Goldfeather is a Brooklyn-based folk meets contemporary classical ensemble led by native Minnesotan singer and violinist Sarah Goldfeather. Their music, described as "poignant...striking and laudable" (The Deli Magazine), with "a lush, dynamic collective of sound" and "striking intensity" (Elmore Magazine) explores unusual melodies accented with three-part harmonies against a rich indie-folk-pop backdrop. Sarah and her conservatory-trained five-piece band - Dylan McKinstry (mandolin/voice), Katie Martucci (guitar/voice), Nathan Koci (accordion/banjo/voice) and Pat Swoboda (double bass) - will release their new album, Patchwork Quilt, later this year. In advance of the release, Sarah graciously agreed to talk about her background, the album and more.
You’re originally from Minnesota and are now based in Brooklyn. How did you come to make the move to New York?
I went to Vassar where I received an undergraduate degree in music and on a whim after graduation, I decided to move to NYC...and have been here for almost six years now. I have played the violin since I was seven, but never really thought it was possible to actually become a musician until I moved to New York City. I joined a bluegrass band, started freelancing, and became involved with the contemporary classical community, and finally realized that it was something I could actually do! When I attended the Bang On A Can Summer Music Festival in North Adams, Massachusetts, I became part of such a rich music community that I was really able to find my musical footing. I got the idea to start my own band, Goldfeather, in 2012 (originally the Sarah Goldfeather Band), which began sort of casually, but after we released an EP [in 2014] and began recording our first LP this summer, it got more serious and satisfying.
You've played violin since childhood, were you singing from a young age as well?
I wasn’t a singer at all – in fact, my parents were definitely surprised when they found out I had become a singer! I was in youth chorus in elementary school, but that was about it for vocal training until recently. When I answered an ad on Craigslist for another band, they asked if I sang and I said, “I don’t think so...maybe?!" (laughing) But it was really fun, and since then I have been taking periodic voice lessons which have been extremely helpful. I still play violin in Goldfeather, but I think I kind of figured out how to sing, and I purposefully write things that fit my voice.
What drew you to this particular style of music, which is an incredibly unique blending of bluegrass, folk and indie styles?
I kind of came to this sound by accident and I stuck with it - it seemed like a logical off-shoot from the bluegrass group I had been in. We certainly blur genres with our instrumentation, and I suppose in the end our sound is kind of a nebulously indie folk band. I sometimes get ideas from bluegrass, but mostly inspiration comes from other genres. For example, on the album we have a Portishead cover that captures some of the distorted sounds of the original using extended instrumental techniques. I have a very broad musical taste, and I try to use disparate elements (interesting chord changes, structural ideas) from completely different musical worlds in my own music. As it turns out, I mostly listen to electronic music, hip hop, trip-hop and contemporary classical music, rather than folk and bluegrass, which I think helps us not get to stuck in conventional musical tropes.
A song from the upcoming album, “Spilled Milk," recently premiered on The Deli. Is there a story behind that song?
It’s a story about unresolved friendships; dealing with the emotions of a falling out and trying to put some periods at the end of sentences instead of having so many question marks. I enjoy writing distinctive sections with surprising left turns in my songs. Spilled Milk begins with a striking a capella chorus, which turns into a driving bluegrassy section and a very dreamy middle section. I have to thank my incredible band for their incredible help with orchestration. In rehearsals I would say something like “Can you play this kind of a thing on the banjo?” and then he [Koci] would play something amazing. Or my bass player [Swoboda] would come in with this big bass swell and I would say, “Of course that is supposed to go there!”
I write most of the songs from personal experience, but it also kind of depends on the song. I try not to be too literal or hit you over the head with symbolism. I prefer to capture a feeling with a song rather than write about it.
The album, Patchwork Quilt is due this Fall. What can you tell us about it?
We’re putting the finishing touches on it, but it’s basically done and at the moment we’re planning to release it in September. “Patchwork Quilt” is a song on the album that’s probably the closest to my heart. I chose that song as the title for the album partly because of this, and partly because I think it sums up the disparate styles of each of the songs on the record - a Patchwork Quilt of different music.
Sounds like a very intriguing record!
Finally, I always like to know – is there one recent release that you cannot stop listening to?
I’m listening to Anna Meredith, who has this post-minimalism rockiness, and Gutbucket who are friends of mine in this incredible avant-garde jazz group (including Goldfeather's bass player, Pat Swoboda). I’m also listening to FKA Twigs and Kanye’s latest...a lot of different options.
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