Jeff Cook
Band of the Week

The Gorgeous Sound of Dead Horses

Guitar, mandolin, double bass and great vocals. They may be future stars in the making.

By - Jul 27th, 2016 04:10 pm
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Dead Horses. Photo by Jennifer Newlin.

Dead Horses. Photo by Jennifer Newlin.

The first thing I thought of when listening to Dead Horses was the music I used to hear on KFAT radio back in the 1970s with its mix of folk, bluegrass and free-form country. This folk trio with guitar, mandolin and double bass are making a sound you don’t hear much in Milwaukee. Acoustic music that is unique and soulful with a richness and a depth that belies the youth of the band’s members.

Sarah Vos is the band’s frontwoman who brings a rich personal heritage of gospel music and an ability to look at life as an artist — someone who can find inspiration in any experience. Her bandmates are Peter Raboin on mandolin and guitar and Daniel Wolff on the double bass and they seem to share her understanding of music as a conduit to all those things most of us have a hard time putting into words.

It’s hard to put Dead Horses into a neat category, but when I think back on the King Biscuit Flour Hour and people like Joni Mitchell, Emmylou Harris, New Riders of the Purple Sage, Pure Prairie League, Jerry Jeff Walker and Norton Buffalo, I think this band would fit into that world nicely while bringing to the stage something truly their own.

The band began in Oshkosh, but nowadays is really based more in Milwaukee. In December 2014,  Dead Horses’ album, Space And Time, won won 88Nine Radio Milwaukee Music Award for the “Best Disc We Missed” category.

Dead Horses mostly play on the road and seeing them in Milwaukee is something of a rare treat. I recommend perusing their website and making time to see them here when you can. For American folk, bred in Wisconsin and still growing artistically, this is the band to see.

In response to our questions, Vos answered on behalf the band.

Is there anything about growing up in Oshkosh that has become a part of your music?

Absolutely. I think that anything each of us has experienced has influenced us in some way — certainly the town we grew up in, the people, the schools, the landscape and the vibe, the community.

What are some other sources of influence in your music?

Everything around me! Lots of books for sure — Steinbeck and Whitman — nature, the seasons and how they affect us, just like the seasons we all go through in our lives, our travels. And the people we meet along the way — the stories they tell us and the compassion they show us –the music we listen to, the bands from the area that we’ve matured with throughout the last few years. As far as I’m concerned, a song can be about heartbreak or death or birth or trees or a telephone pole. There’s no wrong thing to write a song about.

How long have you been playing music?

I’ve been singing since before I could talk, in church and in choirs and in my bedroom. Dan Wolff (upright bass, vocals) has also been playing his whole life: first guitar and then drums and he started playing upright bass in the beginning of Dead Horses. Pete Raboin (guitar, vocals) has been playing his whole life too: his dad started teaching him guitar at an early age.

How did the band come together?

We all met through mutual friends in the music scene. We began by just getting together and trying to learn songs, started playing weekly before a music series in Oshkosh, and it really just kept growing from there. I’ve always wanted to be a musician, playing shows and being on the road. I think we’ve all always wanted that. Some days it amazes me that this project has come this far, other days I feel like it’s the only thing that has ever really turned out to make sense in my life.

What other artists do you like/listen to?

SO MUCH! This summer we’ve been really into the new Radiohead record. Go to’s are Paul Simon, Punch Brothers, The Beatles. Personally I’ve been really into the album Mermaid Avenue by Wilco and Billy Bragg, and Days to Come by Bonobo.

How would you describe your music?

Heartfelt and genuine. I think we work really hard and want all the shows to be magical. It’s soulful and rockin’, too.

Where did the name Dead Horses come from?

A tribute to fallen horses of war.

What’s the feeling in the studio when you are practicing and recording?

We are working hard. It can be sort of intense, but we have fun, too, lots of laughter. I love recording; I think it’s another art form that interweaves with playing music live. The goal is to keep recording and refining the way we do it. I want to make a lot of records!

How often do you play Milwaukee compared to touring?

We’re only playing in Milwaukee a couple of times a year now. We tour relentlessly: we’ve been doing 150-200 shows a year!

Any albums coming out soon?

Our new album, Cartoon Moon, comes out at the end of September. We recorded it in Nashville with Ken Coomer. It was an incredible experience recording it and I can’t wait to share it!

What are your plans for the future?

We will be doing a lot more national touring, releasing a new record, and beginning to record another one, focusing on growth during the live shows, in the studio, and as a group of people working together on something we care so much about.

Dead Horses will be opening for Trampled by Turtles September 16th, 2016 at 6:30 p.m. at the Riverside Theater. Get your tickets here.

Cascio Interstate Music is proud to sponsor Urban Milwaukee’s Band of the Week column. Running in tandem with their own Band of the Month program, supporting local music is key to CIM’s mission.

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