By Christopher Treacy
Listening to “Days Grow Longer,” our latest Song of the Week and the second Dead Horses single leading up to the release of the Wisconsin duo’s new Brady Street (8/12, pre-order here), we were initially struck by the tune’s lighthearted exterior. A folksy toe-tapper, the track exudes positive energy while referencing an ongoing struggle. The struggle seems to encompass so much, yet the words chosen are sparse. We wanted to know more, so we asked Sarah Vos (the fem half of the duo, alongside musical partner Dan Wolff) about the song and about Brady Street in relation to the last Dead Horses album, 2018’s My Mother The Moon.
In the beginning of “Days Grow Longer,” you mention losing your voice. How did you know you’d lost it? Did something happen to tip you off that you’d just snapped or just… you were unable to muster your standard level of care and concern? “Life fatigue”?
The lyrics “lost my voice” have a multi-layered meaning for me. Covid-19 really shattered many people’s perspectives — including mine. We were at the start of a six-week tour in March of 2020 when everything shut down. I went home and got a job at a grocery store within maybe three days of being back. I was worried about a lot — money, how long the pandemic would continue, and well, everything. I felt my life quickly morph into a whole different experience, and with that, I gained a better and deeper understanding of how I had been prior to the shutdown.
I realized that in the midst of relentless touring I had forgotten why I wanted to be a musician in the first place. I lost touch with the whole point. While that felt like a very personally introspective thing, another layer of “losing my voice” was very much a growing disdain for certain aspects of the music industry. I’m reminded of an Elliot Smith lyric that goes: “Tell Mr. Man with impossible plans to just leave me alone.”
“Baptized by dissidence” – this is a striking image/concept. Is it meant to paraphrase newfound awareness? Tell us a little more about what it refers to.
Often we will travel from one coast to the other in a short amount of time. It’s pretty wild to do this consistently throughout the course of a few years! Sometimes I would feel moved enough to sense that were being metaphorically baptized or cleansed by spanning the country in such short time, and that grew into a feeling of being baptized by dissidence — that is, cleansed by our dissent of living the norm, of being locked into the destiny afforded to you by the family or economical situation you’re born into.
To me, when “days grow longer,” there’s a reassurance reawakened. Even though there isn’t more time on a factual level, it feels like there’s more time. How does that play into the song – does the lengthening of the day give us a greater chance of turning things around that have gone awry?
That’s a thoughtful question and there’s definitely something to that! The days start growing longer on the winter solstice (usually December 21st.) It’s almost counter-intuitive, because it’s as if in the dead of winter, you get this glimmer of hope in that each day, the light of day will last just a little bit longer. It fits into a theme that I love to write about — and one that has been such a big part of our personality as a band: sometimes it is in the darkest places you find the brightest hope.
‘It aint as simple as that,” you sing toward the end. No, it’s not. I think lots of touring musicians were stunned by not being able to play and not being able to travel. But this line in the song seems like it’s also referencing the whole socio-political conundrum.
It absolutely is referencing the socio-political conundrum facing our generation. This was sort of a love song for what I missed about being on the road after almost a year of working at a grocery store in Milwaukee, WI. And while I was able to romanticize about all of these beautiful things I missed, I still knew that it wasn’t as simple as that.
Can you talk a little about how this Dead Horses album is different from the last and how it relates to being queer?
In some ways, Brady Street is an answer to My Mother the Moon (our last full length record.) The latter was written and recorded in the midst of working through childhood traumas and first venturing out on my own in such an uncertain way. Brady Street takes the intimacy of nature and brings it into the city. Instead of walks through the forest, there are walks through the city (primarily Milwaukee) past all of the old churches and bars. Both records are filled with songs of hope and the search for beauty, as well as compassion for others- especially strangers. Brady Street is more mature, less naive, more gritty, more focused. In My Mother the Moon, I felt that I was still searching for an anchor; in Brady Street I found the anchor is me. I think it relates to my queerness in that I’m so much more comfortable with it now. I grew up immersed in a fundamentalist church community, and being gay was taught to me as sinful, unnatural, and worthy of eternal punishment. This is not an exaggeration! I always knew I was different, but I associated it with a sinful part of myself. In many ways I feel like I’ve come full circle to who I was before those things were indoctrinated in me, before the traumas that the church and other factors brought into my adolescent life. This is an awesome feeling and I think that it’s reflected in this record.
