Sara A. Lewis: Check, check, mic check. Welcome to Points South. I'm your host, Sara A. Lewis of the Oxford American. I'm here in my home in September, 2020, recording voiceover in a closet in Arkansas. Thinking about the before times—before COVID-19 changed life as we know it. It feels like a distant memory, but today's show takes us back there, to a live performance of folk band Dead Horses recorded at BlakeSt house. The show was captured on March 9th, a few days after the city of Austin cancelled South by Southwest. But before most of the country shut down, including Northwest Arkansas. The Milwaukee-based band, Sarah Vos backed by Daniel Wolff on upright bass and James Gallagher on drums play a few songs and join Fayetteville Roots co-founders Bryan and Bernice Hembree for a conversation. It's a bittersweet reminder of what we're missing now— the kind of energy that only comes at a live show.
Bryan Hembree: Thank you for being here. Um, my name is Bryan Hembree. I'm a musician with Bernice in a band called Smokey and the Mirror. We're really excited to welcome—first time to Arkansas, correct? To Northwest Arkansas. No, I messed that up completely.
Bernice Hembree: Second time, second time.
BrH: Cut that. Don't mind that, we will edit that. We are really excited to welcome for the second time to Arkansas, uh, this tremendous band from Milwaukee. We've been following them for a number of years. They've released a multitude of albums, and they just released an album that is an EP that was a collection of singles. And I love that idea. It's kind of a part of the modern, uh, version of releasing music. And I'm sure they're going to talk more about that, but, uh, without further ado, please welcome Dead Horses.
Dead Horses: ["Family Tapes"]
Sarah Vos: Thank y’all very much. How y’all doing? That song was called "Family Tapes," and we're gonna play one for you now, now called "Mighty Storm." It's a song that I wrote a couple of summers ago. We're from Milwaukee. And, uh, I lived there with my partner and her, her brother was living in L.A at the time and got into this crazy motorcycle accident. And she went out there to be with him. And it was at a time where her family wasn't totally comfortable, comfortable with her being with a woman. They were like, cool, but not cool. So I couldn't, I couldn't quite be there with them, but I could send a song. So one night I sat at her table, at her kitchen table, by myself, drank some whiskey, recorded the song, sent it to her. And, uh, and then Dan and I later on arranged it and we started playing it in the band, but it's called "Mighty Storm."
DH: ["Mighty Storm"]
BrH: I feel like, um, there's, there's this kind of thing that we should address that is at the beginning of your bio that I absolutely love. And it basically says you're not so much a band, but a conversation. And, and I wonder if maybe we can start there, cause I hear that in your music.
SV: Throughout the whole history of the band, it's been a conversation in the sense that it's never really stayed the same very long. Musically, like, is that not the best thing that we can be doing? And even just in the last few weeks, I think playing the shows that we've been doing, it feels really conversational musically and y'all can probably get the, the idea that, what we're playing up here, the parts are, they're written beforehand, we're more or less playing the same thing every night. But the feel of it really is conversed.
BeH: I love that. I love thinking about how it is a different conversation every night when you're on stage. And that changes because you as audience members, you change the vibe for musicians. It's different every night because of the people who are out there throwing your energy up here on stage. And that's also part of the conversation.
BeH: Yeah. And you can't ever take that for granted. It's pretty special feeling that up there.
SV: I do feel there's been this ease on stage that I've never felt before, where we're, we're looking at each other and we're feeling each other out and that's carrying across to the audience. And sometimes like, if you're too nervous, you can kind of shut out the rest of the room. And I noticed some audiences do that, too. They think that somehow there's like this magical barrier between the stage and the audience that, for example, we can't hear you talk. Like, we can.
BeH: We hear you back at the bar!
SV: It's weird. But, um, yeah. I just feel this, this, everyone being more present in a way that feels really special, very fulfilling. We've had some pretty fun shows that are pretty quiet, but right at the most intimate moments, someone opens up their beer. And I, I love it. Cause it is, it's so real. It reminds you that you're all, you're all in the same space together and that's kind of the point, right? Cause y'all could be at home watching, I don't know, Neil Young concerts on TV. I don't know.
BrH: I mean, that would be cool, but let's go home after this and watch a Neil Young concert. Yeah. Uh, maybe a couple more tunes and then we'll join you for another, another short conversation. Dead Horses.
DH: ["Birds Can Write the Chorus"]
SV: So that last song is called "Birds Can Write the Chorus," and it's, it's kind of how we got the namesake for the EP we just put out called Birds. We're gonna play you another tune off of that. It's called "All I Ever Wanted."
DH: ["All I Ever Wanted"]
BeH: So I have a question about books. I find when we're touring, when we're driving a lot, um, I love to take, like, eight books and I really only get through one of them. But I find that those stories then captivate my mind, it'll kind of work their way into either a song I'm working on or into my imagination as I'm on stage singing. I insert the character I was just reading about into a song that we've done for eight years and I think of it in a whole new way. So I'm wondering, what are you reading right now? And do you think that it affects your songwriting or your performance?
