If you’re looking to dance to big drums and bass guitars, Horse Feathers may not be your cup of tea. Standing apart from the established rootsy banjo/fiddle folk movement, the Portland quartet beautifully utilizes this Appalacian instrumentation while creating a sound that is uniquely theirs. Like a fine wine they have an organic acidity; post-classical arrangements belie darker lyrical content, giving the music a pleasant burn and complexity. We caught up with Justin Ringle - principle songwriter - while on the road to chat about touring, gear and their new record ‘Thistled Spring’
Don't miss Horse Feathers at the Hi-Dive on Friday the 14th!
Charley Hine -There’s a resurgence of Appalachian / Smoky Mountain-ish folk music. Do you consider yourselves part of this?
Justin Ringle - I don’t necessarily feel like we are influenced by that movement. Holistically there’s a lot of people since 2000 that have become increasingly more interested in quieter music. We are very much a part of that phenomenon.
CH -Horse Feathers is from Portland. Some say the physicality and tightly coupled city planning has contributed to the amount of quieter acoustic music coming out of that area. Your thoughts?
JR -Yeah - when I first moved to portland I was totally broke. I could not get a job. I had an acoustic guitar and an apartment. It’s a city full of basements unlike what you may see in California. That’s a benefit of the Pacific Northwest. You don’t need a practice space to have a band etc.
CH -Are there any Portland artists that you've never met personally but you're excited about?
JR -I do like this guy Benoit Pioulard who’s on Kranky. I like his record and saw him live once. The problem with the criteria you just gave me is I’m at least acquaintances with most of the musicians I really enjoy from Portland. It’s really just a large town - the music scene for better or worse is incredibly small.
CH - On the road, what's the ratio of more intimate venues to rock clubs currently? What’s your preference?
JR -We play a wide variety of venues and I enjoy both types. It’s a totally different type of energy playing to a seated audience compared to a mid- sized ‘Rock U.S.A.’ kind of place. Sometimes you can have a really intimate great show at a rock club though. We’ve had a really weird phenomenon lately with people sitting down at the front of the stage in those types of places.
CH - How do you occupy your time in the tour van? Anyone in the band reading anything interesting?
JR -I’ve been trying to get through this book about the basement tapes called the Invisible Republic by Greil Marcus. It’s about Bob Dylan. Before that I read the first travel book I ever read; about the first expedition to run the Amazon River.
CH - Horse Feathers played the beautifully sounding Old Main of Boulder, CO in 2009 - how did you like the acoustics - we're they really all that?
JR - Ha. The room sounded good but for some reason that particular show was super weird for us. We had driven from Salt Lake and I think the elevation change or the climate threw all our instruments out of tune. I broke a string immediately and was tuning all night. Sam slipped in his chair too; fell to the ground. I’m not sure I got the best picture of Old Main but I really like the venue - would love to play there again.
CH - You use an interesting guitar tuning technique where some of the strings are an octave higher than normal. Some call this 'Nashville Tuning' (http:// www.wikihow.com/Tune-Your-Guitar-to-Nashville-Tuning) - correct?
JR - Not only does it have a different timbre (higher sound), I really enjoy it with some of the finger picking stuff I do - there’s a different quality. On the record I also used it to double guitar tracks. You can kind of get a 12-string sound. This offers a nice high end you can use to extenuate certain sections. I got turned on to it after doing some research on Simon and Garfunkel. It’s super natural sounding but makes the songs more present.
CH - While touring do you guys ever hit up random Guitar Centers and just show off your chops?
JR - Ha - not necessarily. I try to avoid Guitar Center but unfortunately while on the road you have to go. There’s no Stairway for me. Sam (Cooper) is more of the guitarist.
CH - I understand you played open mics early on. What’s the quick overview of how you went from there to where you are now?
JR - I started off doing this stuff solo; it was really the encouragement of my friends. I got put in touch with our current engineer through a friend who runs a label (Lucky Madison). He recorded a couple songs for me as demos. Eventually one of them landed in the lap of the first multi- instrumentalist I played with - Peter Broderick. We were incredibly lucky because our first full length record had promotion essentially out of the gate. Through that type of promotion it kind of dispersed it enough to get noticed by larger labels. We actually had a tour manager pretty early - that touring is actually how Kill Rockstars took notice I think.
CH - Would you consider the latest record ‘Thistled Spring’ more accessible? If so, is this trend going to continue on?
JR - My initial impression once the record was finished was that it was perhaps more accessible but simultaneously more challenging in a weird way. I didn’t really feel like I cut any corners or tailored it to be more accessible on purpose. There are elements of the record that make me say ‘wow, this is really weird’. I did two records of very quiet, moody and pretty dark music. I was just coming form a different place on this one. As far as what’s next, I’ve always felt like I kind of wanted to make another record like the first - to get incredibly spare again. Not sure what’s to come though.
@ The Echo (Los Angeles, CA)
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