For indie-folk music lovers, a melodious gust of musicians is coming in from the West Coast to perform in Madison this week. Horse Feathers, a band from Portland, Ore., will be playing in the Rathskeller tonight for your listening pleasure.
In an interview with The Badger Herald, lead singer Justin Ringle gives a look at Horse Feathers.
Ringle first played solo under the moniker of Horse Feathers, and although he now plays with a band, the name stuck around as a symbol of what their music stands for.
“‘Horse Feathers’ is something my grandfather used to say,” Ringle said. “It’s something he’d say to mean ‘nonsense.’ It’s from ’20s slang and I liked it. I guess it’s kinda a reflection of what I wanted the music to mean. It also conjured up this image of antiquity that I found very appealing.”
The sense of melancholy inspired by their music sets the mood of their album, House With No Home, with its haunting minor chords and rich string arrangements. The album title comes from the lyrics of one of their songs.
“It sort of encapsulates what I was feeling at the time,” Ringle said. “I was intrigued by the idea of alliteration in the title, but also by the interesting complex of how a ‘house’ is a physical place, while a ‘home’ is a feeling and that you can have one without the other. I was feeling displaced at the time and so it was very fitting.”
Although Ringle worked solo for many years, he eventually collaborated with multi-instrumentalist Peter Broderick (violin, banjo, mandolin, cello, viola, piano, saw, percussion and vocals). Soon joined by Broderick’s sister Heather, the band released its first album, Words Are Dead, in 2006. Heather Broderick is the cellist and background vocalist on House With No Home as well, but will not be touring with Ringle this time around.
Horse Feathers’ music is rich with emotion and their lyrics full of meaning. Not one chord or word is sung that does not contribute to the powerful experience of their music. Most of Horse Feathers’ current song inspiration comes from Ringle, but they work as a team.
“I usually will write the song and play it for the band,” Ringle said. “Then we tailor it to the string parts and go from there.”
And although they are a band, they are faced with a very unique challenge — the band members come and go based on availability.
“A lot of what we have struggled with has been retaining,” Ringle said. “We aren’t your traditional rock band, so I don’t like calling myself the ‘leader’ or anything. I play and the band members accompany me. But probably the hardest part is keeping the accompanists around. In the past they have come and gone.”
The members that will be accompanying Ringle at the Rathskeller tonight include Nathan Crockett (violin, saw, vocals), Catherine O’dell (cello, vocals) and Sam Cooper (banjo, mandolin, percussion, violin).
While writing and performing music barely pays the bills, Ringle and his Horse Feathers pioneer on with a united vision.
“I just want to make the best music I can. I’d like to make a living from it, but it’s not as much about that as it is about the music,” Ringle said.
Spoken like a true musician, which is good incentive to come to their show. Opening for them will be two Midwest musicians, Joe Pug and Madison-based American Fiction.
According to Ringle, Horse Feathers is prepared to play their hearts out tonight.
“We really do try to make each performance better than the last,” he said. We love playing in Madison. It is definitely one of the better places to play and we have been there four times before. Each time was great, so we are excited.”
Horse Feathers plays at the Rathskeller tonight at 9 p.m. Admission is free.