Congratulations on the new self-titled album and the CD release party last month in Morgantown. I’ve been listening to the album and I think “The Forest” is fast becoming my favorite track.
I have a few questions about the album and then a few other things I’m curious about.
Your sound is described by Big Bullet Records (your label) as mixing “lofty folk sensibilities with stark political commentary.” Most musicians are usually given a “tag line,” so I always like to ask – how do you describe your sound? (Use as few or as many words as you’d like)
I would describe my sound as experimental folk music.
Branching off from the “political commentary” comment, I definitely picked up on that, especially in “Hands of Greed,” which is about the mining industry. What other issues have you addressed in your music and why?
I try not to think of these songs as being ‘political’. This is only due to the fact that I have never written a song specifically about politics. There are certain aspects of our lives that are rarely thought about or questioned, yet affect each of us on a daily basis (such as mountaintop removal). If you don’t see or hear a mountain getting decimated outside your home everyday, you probably don’t think about it often. There are days when we forget the violence that is keeping us alive. Music is a good way to remind people about things. I want to remind people about certain situations that are not necessarily pleasant, but need to be discussed.
I checked out “the disgusting breath” e.p. and some of the songs have a folksy leaning, but there are several tracks that I guess would be labeled as more “experimental” or “noise.” What inspired you to move more toward the singer/songwriter route? Did you write all of the songs for the new album?
I enjoy singing as I play guitar just because it is a very simple and accessible way of expression. It is a nice feeling to get things I’m thinking about out with music. I want to be able to do that as much as possible, and I think songwriting for one person is the quickest way to get there. I watched some amazing songwriters growing up too. In high school, I was in awe of some folks’ ability to tell stories and create emotion. Mainly local song writers like John Miller and Matt Kline. A world of talent exists between the two.
I did write all the songs on this album between early 2006 and 2009.
I may be reading too much into the CD cover, but none of the faces seem to have working mouths (they look sewn shut). What was the inspiration for the drawing? Or am I really just reading too much into it?
Well, I am not quite sure what inspired the drawing. My brother Alex drew the faces and the “metal” logo. I enjoy the faces because they remind me of concerned spirits judging you. Their mouths seem more distorted than sewn to me, like they are speaking static rather than any language. The distorted words in the center remind me of the same basic thing. But I wanted to have a pseudo-metal logo on the album, no matter what. I want metal logos to take hold across all genres of music.
And while we’re on the subject of ‘I’ve gotta know’ – what’s the story behind the name, The Dreadful Horoscope?
The name was a lyric in the first song that I wrote for the acoustic guitar called ‘Paralyzed by the Moon’. It was in probably either 2003 or 2004 when I was a freshman in high school. The line was, “hanging by a thinning rope with a dreadful horoscope”. I just liked the sound of those words, and I was probably going to just name the song ‘the dreadful horoscope’, but it sounded like a good band name. Nice and grim.
I was checking out Big Bullet Records’ page and they started in 2008 with the goal to “motivate and unify local musicians in the Shepherdstown, W.Va area.” Since then it looks like they’ve expanded to reach out to West Virginia musicians, in general. How did you get involved with Big Bullet Records?
Well I was contacted by Tucker Riggleman who started Big Bullet. I was going to Shepherd at the time, and had played at some open mics on campus, and he asked me if I wanted to be part of the label. I really appreciated the do it yourself attitude he wanted to center the label around. I obviously wanted to be a part of the group of musicians who were active in the area, so I said that I would be on the label. I can get pretty unmotivated, so it is good to see highly motivated individuals around you working hard. These folks are dedicated to creating great art time and time again. It’s very flattering to be associated with all the artists on Big Bullet Records. I have met great people and I have gotten to play shows with some really awesome bands.