How did the band name come about? A dead horse is one of the saddest images I can conjure!
Indeed. And this sort of goes back to the idea of how sometimes in the darkest moments we find the brightest light. When I first started playing with Dan in 2010, we were playing lots of bar gigs — and really anywhere that would let us play. I have a lot of fond memories from that time — the music was so incredibly healing to me. The band started with two brothers who initially came up with the name. I didn’t particularly like it at first, but I never thought of it as any sort of disrespect towards horses, although many folks who post on our social media complain about that. There was a sort of double meaning to the name: a tribute to fallen war horses was how it was originally explained to me… And, eventually, what I think is the ‘true meaning’—a tribute to a friend of the band who passed away of a heroin overdose shortly before the band formed. Throughout the years we’ve considered changing it, but it’s always felt wrong to do so.
Dead Horses on Tour!
SAT, JUL 23 CAMBRIDGE, WI – MIDWEST FIRE FEST
FRI, AUG 12 MILWAUKEE, WI – TURNER HALL BALLROOM
SAT, AUG 13 CHICAGO, IL – HIDEOUT
SUN, AUG 14 DES MOINES, IA – XBK
THU, AUG 25 ST. LOUIS, MO – OLD ROCK HOUSE
FRI, AUG 26 FAYETTEVILLE, AR – FAYETTEVILLE ROOTS FESTIVAL
SAT, AUG 27 OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – PONY BOY OKC
SUN, AUG 28 LAWRENCE, KS – THE BOTTLENECK
TUE, SEP 6 SIOUX CITY, IA – VANGARDE ARTS
WED, SEP 7 SPEARFISH, SD – MATTHEWS OPERA HOUSE
THU, SEP 8 DENVER, CO – GLOBE HALL
FRI, SEP 9 TELLURIDE, CO – MUSIC ON THE GREEN
TUE – THU, SEP 13-15 NASHVILLE, TN – AMERICANAFEST
FRI, SEP 16 LA CROSSE, WI – MID WEST MUSIC FEST – Dead Horses will headline at the Cavalier Theatre
SAT, SEP 17 EAU CLAIRE, WI – JAMF THEATRE PABLO CENTER
SUN, SEP 18 ST. PAUL, MN – TURF CLUB
FRI, SEP 23 WINONA, MN – BOATS & BLUEGRASS
FRI, SEP 30 AURORA, IL – THE VENUE
SUN, OCT 2 INDIANAPOLIS, IN – WHITE RABBIT CABARET
TUE, OCT 4 COLUMBUS, OH – RUMBA CAFE
WED, OCT 5 PENINSULA, OH – THE G.A.R. HALL
THU, OCT 6 PITTSBURGH, PA – CLUB CAFE
FRI, OCT 7 BROOKLYN, NY – UNION POOL
SAT, OCT 8 CAMBRIDGE, MA – ATWOOD’S TAVERN
SUN, OCT 9 PHILADELPHIA, PA – THE LOFT @ CITY WINERY
WED, OCT 12 WASHINGTON, DC – DC9
THU, OCT 13 CARRBORO, NC – CAT’S CRADLE BACKROOM
FRI, OCT 14 CHARLOTTE, NC – THE EVENING MUSE
Christopher Treacy has been writing about music and the music industry for 20 years. He’s contributed to The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, and Berklee College of Music’s quarterly journal, as well as myriad LGBTQ+ outlets including the Edge Media Network, Between the Lines/Pride Source, Bay Windows and In Newsweekly. He lives in Waitsfield, VT.