Rag, mama, rag

The Ragbirds flock to Peach’s

By Miranda Brooks

The Ragbirds have been at it for 10 years now, officially. The Ann Arbor-based five-piece is endearingly ragged-y, and the gaggle (or flock?) is led by a true songbird, their frontwoman, Erin Zindle. The band’s traditional, acoustic instrumentation could easily classify them singularly as folk. But the genrefication of music these days makes even that label almost a four-letter word. Their sound is undoubtedly influenced by that of (other) worldly, global rhythms and grooves.

“It’s true. Our music is hard to describe,” Zindle says. “Something about it is definitely difficult to pin down.”

There’s an attractiveness to musical ambiguity, especially that of which is so founded on familiarity. Because of the violin, accordion and acoustic guitar, you could imagine a soundscape based on perceived expectations. To make my job easier, though, Zindle says, “We call it folk-rock.” The fusion of sound lends itself well to the grassroots efforts of the band. Like most artists, The Ragbirds rely heavily on their fan base through social promotion by word of mouth.

But it’s their brand new release, The Threshold & The Heart, which has actually landed on Billboard’s Folk and Top New Artists Album charts, that is pumped up with pop sensibilities—lots of hooks and catchy melodies. All of which makes for a more blended delivery, lessening a specific sound arena still. The Threshold & The Heart is The Ragbirds’ fifth studio album; it was recorded in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with the help of Los Angeles-based producer, Grammy-nominated Jamie Candiloro (R.E.M., Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams, etc.).

“We’re thrilled to release it to the world because we feel like it’s the best thing we’ve done … yet,” Zindle says. “We’re very proud of it.”

And it’s an epic tale.  Zindle says the thematic idea for the album just came to her so clearly. The songs on the record follow a fictional couple—Betty and Bill—as they embark on a romantic journey, starting young and spanning some twenty years. The material explores love and familial relationships with curiosity and hope.

“It’s all very internal,” she says. “And in some ways, it feels like we’ve come home.”

In reality, Zindle’s husband, Randall Moore, is the percussionist for The Ragbirds. Zindle and Moore first began by busking together in the streets of Ann Arbor, playing Celtic and gypsy inspired music. So, it make sense that overlapping truths are woven throughout the material with their own relationship providing some source of reference.

“There are personal details, sure, but there are many universal messages, too,” she says. “Though, the story is certainly bigger than me.”

The album’s characters navigate the years through the good and the bad, feeling such strains as a child addicted to drugs, who comes out on the other side seemingly OK and maybe even stronger for it all. Zindle and Moore have a child of their own, a young daughter and, as professional musicians, it’s been a conscious choice to tour smartly.

“She’s been on the road with us since she was five-weeks-old,” Zindle says. The range of their touring was truncated, staying closer to home (primarily shorter runs in the Midwest) during the first few years of their daughter’s life. “But now that she’s bigger,” she continues, “and we’ve gotten our feet wet with all the challenges of touring with a toddler, we’re doing longer runs and traveling more extensively throughout the country.” Plus, they have a road nanny specifically for the promotion of the album. And her easygoing disposition doesn’t hurt.

Continuing the family affair is Zindle’s brother, T.J., who plays guitar in the band. The close-knit dynamics add to their homegrown appeal. Erin Zindle is the main songwriter for The Ragbirds, but she and her brother collaborated fully for the first time on this record.

Their tour will bring the band to Peach’s in Yellow Springs—a venue they’ve admittedly outgrown, but return to regularly because of the vibe.

“There’s something about Peach’s that keeps bringing us back,” Zindle says. “The room accommodates people coming to listen, but there’s always plenty of dancing. And it’s stocked with a lot of awesome people!”

In an industry where record sales are hit or miss (due largely to the influx of streaming sites that practically provide music for free) the live show is, and always has been, where it’s at. And The Ragbirds do not disappoint.

“Our live shows are very high energy, with lots of percussion,” Zindle explains. “And though we play a lot of folk instruments, the show can be, at times, really rocking … with electric guitar solos and whatnot.”

The Ragbirds continue to gain momentum show by show.  Their music asks questions and provides a beat for the human condition, something we can all relate to.

The Ragbirds play Saturday, May 21 at Peach’s, 104 Xenia Ave. in Yellow Springs. Show starts at 10 p.m. and is free. For more information, please visit theragbirds.com.

Reach DCP freelance writer Miranda Brooks at MirandaBrooks@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Miranda Brooks
Reach DCP freelance writer Miranda Brooks at MirandaBrooks@DaytonCityPaper.com

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