You say on your MySpace page that the band “expands and contracts.” I could hear mandolin and sax (and a few other instruments) on the album, so I’m curious how this works – does the whole band perform at shows or are the sets determined by which instruments are available that night? And does this “looseness” add less pressure or more pressure to playing? (To me, it seems like it would be kinda fun to play with a bunch of different people, but it could also be frustrating at times to not know what to expect)
This is another reason I enjoy the singer/songwriter thing. The songs are written to stand alone as just guitar and vocals, or to be built upon by various instruments. There is not really a set band because different people build on the songs at different points in time. It’s not so loose to the point where I am showing up to concerts with people who I haven’t played with before, that happen to know how to play the bass or keyboards. There is always a pattern of practicing and playing as a unit that goes on in some form. I don’t want to tie anyone down to this music. If some one feels they can add to the songs I welcome it, but they don’t have to obligate themselves.
I enjoy the less structured aspect. I like the fact that people can jump in on the songs fairly easily if they have heard them once or twice. Right now I have been playing mainly with John Morgan,Jon Blanton, Jacob Smith, and Miles Craft. John, Jon, and Jacob are all on the album. I have always played music in some capacity with Jon, and Jacob and Miles were both in a band with us in high school called Mr. Potter and the Truth Squad. All three are amazing musicians, who I enjoy to listen to. I met John Morgan last year in Morgantown. He said he liked the songs and asked if I wanted to record some stuff at his apartment. Eventually, as the recording process progressed he began to add some instrumentation with guitar and keyboard. John is another amazing musician and songwriter in Morgantown. He is in a band called Juna, and I was very welcoming to the idea of him playing on the songs after hearing his music.
So I have done shows that sound extremely folky with acoustic instruments, and I have played with electric guitar and keyboards sounding more experimental and psychedelic, depending on who I have been playing with at the time. Recently I have preferred to play with another person or two just to fill out the sound and to create more atmosphere at shows, but I can also do it myself if need be. Usually for shows I try to round up musicians in advance, but it doesn’t always work out so I try to keep the songs singer/songwriter ready.
Clubs can contact you to book – any place too far for you to go? And what kind of show can they expect (how long do you play, do you involve the audience, etc.)
Well at this point I can play anywhere in the WV, MD, VA area. But I could play elsewhere if possible. I could probably play for at most maybe an hour and a half, but even I would get sick of me by then. Usually sets are 20 – 45 minutes. Sometimes the shows could also involve some noisy interludes between songs.
I know you sing and play guitar, but I don’t know too much else about your musical background – so give me the history – how’d you get started?
The history is pretty generic. I played bass in a really terrible pop punk band when I was a freshman in high school called ‘The Annexed’. I was writing ‘songs’ for the band, and this was the first time I experimented with singing and writing songs. From there I just began playing music at a few different levels. I learned a few chords on guitar and started writing songs specifically for acoustic guitar. I also began to learn about the recording process which sparked my interest of layering sounds. This is what really began The Dreadful Horoscope, and the idea of building upon simple songs with lots of random instrumentation and layering. I wanted the recordings to sound like there were 7+ people in the band (which is still my fantasy).
And all the while I was learning about other ways of playing music. I was in a doom metal band called ‘Saget Squad’, playing drums. I think this helped me to associate music with the expenditure of massive amounts of energy. I enjoyed playing as loud as possible, and the music was appropriately slow and dark.
So, all that ended at some point in high school, besides the fact that I was still writing dreadful songs, and I joined ‘Mr.Potter and the Truth Squad’. Working with Will Dennis, I learned a great deal about songwriting. He has always been one of my biggest influences. He writes music that consistently pushes boundaries of what songwriting should be. So both he and I were writing songs for Mr. Potter, and I got a better sense of how to play folk songs and sing with a group of people.
I learned about the hardships of keeping a bands together, through all of this, which kept The Dreadful Horoscope alive as a solo project. So now that the bands are no more, I have chosen to put all of my focus into The Dreadful Horoscope.
Anything else you’d like to add?
May 8th at the Blue Moon in Shepherdstown, WV I’ll be playing with a band from Tennessee called Big Kitty. This is pretty much the Shepherdstown release of the album. I would also like to thank you very much for conducting the interview. The album can be purchased at shows or online at bandcamp.thedreadfulhoroscope.com
[show starts at 9pm]