Horse Feathers: The sounds of the Pacific Northwest

by Caitlyn Glinski

While technology is constantly changing and music fans are buying fewer and fewer records, the quickly changing music industry has posed many challenges for artists supporting themselves through their work. Horse Feathers is one band that took this hurdle and turned it into something beautiful. Horse Feathers web

An indie-folk group from Portland, Oregon, known for their gentle, rich, and almost haunting melodies, Horse Feathers are taking on a new, more bold and energetic direction with their sound. After nearly a decade with the band, front man Justin Ringle hit a low and became very discouraged with the current state of the music industry, until finding inspiration for their new record, So It Is With Us, being released Oct. 21.

Horse Feathers began when Justin Ringle moved to Portland after going to college in Idaho.  He had originally moved there with what he described as youthful hubris, hoping to become a designer. “If there’s anything Portland has more of than musicians, it’s designers,” Ringle said. He added choosing music as a career was more of a result of failing at a career in design.

Ringle mentioned that Portland has not always been a hub of folk music, as TV shows with a similar sounding name may have portrayed it to be. Back in 2004, several years before the Portland indie-folk explosion that occurred around 2008, Ringle would play at open mics and get strange looks from people who were not used to his singer-songwriter sound.

Shortly after Ringle moved to the city and founded Horse Feathers, Peter Broderick joined the band and introduced strings to their music for the first time. Since then the band has grown to incorporate a multitude of talented musicians and instruments – including the saw, french horn, and all kinds of strings – and developed a rich and dynamic sound. The band currently consists of five members, including Nathan Crockett on the violin, mandolin, and saw, and a collaborator with Ringle for many years now.

Horse Feathers’ music captures the sound of the Pacific Northwest perfectly, and for a reason. A lot of music from around here sounds like the Pacific Northwest, as it should, Ringle said.  It is more than just sounding like the music you hear being played around you; it’s from being inspired by the same things – the incredible Northwest landscape. Ringle said being outside is a big part of his life, as it is for many people around here. “[Being out in nature] fosters a love for the natural world and visual aesthetics that is reflected in music of the Pacific Northwest.”

Ringle also stressed the importance of seeing local bands; it’s what keeps the music of the Pacific Northwest connected.

This new album is unique both in its sound and the story behind it. Before writing So It Is With Us, Ringle had wanted to stop making music. Things like music streaming services had changed the industry in a way that made it harder to sell records. He said that although they had a song charting on Billboard, they had the lowest record sales ever and their record label didn’t know what to do with them. He felt that as soon as he had learned how to make a career in music, it stopped working. “Everything I knew had changed… I felt like a square peg trying to fit into a circle hole.”

Instead of falling victim to the setbacks that came along with the changing industry, Ringle took a new approach to making music. After accepting that everything he knew about how to earn a living making music had changed, he decided he needed to get something else out of it. “I at least wanted to have fun with what I was doing,” he said.

A turning point that inspired this new direction was playing at Sasquatch. He said nobody noticed, remarked upon, or complained about the changes to the music, they just had fun and enjoyed the show, and he wanted more of that.

Ringle was also tired of his music being perceived as soft or delicate, and wanted this new album to be packed with energy and volume.  The different sound of this new album isn’t manufactured or premeditated, but more of a natural reflection of changes the artist had gone through. “As your life changes, your music changes,” Ringle said. His goal for this new record is for not just people who like quiet music to enjoy the album, but for anyone who is human to enjoy the album.

See Horse Feathers perform Oct. 28 at the Wild Buffalo. For more information about the band, visit horsefeatherstheband.com.

Published in the October 2014 issue of What’s Up! Magazine