SV: Thank you for asking. Um, that's such a good question. I don't think what I'm reading right now is, but, cause I just started it. But in general, the books really do, they just, they breathe into you. It's crazy. I'm sure you all have had the experience where you're so into a book or a story that it, it envelopes you. Like, you, you feel like you're, you're living that, as if you, you know, sometimes you wake up from a dream and it feels like that actually happened. Um, but the book I'm reading right now is a book by Dave Eggers. It's about New Orleans and it's about hurricane Katrina. And, um, it's, it's kind of a book that reads like fiction, but it's a, it's a true story about a man and his family who are running this construction or some kind of business. And I haven't gotten to the point yet where Hurricane Katrina happens, but our band was about to head down to Austin, Texas, for South by Southwest, and it got canceled. So we've been talking about going to New Orleans instead, which, uh, Dan and I have never been. So I'm, I'm anxious to get back to that book and just kind of try to absorb, it's such a huge thing that happened. I know y'all live down here. You understand that more. But up in Wisconsin a hurricane just seems like only something you would see on a movie. Um, but books in general are a huge influence of, of the writing.
BeH: So will you tell us a little bit about where you guys live and where you're from and what your favorite things about your home territory is? The beauty of it, the magic of it?
SV: I love the space in the Midwest. I love that we have a lot of space and I love that we have water and the Great Lakes. That's my favorite things. But also want to open this one up to Dan. What do you like about Wisconsin?
Daniel Wolff: Growing up close to a river, being able to kind of just ride your bike wherever you want. I just, a lot of the same things that Sarah likes, the water, the space, the freedom, and it feels safe. It just feels like people are friendly and you can approach people. And I'm finding that the more we travel around the United States, is that that's really true of a lot of places.
BeH: Yeah, I would actually say almost exactly the same thing he said about Arkansas. We love the water and we love the space and we love the people. That, those are the three things we would say about this place, too. So, wow. Isn't that interesting?
BeH: Look at all these commonalities, people!
BrH: There's this notion, I think, in the 21st century that America is this one thing, but what's beautiful is that it's not.
BrH: And you get that in, in, in our people, but also in our geography. And if, you know, travel for a living, like you all do as musicians, like we do, it's you, you experience that in a more compressed timeframe, I think. You know, you see that, you see that diversity and change, you know, in the span of one day to the next, as you're driving from Wisconsin to Arkansas or whatever it may be.
BeH: We once heard someone say that, uh, America was becoming very homogenized and we thought that that person probably is plane-hopping from airport to airport and getting in a cab and going to a city. Because if you get in a car and you drive from one side to the other, it is such a vast, vast, beautiful place that is very different from one hour to the next on the road. So I'm excited for you guys going all the way down to, to Houston, New Orleans, you're going to get to see so much of the road.
BrH: So just really quickly, before we segue into the last couple of songs, you mentioned the cancellation of South by. And so you're not going to Austin at all.
SV: We haven't a hundred percent made up our minds, which is a, it's a fun thing to be able to do on tour because usually you are pretty scheduled out. Like, you know what you're going to be doing almost every hour of the day. So it's kind of this, I don't know about you guys, but it feels special to me that I'm not sure where we're going to be at that point. So maybe we'll end up going to Austin, but it sounds like New Orleans is where our hearts want to go.
BrH: I like that.
SV: Some jambalaya.
BrH: Oh, yes. You've done your research. Well, do you mind playing a couple more tunes for us?
SV: Yeah, we'd love to.
SV: Man. Thank you all so much. Thanks for having us tonight. I want to introduce these guys again. This is Daniel Wolff on the upright bass and singing. He's from Berlin, Wisconsin. And back here, we have James Gallagher on the drums, from Chicago, Illinois. And my name is Sarah Vos, and we are Dead Horses. And here's our last song.
DH: [“A Petal Here, A Petal There”]
BeH: Thanks. Thank you guys so much for being a part of the Points South podcast. We're so happy to have you. It sounded so beautiful.
BrH: And thanks to the audience here at BlakeSt for being a part of the podcast, as well. We want to thank BlakeSt for hosting us, um, and also want to thank our partners, Oxford American. Yeah, big hand for Oxford American.
BeH: We will be doing this again. If you enjoyed this, if you liked this, check out that when, that when you get those emails that say, "Hey, this special event's coming up," don't ignore it.
BrH: This has just been so much fun. I think back, this was a conversation, and so it was true to form. And so Dead Horses. Thanks for joining us.
BeH: Oh, they do have merch.
BrH: If you buy one vinyl record, I'm just going to tell you this right now, one vinyl record. That's equivalent to spinning their music on Spotify, or the entire record, 6,500 times. So you have two choices. You either buy the vinyl record or you commit tonight to listening to 6,500 of their albums. Yeah, exactly. So there you go.
SAL: This episode was produced by me, Fayetteville Roots, Hannah Saulters, and Christian Leus with Ryan Harris and Eliza Borné. Trey Pollard of Spacebomb does our theme music and sound design. This episode was made possible with support from UAMS, BlakeSt, Spacebomb Group, and Fayetteville Roots. Sign up for our newsletter at oxfordamerican.org/newsletter for all the latest OA and Points South information, including some very special announcements coming soon. And remember, promo code PODCAST gets you 15% off any purchase at OxfordAmericanGoods.org, including our next music issue, which features guest editor Brittany Howard, which is now available for pre-order. Thank you for listening. We hope you've enjoyed the show.