Full disclosure: Dead Horses bassist Dan Wolff is my brother.
There, figured we should get that out of the way up front.
Now, one could reasonably assume that this would make for a very biased preview of “My Mother the Moon,” the band’s third album that will release on April 6, and their upcoming album release tour. On the other hand, one could also assume that the one true authority on the topic is someone who has been obsessing over the band as only an older sister could.
Either way, I’m not the only one who feels Dead Horses’ newest album is worth queuing up on repeat. Rolling Stone calls it “a beautifully uncluttered collection of songs that lives somewhere between the church, the field, the back porch and the library.” NPR Music dubbed Dead Horses a SXSW “Artist to Watch,” calling their new material “evocative, empathetic storytelling.”
Frontwoman Sarah Vos is Dead Horses’ chief songwriter and her deceptively simple Midwestern sensibility is what makes the tracks on “My Mother the Moon” so enchanting – they sound like a smile with a secret.
The album, which blends traditional roots with modern indie folk, was produced by Ken Coomer (Wilco, Uncle Tupelo) and recorded primarily live in his Nashville studio over the course of two weeks. Coomer also produced the band’s WAMI award-winning album “Cartoon Moon” in 2016.
“It kind of felt like we never left,” says Wolff, who sees the new album as a continuation of “Cartoon Moon.” “We learned a lot about ourselves musically when recording Cartoon Moon with Coomer. It was encouraging to get back in and approach the new songs with more confidence.”
Vos says there’s a synchronicity to all three of the band’s albums that is hard to ignore, but fans will hear differences in “My Mother the Moon.”
“It’s a little more specific in a personal way,” she says. “It’s always been personal, but it’s a little less abstract in some of the themes. It’s more explorative musically.”
While Vos’ love for music was born in her childhood church, her songwriting has been informed by her expulsion from it. At 15, Vos’ family was kicked out of their rural Wisconsin congregation after her siblings were diagnosed with mental illnesses. Vos says many of the new tracks are messages to her younger self during this challenging time.
“It’s me saying, ‘Hey, everything is going to be okay. Relax a little bit. You’re going to receive everything you need to handle the situations you are given,’” she says. “It’s a message of encouragement.”
Poetry and literature have also served as songwriting fodder for Vos. One track on the new record, “Swinger in the Trees,” is an ode to Robert Frost’s poem, “Birches.”
“Robert Frost was reflecting on sadness in his own life and certainly in his adolescence,” Vos says. “I was deeply moved by the poem and wrote [Swinger in the Trees] in the same state of mind and heart I felt when reading it.”
Next week, Dead Horses will embark on their national album release tour which includes stops from New York to California and many states in between. Vos and Wolff will be joined by touring musicians and frequent collaborators Jamie Gallagher on drums and Ryan Ogburn on mandolin.
While Milwaukee may currently claim both Vos’ and Wolff’s zip codes, the Fox Valley holds their hearts. The band originally formed in Oshkosh eight years ago, and Appleton is the first stop on their tour. The show takes place March 29 at The OuterEdge Stage in Appleton with doors opening at 7 p.m., the show at 8 p.m.
“Playing Appleton brings me back to all those nights at The Cold Shot. That was kind of the place that we returned to the most,” Wolff says. “It’s part of the home in which we play, starting in Oshkosh and going up to Appleton.”
While on tour, bringing a sense of newness to each show is important to the band, and Wolff says the audience plays a key part in that.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s 5,000 people or three people, I find myself thinking about the audience and looking out to see people reacting to the music and that moves me too,” he says. “The audience is the fire of it all.”
“My Mother the Moon” is currently available on presale, but Fox Valley locals will be able to pick up the album at the March 29 show.
“Sharing this new material with people we’ve known so long,” Vos says, “it’s just a special thing.”
For tickets and tour dates, visit www.deadhorses.net/tour.