Thursday, April 19, 2012
Justin Ringle of Horse Feathers Discusses "Cynic's New Year"
Horse Feathers is led by songwriter Justin Ringle, along with instrumentalist Nathan Crockett, and a collective of Northwest musicians including Dustin Dybvig, Victor Nash, Justin Power, Catherine Odell, Jedadiah Bernards, Cory Goldman, Jenn Rawling, Adam Thompson, Scott Magee, Brandon Johnson, and sound engineer Skyler Norwood.
The band's new record, Cynic's New Year, was just released on April 17th via the Kill Rock Stars label. The album builds upon the impressive discography that Mr. Ringle has been crafting with 2006's Words Are Dead, 2008's House With No Home, and 2010's Thistled Spring.
Cynic's New Year finds songwriter Justin Ringle weaving personal and universal themes seamlessly throughout the song cycle. He has looked to the recent devastating tsunami in Japan, circling rumors of radioactivity drifting into his home town of Portland, and some dramatic changes in his own relationships for inspiration.
While the new Horse Feathers album maintains characteristics of Ringle's past works, the record as a whole admirably surveys new territories, while expanding beyond expectations sonically. Cynic's New Year is not just a record with more attention to detail, but a pivitol move that displays a bold and engaging new sensibility for Horse Feathers in the pairing of the lyrical content and musical arrangements. It's an impressive, accessible, and very enjoyable record that is definitely not to be missed this year.
Did you have any preconceived ideas, concepts, or an overall game plan set for what you wanted to do for the "next record" during this time?
Justin Ringle: This record was a bit more fluid than the others, namely because I had some turnover with band members. People were moving on and doing other things so I knew going in that I wasn't going to be able to make a more band-oriented record with the same touring/recording characters I had been playing with.
With that said, I had so many friends in town I desperately wanted to make some music with, so I decided to just make this one more focused on a session type-of-thing. After that decision was made, we started recording at my little home studio to facilitate people coming over to record.
Can you describe what was influencing you most during the writing process?
Justin: I realized after touring pretty intensely on the last record all of a sudden that I wasn't a kid anymore. I felt so much more mortal, down to earth, and humbled by all the experiences related to touring and doing music full time that I kind went back a couple of steps. I was feeling more willing to share, and I could tell things were getting a bit more personal than the last couple of records. This of course scared the shit out of me.
Then there was that tsunami in Japan last year, and I remember seeing a news program talking about radiation levels in Portland from the reactor over there, and then my girlfriend moved away, and then a bunch of my friends where getting divorced, and then my grandmother got sick, and then my dad nearly died from a surgery. . .You get the picture.
I hope to not sound like I'm complaining but 2011 to me had the distinct feeling of being fucked up. More than anything else I would say all that stuff that happened last year is what influenced me the most.
Can you discuss what came first: music or lyrics? And how did these feed each other?
Justin: It's always different for each song, but I mostly work with music first. I always know the emotion I want a song to have, which is usually the first part, and then I just try to work on the music being the best possible backdrop so the lyrics can put the details of the whole thing into focus.
Was there a tune(s) that set the rest of the songs, and ultimately the new record as a whole, in motion?
Justin: Chronologically "Last Waltz" was the oldest song on the new record but versions of "A Heart Arcane" were kicking around for awhile too, which to me was kind of the one that was the catalyst for most of it.
Did you have any particularly significant musical influences during this time that steered the direction of your arrangements?
Justin: In terms of arrangements, I have been pretty into George Martin for a couple years now. Which is kinda of a boring answer, but so much of the stuff he did is so classy and sophisticated, but at times also off-kilter. I think the choices made for instrumentation are what especially get me going about him.
Lyrical influences and inspiration?
Justin: James Wright. I love him. He's is seriously my favorite poet and I just want to try to get some lines of a song to someday be a 1/16th as cool as him. I read some Robinson Jeffers for good measure too. I read these guys while working on the last record too, but I always find myself returning to poetry just for the word choices. I kinda just study their stuff for the sound of the language.
Can you discuss your recording process for the new record?
Justin: Skyler Norwood (producer, engineer) would show up at my house around 9:30-10. We would listen to mixes from the day before and drink coffee. I'd show him a song and then we would call people to come play. Nathan Crockett (violinist) and I would have arrangements started on songs and then throw them at people when they came over.
It all was very "seat-of-the-pants", but so rewarding and exciting. It was really cool to let stuff breathe and be less anal-retentive which is my normal M.O. Using the studio and collaborating with so many people is really what made this record what it is.
What have you been listening to lately?
Justin: Tim Hardin, John Martyn, and Bill Withers (totally new to me which my bandmates think is ridiculous).
What are your plans for 2012?
Justin: U.S. this spring, then summer festivals, and then onto Europe in the fall. I don't have any time for the personal plans once the record is out!
Thanks so much for taking the time to participate in this interview Justin. I really appreciate your time, and I wish you the very best with your new record and upcoming tour.
Justin: Thank you Chris.