A little grunge, a lot of growth

Dead Horses to play Heartwood on Nov. 30

By Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey
Reader Staff

Sarah Vos, vocalist and guitarist for the Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based Dead Horses, describes the folk band’s 2022 album Brady Street as a “coming-of-age” work. It’s a telling sentiment, encapsulating Dead Horses’ commitment to evolving as artists and as people. 

“Previously we had been touring relentlessly and covering some serious miles since around 2015. It’s the general strategy for bands trying to make it: play as many shows as you can, open as many shows as you can, and grow at all costs,” Vos said, adding that while this period in the band’s history was fun and educational, the pandemic brought a time of largely idle reflection.

Sarah Vos and Dan Wolff of Dead Horses. Courtesy photo.

“We became more deliberate in our arrangements, and we decided to produce this new album ourselves,” Vos said. “Personally, the theme of vulnerability within art became much more significant to me. I guess I can’t say exactly why. I have always loved music-making as a form of expression, as a safe place to say or do really anything, but in these last couple of years I’ve valued vulnerability within art even more.”

“Vulnerability” is certainly a term at top of mind while listening to Dead Horses, which layers acoustic guitar, upright bass and drums with Vos’ soothing vocals to create a sound that blurs the lines between straight-up Americana, poignant singer-songwriter and possibly just a hint of grunge. Above all, according to bassist Dan Wolff, live performance drives the band’s creativity.

“You know, people playing the instrumentation in an authentic way that you hear it on their albums,” he said. “I see Dead Horses as a live band. That’s what we try to capture in the studio.”

Sandpoint will get its first chance to experience that inspiration in person when Dead Horses plays the Heartwood Center on Wednesday, Nov. 30. The doors will open at 7 p.m. and the music starts at 8 p.m. Eichardt’s Pub will be on hand to sell refreshments.

Touring has always been a staple of Dead Horse’s identity, as the group is known to play more than 100 dates each year.

“We both find that the actual playing of music is the best part of touring, and we have a shared desire to play well and be aware and present for every song, every show,” Vos said. “There is a beauty in the balance between spontaneity and familiarity while performing, and I think we’ve only just begun to dip our toes in that.”

That sense of imminent growth — again, that theme of evolving as artists — is clear in talking to both Vos and Wolff.

“We enjoy sharing music and the thrill of playing live with an audience makes it a new experience every time,” Wolff said, adding later: “The chemistry between Sarah and I has grown tremendously over the years. We went from playing with 5-6 people onstage to just her and I [and sometimes a drummer]. I really enjoy her creative spirit and the way she performs her songs for people. Performing live always seems a little like an experiment, and when everything is clicking just right it’s a really good feeling.”

The Heartwood Center gig is the band’s second stop on a 14-show tour of the West before Christmas. It’s another leg in a musical journey that the listener can’t help but feel is only getting started.

“Each album has really been a bit of a different thing for us,” Wolff said. “Hopefully that newness is something that keeps driving the way we create songs for future recordings.”

Dead Horses @ the Heartwood • Wednesday, Nov. 30; doors open at 7 p.m., music starts at 8 p.m.; tickets are $20 in advance at mattoxfarm.com, or $25 at the door and $10 for youth; Heartwood Center, 615 Oak St.; listen and learn more about the band at deadhorses.net.

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