TO COMMEMORATE Horse Feathers' 10th anniversary, the Oregon band's label, Kill Rock Stars, is putting out a box set of all three Horse Feathers albums, plus another set of outtakes and B-sides. On cassette only.
“They’ve been flirting with these cassette box sets, just because they’re kind of an unusual, fun item,” says Justin Ringle, Horse Feathers’ singer, songwriter and all-around musical visionary. “It makes it capable of putting out a number of albums with a pretty low cost. And it’s just a cool package.”
To promote KRS Archives, Volume One, Horse Feathers is hitting the road for its first East Coast tour in several years, and will play the club Ampersand on April 11.
“I didn’t even realize it had been 10 years, to be honest with you,” Ringle laughs. “I thought, OK, let’s put it out and put a name to the face. We’ll squeak out a little tour and tell some folks that we’re still alive and well and playing music.”
Over the course of those three albums, Horse Feathers has given us some of most sublime acoustic music of the last decade. Ringle specializes in lyrical tone poems, delicately played and sung, with achingly understated string arrangements.
Lately, he’s started using drums. The Savannah show will feature Ringle on guitar, a violin, a cello, a banjo and guitar player, and a drummer.
A small-town Idaho native, Ringle moved to Portland in 2003. Thrilled by the city’s thriving, open music scene, he began to frequent Open Mic nights. Soon, naturally, he found like-minded collaborators.
“Over the years it’s kind of become Me And Other People,” he explains. “So I spend a lot of time working on songs by myself, and trying to figure out the vision of what I want a record to sound like, and how we’re going to approach it. And then I slowly starting bringing in the collaborators. The partners in crime, so to speak.”
Inspired, he says, by George Martin’s chamber work on latter-day Beatles records, Ringle gravitated towards string players. “I slowly figured out over the years how to kind of integrate that with my songs,” he says. “And of course using the studio as part of that process. There’s just so much depth that you can achieve musically making string arrangements.
“It’s a collaborative effort. I don’t write it out—we usually base the string arrangements off of harmonies, based off of vocal melodies. And build from there. Or use some kind of melodic motif that we decide on and build that up.”
Ringle describes Horse Feathers over the years as “a natural evolution.” Although the melodies were always gorgeous, the sonic growth between House With No Name (2008), Thistled Spring (2010) and Cynic’s New Year (2012) is clear and present.
He thrives on collaboration. “Usually I start with the violin player,” Ringle explains. “I try to just bring out the strengths in different players. Sometimes they come out of the gate with something that I would never think of. That adds a lot to the dialogue of the music.
“A lot of times, two heads are better than one. But also, you don’t want too many chefs in the kitchen! I’m kind of the ringleader, and I try to drive the car, but there is some room for everybody to be able to embellish and bring things out.
“Ultimately, the goal is just to make really good music.”
After this tour, the band will record a new album—with drums. It’s something Ringle’s been thinking about for a while.
“I have definitely tried to release my grip a little bit,” he says. “I’m pretty neurotic about some of this stuff, and I’ve definitely tried to squeeze the life out of some things that I’ve recorded, by trying to be too overbearing with what I want.”
A MusicFile Productions/Savannah Stopover event. cs