian, just lies on her back and asks for belly rubs. She’s goofy. That voice fit her. Mar Pup does a lot of soulful stuff, a lot of epic things, kind of Michael McDonald-esque. I’m naturally a piano player so I really love Ben Folds and Elton John, and Leni’s style is somewhere in between there.

I’ve done so many genres. “Cheese Tax” was the 155th song in three years, so we’ve had quite a few repetitions. Had a few hits in the past, but the nature of the internet, we didn’t rise to the top. When “Stuck on My Teefs” came out in 2020, a lot of people know that song, but they don’t know where it came from. A lot of other dog accounts blew up. Maybe they reuploaded the audio. This is the first time with “Cheese Tax” that the narrative of Puppy Songs has shined through, which has been really awesome.

You’ve done some “making of” videos where you discuss how these songs came together. How has your production approach evolved from when you first started?

I’m definitely learning how to make more of those type of videos to see if people are interested. I know people like watching you build vocal parts. I did the vocal arrangement for “Please Rub My Belly” and some people were like, “Dude, I thought you used like a doubler that modulated it and changed the pitch. You literally tracked that 14 times.” I’m like, “Of course, I tracked and compressed and mixed down every part.” It’s come a long way. I’m not a plug-in junkie. I have some of the basic things. I’m not an engineer’s engineer. I’m not an engineer even. I do what I have to do to help make the song be as exciting or heartfelt as it felt in my head.

All my songs start with what I call a “walking around hook.” If I can’t walk around and bop along and rhythmically sing it, I’m not done building it. Because no amount of catchy authentic content is going to come from Mixbus compression. That’s all helpful down the road. But getting the story, the hook, the character, and the why of the song is still the most important thing for me. I need to be able to sing it at the piano or with a ukulele or guitar to have this simple version that can stand on its own. Then usually I get in Logic and start building tracks. I favor the human voice because I love singing, so I do a lot of vocal stuff.

Do you do extended versions?

When I put them out, it’s tough because once they do well I want to extend them to put them on Spotify. I want them to be a minute before I put them on Spotify. I don’t want to add an intro a lot of times because then when people pull it up in their music library on reels, they’re like, “Wait, what song is this?” It’s a strange activity when you consider the channels that the music goes out on. My heart breaks for people with amazing songs and try to march them out on TikTok and there’s a 10-second acoustic intro. It’s so beautiful but think about what was on the other side. I shoot for 20 to 30 seconds. Sometimes they’re 45 and sometimes they’re 15. If something is really gimmicky and doesn’t feel like it deserves two verses to support it, I’ll just throw it out there. It really depends on the song.

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