A.V. Club Milwaukee – Blessed Feathers Feature

blessed feathers

Blessed Feathers explore new geography with Peaceful Beasts EP

blessed feathers

The small town simplicity of Wisconsin. The hustle and bustle of New York City. Hot and sweaty Florida nights. These are just a few of the collective and individual experiences of West Bend folk duo Blessed Feathers, a band that is literally on the move, geographically, mentally, and emotionally. With the release of its new EP, Peaceful Beasts In An Ocean Of Weeds, the band—which consists of Donivan Berube and Jacquelyn Beaupre—has put together a collection of five of its best songs, and a fitting summary of its experiences. “The title is a reference to geography,” says Berube. “There’s a lot of geographic lyricism in the songs like ‘By Song Through The Americas.’”

The aforementioned song—which is about a transcontinental train ride and the band’s travels around the country—takes its cues from Paul Theroux’s The Old Patagonian Express: By Train Through The Americas. “Hey! All You Floridians” is about Berube’s experience growing up in Florida, while “Winter Sister” is about the much colder Wisconsin. Berube says Blessed Feathers’ music in heavily influenced by “the locale we’re in and we’re writing from. I’ve been describing it as ’60s cosmos-funk mystic baby-soul banana heartbreak flute-rock spook-jam vibes subway echo funk.”

Blessed Feathers got a big break in 2011 when their manager, who now lives in Brooklyn, read a feature on them in the West Bend Daily News. He helped set the band up with a recording opportunity in New York City with producer Kevin McMahon, as well as Thor Harris of Swans and Shearwater. For the band, coming from a small town to a big city was an overwhelming experience; as Berube puts it, “six hours after leaving West Bend we were in a subway.”

The actual studio, however, was located roughly 90 minutes north in a smaller town reminiscent of their hometown, so Berube and Beaupre were able to settle in quickly. The studio—located inside a renovated barn—proved to be a perfect match for their intimate, woodsy, and dynamic sound. The band spent about two weeks working on the EP, spending much of the time at the studio. “It’s exactly what you think when I say ‘barn’—a massive storage barn,” says Berube. “And one part of it was renovated to whatever you think of when I say ‘studio.’ We’d look out the door and see the beautiful horizon of the Catskill Mountains.”

Blessed Feathers // Peaceful Beasts in an Ocean of Weeds from Wooden Lens on Vimeo.

While Berube and Beaupre write their songs separately, they share a keen sense of how to better each other’s songs with drums, banjos, guitars, flutes, and voices. Lately, Berube thrives on fairly simple chord-structured songs that avoid verse-chorus-verse, while Beaupre finds chords by ear. “I never had any formal training. I learned how to play guitar when I was younger,” says Berube. “We can both play piano, we can both play drums. I can play a full drum kit. Between the two of us, we can play pretty much anything.”

For the Peaceful Beasts EP, Blessed Feathers and their manager picked out five songs separately and then compared notes. They agreed on three of the five songs and debated the other two. Ultimately, their goal was to pick songs that showed the group’s strengths. “We all picked ‘Stinging Nettle, Honeysuckle’ because it showcased Jacquelyn’s banjo and voice a whole lot more than any of our other songs did,” says Berube. “‘Hey! All You Floridians’ was a pretty strong rock number that had a lot of important wordplay in it.”

Most of the time, Berube and Beaupre record in their living room, doing the best they can with what they have. But recording in a real studio expanded what they could do with the songs. “I think it was a really good thing to do for those songs, because they deserved to be recorded in really good quality,” says Beaupre. “I love the old recordings, but getting to go in and use really nice equipment and just the whole environment of the studio, it really did breathe new life into the songs. It made them stronger in a way, because they’ve been around for a little while.”

Berube adds that McMahon and Harris’ natural way of doing things helped keep the core of the songs intact. “Just because we were in a studio didn’t mean we were making a stadium rock album,” says Berube. “The way Kevin records, he has a natural aesthetic of the way things sound. We didn’t lose anything from the songs by doing that.”

(Blessed Feathers celebrate the release of Peaceful Beasts In An Ocean Of Weeds tonight at Stonefly.)