Santa Cruz Good Times

Friday
Aug 01st
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Northwestern Gothic

ae_horse1Horse Feathers’ Justin Ringle on how unemployment, gloomy weather and Gothic lit minimized his sound
We all know Portland is overrun with them. You know the crowd I’m talking about: the over-educated, rarely employed, too-cool youth on the cusp of computer culture and an artistic aesthetic. There’s no doubt about it, there are just too many graphic designers in Oregon.

“I came to find out when you move to Portland, Ore., it’s kind of a shocking realization that if there’s any creative field then there is a surplus of unemployed people,” explains Horse Feathers’ frontman Justin Ringle. “There are more graphic designers in Portland than there are musicians, almost, so it was kind of a rough transition. I couldn’t find a job in that field, so, low and behold, I end up touring around in a van most of the year.”

For Idaho-raised Ringle, moving to Portland is what started it all. It’s a theme of geography that comes up throughout the story of Horse Feathers—the slow-boiled folksy foursome returning to The Crepe Place on Thursday, Dec. 16. Though nowadays the songs of the string-heavy, pensive multi-instrumental group seem to flow from Ringle with a soothing effortlessness, it’s a fascinating process by which he came to this point.

ae_HorseFeathers2After graduating from the University of Idaho with a bachelor of fine arts in studio arts and an emphasis on graphic design, Ringle initially stayed close to home with steady work. However, not only did Portland’s dearth of employment force him to examine alternative life avenues, but it really was the impetus to move away from traditional indie rock to the acoustic-based organic balladry of Horse Feathers.

“I think I just got bored, and I was just kind of frustrated with the dynamics of a rock band,” Ringle says. “I just got tired of the loudness, and playing with a drummer all the time, and just the overall feel of it. It just felt like as I played in rock bands I stripped it down more and more over time, and then I kind of had a break from it when I moved to Portland—and financially I didn’t have the capacity to play in a rock band.”

It’s a chain-reaction which links the Idaho graphic designer with the Horse Feathers frontman. Between being unemployed, having more free time and a chance to reexamine his musical proclivities, Ringle began composing songs in his bedroom on an acoustic guitar, dealing with music in its base form rather than with all the complications of a band dynamic. Then came the open mic nights at local clubs, which brought a far more positive reaction than the songwriter ever expected.

“It was kind of a proving ground in that I was kind of shocked that people were interested in the music at all,” remembers Ringle. “It kind of was the genesis of everything, because briefly after that I started to record my first demos and actually gave playing music more serious thought.”

And not only did the move to Portland present opportunities to take music more seriously and have songs heard by a wider audience, but images of the city started to creep in to the music itself. Horse Feathers’ two albums, 2008’s House With No Home and this year’s Thistled Spring can be thought of in terms of seasons—House With No Home regarded as the winter album, while Thistled Spring, well, you get the idea.

“Portland definitely has its own character and mood, and I think a lot of that is maybe prescribed by weather,” Ringle surmises. “From the months November through June it’s pretty easy to become kind of a hermit and be a little more reflective, and I think that kind of mentality has definitely found its way into the music.”

Admittedly, Thistled Spring was a more concerted, conscious attempt at creating a record which reflected a specific season with geography in mind, but that’s not to say it was a contrived process. Rather, like the rest of Ringle’s output, he was simply writing what he knew and drawing upon Portland for inspiration. Even moving to a new neighborhood in the same city provided a chance for reprieve.

“I think the lifestyle change opened my eyes to a lot of different things, and it also coincidentally happened to me in spring,” Ringle says. “I didn’t write House With No Home in mind with it being a very wintery record, it [just] came out that way. And part of the reason why on the new record I even affixed the ‘spring’ part to it, is it was only in retrospect I realized how much of a wintery record House With No Home was.”

Another big influence on Ringle are the works of Southern Gothic writers—Flannery O’Connor and Cormac McCarthy, for instance. Much like Southern Gothic literature, critics have noticed the presence of the grotesque in Ringle’s work, a charge which he doesn’t deny but likewise he isn’t trying to plagiarize. In fact, Ringle believes that even his predilection for grotesque literature is related to the same geographical influence which seems to guide just about every other part of his musical career.

“I’ve always been fond of all their writing, there’s a certain type of seriousness to the tone of that whole thing,” he explains. “I do like the kind of mood and the kind of seriousness that those authors evoke. In a weird way I find that the Pacific Northwest has its own mysteriousness and spookiness, and I just try to channel that a little bit.”

It remains to be seen where the future of Horse Feathers and Justin Ringle will lead. Who knows, maybe it’s time for him to find a new locale or hipster hub. Music’s a fickle business, so maybe that bachelor of fine arts will come in handy, after all. But whatever happens with the future of Ringle’s music, here’s betting it follows the seasons.


Horse Feathers plays at 9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 16, at The Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $10 in advance. For more information, call 429-6994.
Photo Credit: Tarina Westlund
Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Picture of Health

Santa Cruz just received a high ranking among California counties. But it may be hiding some of the biggest health dangers facing our area

 

In The Time of Leo: Our Creative Efforts

 

Final Cut

Cedar Street Video to close after 10 years at downtown location

 

Time Capsule

Actors age in real time in audacious, mesmerizing ‘Boyhood’
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Foodie File: Maharaja

Chef Didar Singh on Royal Taj’s reincarnation as Maharaja

 

I remember Santa Cruz when…

Santa Cruz | Librarian

 

Best of Santa Cruz County

The 2013 Santa Cruz County Readers' Poll and Critics’ Picks It’s our biggest issue of the year, and in it, your votes—more than 6,500 of them—determined the winners of The Best of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll. New to the long list of local restaurants, shops and other notables that captured your interest: Best Beer Selection, Best Locally Owned Business, Best Customer Service and Best Marijuana Dispensary. In the meantime, many readers were ever so chatty online about potential new categories. Some of the suggestions that stood out: Best Teen Program and Best Web Design/Designer. But what about: Dog Park, Church, Hotel, Local Farm, Therapist (I second that!) or Sports Bar—not to be confused with Bra. Our favorite suggestion: Best Act of Kindness—one reader noted Café Gratitude and the free meals it offered to the Santa Cruz Police Department in the aftermath of recent crimes. Perhaps some of these can be woven into next year’s ballot, so stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy the following pages and take note of our Critics’ Picks, too, beginning on page 91. A big thanks for voting—and for reading—and an even bigger congratulations to all of the winners. Enjoy.  -Greg Archer, EditorBest of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll INDEX

 

Muns Vineyard Rosé of Pinot Noir

This vivacious cherry-pink Rosé is a simply beautiful summer wine.