Portland’s Horse Feathers play minimalist American

The Horse Feathers may tour with a saw player, but the chamber folk group is not likely to be mistaken for lumberjacks. Still, the act is undeniably effective in its ability to distill gorgeous songs from the emotional timbre, rustic atmosphere and sense of sorrow hidden deep within the forested landscapes of the Pacific Northwest.

Singer/songwriter and guitarist Justin Ringle founded Horse Feathers as a solo project after moving from Idaho to Portland, Ore., in 2004.


“I have always been influenced by place and geography,” Ringle said. “I would not be the same person if I had come of age in California. It’s really cliché to say, but in Portland, it’s the rain and how it forces you to be introverted. In Idaho, it’s the space and absolute absence of culture. Somewhere between those two examples, I think, is where playing music for me has really made sense.”

It wasn’t long before fellow Portland transplant and multi-instrumentalist Peter Broderick was inspired to contact Ringle after hearing the songwriter’s demos. A serendipitous and collaborative partnership quickly formed, melding Ringle’s melancholy tenor and finger-picked acoustics with Broderick’s arsenal of instrumental talents into an impressive library of sparse, roots-folk tunes. Later, Broderick’s sister, Heather, joined in with cello and added vocal layers that expanded Horse Feathers into a well-structured trio.

“I usually work on songs and ideas for a stint of time, sometimes as long as a year,” Ringle explained. “By the time I’m feeling like I have the verse/chorus structure down, I would show the tune to Peter and Heather. Usually, I have the song pretty outlined in my head in terms of melody, general mood and lyrics. Peter and Heather’s contributions would always just cement everything for me.”

The trio released its debut album, “Words Are Dead,” in 2006 to an enthusiastic response, which locked the group into a pony race with fellow equine-named act Band of Horses for the PLUG 2007 Independent Music Awards’ Americana Album of the Year.

Horse Feathers lost that race, but stayed in the saddle, spending a year on tour and eventually inking a deal with Kill Rock Stars, a revered indie label from Olympia, Wash., that agreed to release the group’s sophomore album.

“(Being on the label) has been an amazing experience thus far,” Ringle said. “I feel so lucky to be a part of what they are doing especially coming from the Northwest. I still can’t believe it when I go to the office and see some kind of relic or poster of Unwound or something like that.”

Although the act has long celebrated an ever-changing roster with Ringle and Peter Broderick serving as constants, the partnership faced a significant snag last year.

“Peter moved to Denmark,” Ringle said. “Then, around Christmas, he was back here in Portland and we worked in the studio together. Since then, he has had a knee injury and will most likely not be touring for some time.”

Ringle said it was tough to find a replacement violin player for the band’s live show, but Nathan Crockett, a family friend of the Brodericks, stepped in to help Horse Feathers fill out the stage lineup.

“(His) mother actually taught Peter and Heather how to play,” Ringle said. “He actually plays the saw, too! So he’s been a great addition.”

Despite geographic difficulties, the group has written and recorded the material for “House with No Home,” which will be released on Sept. 9. Although Ringle is clearly excited about the results, he considers the new disc to be a “transitional” work.

“‘Words Are Dead’ was a very honest and confessional record for me,” he said, “whereas ‘House with No Home’ still touches on the same mood at times, it’s not quite as literal in terms of how personal the content is. I stepped away from being too close to the songs. It got scary over a couple of tours to be that honest every night.” “Lucas Ross

Lucas Ross

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