Indie folk enjoyed a little surge a few years ago (most observably in the US), spawning some scenesters, and also some authentic, old world characters who became real ambassadors of the fearless and emotionally exposed. The songs on the last four Horse Feathers albums are poetic, and powerful in their frailty, rooting the band firmly in that second category.
The Oregonian outfit are purveyors of murmuring, unplugged and unapologetic folk music, and have been since 2006. Their sound is all about stripping away the dressings, offering listeners the barest, brittle bones of a song – both emotionally and instrumentally.
Brambly and charismatic lead singer Justin Ringle answered some of our questions for The Songwriter Series.
At what point did you know that you wanted to be a songwriter professionally? Was there something that made you realise it was the best thing for you?
“I have been writing songs since I was 15 years old, but never really allowed myself to think it could be a profession. I moved to Portland, OR in 2004 and was broke and unemployed and playing open mic’s for while. I started to get feedback from a few people that I should put some more energy into the idea, and then one thing led to another and I started making a living doing it.”
“I suppose the realization came at a certain point that it was the best job I could find, given my job history and the circumstances. In retrospect, it all happened pretty organically, and I chalk some of it up to being in the right place at the right time and having a little bit of luck.”
What do you hope people take from a Horse Feathers record?
“That they can make it their own in some way. I write songs for myself as the first audience, and in the end, once I turn in the record those songs don’t really belong to me anymore. Everyone gets to interpret the music themselves, and if it effects them in some way, that makes me happy.”
Is there a song on your setlist that you look forward to playing a little bit more than the others?
“I’m really proud of a song on the the new record called “Where I’ll Be”. Can’t explain why but I really enjoy playing that one live lately.”
Is there a song that you wish you’d written?
“Tough question, I don’t know really. . . “Treason” by The Bats? There’s probably a million, I think they all end up becoming part of your own songs in weird way.”
Can you think of a gig, or a moment during a performance, when you realised you were doing something bigger than you had been before?
“We did a small stint of shows with Jose Gonzales in the UK back in 2008. I remember just about going on stage to play for a few thousand people in London and thought to myself, “How in the hell did this happen!?” At that moment, I was just thinking that I’m from a small town in Idaho, and I had no business being there playing a concert in England.”
“I gathered myself up and of course played the show, but distinctly remember the feeling that we were playing to more people at once that night then we had played to cumulatively up until that point.”
Your music has a strong folk sensibility. What is it about the sound, or even the culture associated with the genre, that attracts you?
“I like that the energy in “folk” is very human in the sense that there’s no electricity involved. The sounds being made are very pure, and I think that lends to a type of intimacy and immediacy that has a lot of power to communicate a wide variety of feelings and ideas with very little veneer or gloss.
I think to myself sometimes that if the lights some day go out we’ll still being playing concerts, and I’ll feel sorry for the electronic music guys. Not to sound like a total Luddite, because we totally use all kinds of technology to make music as well, but there is something to a stripped down, well-written song played with intention – that, to me, feels like the highest thing to aspire to with playing music.”
What are ‘Curs in the Weeds’, as you mean the phrase in your song of the same name?
“A cur is a dog, or more specifically a lowly one. I was just trying to paint a picture of the protagonist crawling with the “Curs in the Weeds” as if he was equally as unwanted and despised as a cur, or weeds for that matter.”
Please describe what it is that you experience when you’re on stage.
“Anxiety, joy, frustration, catharsis to name a few things. It’s always a different experience every time and there are a lot of things that are out of your control when you perform music live. The things that I can’t control on stage drive me crazy like sound, or somebody talking on their cellphone, or lights. But in the end everything usually comes out O.K. and I leave the stage with the distinct feeling like I got something off my chest and that I’m ready to do it again.”