Dead Horses on the Horizon

Dead Horses on the Horizon

Up-and-coming folk band release new album “Space and Time” October 14

By: Rebecca Ottman

Dead Horses is becoming a force to be reckoned with. The young band, which hails from a small Wisconsin town made world famous by a pair of overalls, is making waves across the Valley following a busy summer of touring. From notable performances at Appleton’s Mile of Music and Oshkosh’s Main Street Music festivals to rural gigs on handmade stages, Dead Horses’ cultivated folk sensibility has captured the ear and interest of all who have stumbled across their acoustic-trodden path.


The band’s diverse fan base garnered attention this past month following Dead Horses’ successful fundraising campaign to fund the recording of their second album, Space and Time. Kickstarter, an online funding platform for creative projects, hosted Dead Horses’ month-long campaign to raise $7,500. Fans from across the country opened their wallets generously to raise $10,391–helping the band exceed their goal by 138 percent.

Dead HorsesA tribute concert was hosted at the close of the campaign at the Oshkosh Masonic Temple to offer a heartfelt thank you performance to supporters, some of whom traveled as far as Minnesota to attend. Songwriter Sarah Vos affirms the band’s commitment to giving back to community.

“I feel strongly about paying homage to the people, places and local cultures that continue to inspire us to be who we are,” Vos expands. “I believe in the power of art to challenge and to draw together. Art is a reflection of community, influenced by local aesthetics and values, and serves as a reminder that we’re all here together.”

The art of the novel heavily influenced Vos and her lyrics featured on Space and Time, especially the classic works by John Steinbeck. The album’s second song, “To a God Unknown” was inspired by the same-titled work by Steinbeck. In Vos’ words, “I was reading the novel when I wrote the song and I became connected to a muse that I imagine Steinbeck may have drawn from when writing about man’s connection to nature and challenging faith. The song is deeply personal and touches on one of the biggest themes I’ve examined as a human being and artist–that of ego. The lyrics touch on that and other social issues: Those prisoners in rusted bars, said take your freedom back. And those prisoners in shiny cars… This verse considers a literal prison as well as the prison we have built for ourselves–one that constrains with flawed ideologies rather than steel bars.”

“East of Eden” and “The Grapes of Wrath” are also quoted on “Space and Time.” The character of Reverend Jim Casy (“The Grapes of Wrath”) is referenced in the song “Lay Me down.” Old Casy told me so– don’t matter how many rounds you go, we all share the same, same soul. Vos explains, “In the novel, Jim Casy is an ex-minister who has given up his orthodox faith for one that still believes in the connection of all beings. The novel is also very much about suppression of the masses, which is something that I feel called on to at least explore through my music.”

Dead Horses looking lively

Dead Horses looking lively

Narrative intrigue considered, the immediate appeal of “Space and Time” is truly Vos’ voice and delivery. The golden-haired songstress has a tone with a penetrating bite that burrows under the skin. Submit yourself and you’ll understand the hype. Vos (whose musical influence reads like most early-American folk musicians) was raised by a preacher father and spent a good part of her childhood singing bible hymns. Her gospel, living free and unapologetically, is supported with conviction by Tim McIlree on fiddle and mandolin, Peter Raboin on acoustic guitar and Daniel Wolff on double bass.

From songs of protest to a soulful cry for self-acceptance in every “Sad Story,” Dead Horses wear their hearts proudly on their plaid sleeves. The band’s musical nuances enhance Vos’ homespun tales–be it in the driving string work in “Cosmos,” which creates an atmosphere of unearthly wonder, or the soaring, fluttering fiddle in “Glitterbug.” Musical cues range from old-time porch songs “Lay Me Down” and “I Will Walk,” complete with four-part harmonies, to the blues-influenced strut in “Old Soul,” to the sweet, summery feel of “Tops” and “I Am Not.” The versatility of “Space and Time” creates a wonderfully captivating album that is a welcomed addition to the canon of folk music.

Dead Horses will hit the road again this fall t o support the album’s release, including headlining cd release shows across the Midwest. In an effort to give back to the communities that have supported them throughout the years, Dead Horses have pledged to donate a percentage of their tour merchandise sales to Kurt Stein’s School of Music, a Fox Valley based music school for middle and high school students. The money raised will be used to purchase gear for student performances and need-based scholarships for talented area youth. Wolff, who is largely self-taught, is enthusiastic about the partnership, “Kurt’s students start gigging in various ensembles and performing a wide variety of music at an early age. It’s the kind of opportunity I was waiting for all through middle school–making friends in a musical capacity is one of the most rewarding experiences.”

“Space and Time” was recorded with seasoned producer Stephen Barncard at Hyde Street Studios in San Francisco. Barncard, who also recorded and produced legendary albums for the Grateful Dead and Croby, Stills, Nash & Young, waived his usual up-front recording fees to work the band. He took a leap of faith after listening to Dead Horses’ debut album, “Back to Life.” Dead Horses eagerly accepted the invitation to record in California, which also happened to be the birthplace of John Steinbeck and the primary setting for his novels referenced on the album. “Being in that area while recording felt right,” Vos said. So the band pooled together their personal savings and booked four flights out West, commencing Vos’ first airborn experience. After seven around-the-clock days in the studio (the band slept in a vacant studio room), 11 original tracks were laid down to create “Space and Time.”

Fox Valley artist Jesse Martinez hand-crafted an original work of art for the album. Martinez, an appreciator of Dead Horses artistically and philosophically, recognized a connection between the band’s creative values and his own, “Folk music is steeped in community and the source of my art is often the same. I enjoy overlapping imagery from local culture with abstract ideas. In a way, a new symbolic meaning is returned to the community.” Martinez, who admits a natural fascination with reoccurring patterns in nature, used solid wood as his canvas for “Space and Time.” Martinez approached the metaphysical nature of the album title in terms of existence and change–time illustrated through images of flora in varying external conditions and functions.” The flora, all of which are native to Wisconsin, is woven between contrasting geometric shapes into two wreath branches reminiscent of a harvest wreath, a symbol of strength and community.

Drew Mueske, owner of Offbeat Press in Oshkosh, collaborated with Martinez to enhance the wood sketches digitally. Drew used color and other manipulations to detail Martinez’s contrasting images of organic growth vs human-engineered repurposing. The final artwork will also be printed on other Dead Horses’ merchandise, which will be manufactured locally at Offbeat Press.

The new album is creating a lot of momentum for the band that has been working tirelessly since 2010. Dead Horses got their first break performing a Thursday night residency at Oshkosh restaurant/bar, The Brooklyn. The crowds grew weekly to catch their acoustic outdoor sets. The band took note and decided it would be worth their while to enter a battle of the bands competition. They completed an application to compete in Green Lake later that summer, but it was originally dismissed due to their late submission. But as chance had it, the organizing committee received a last-minute cancellation from another band and Dead Horses were invited back to compete. Their luck changed when Vos’ car engine started smoking and caught on fire upon entering Green Lake’s Deacon Mills Park, just 10 minutes prior to their performance time slot. Festival workers poured fire retardant on her engine as the band rushed on stage. Dead Horses made it just in time, performed a couple working versions of songs that were later recorded for “Back to Life,” and won by public vote.

Since releasing their 2012 debut album, “Back to Life,” Dead Horses have re-emerged, focused and determined. The band already have a handful of new songs learned to record for their third release and are setting their sights high. As they should be. If current reception is any indicator of success, “Space and Time” has created a golden opportunity for the band to test their strength in the coming year. Vos maintains optimism, “Art brings people together. And any time people are brought together big things happen–things that are bigger than any of us individually. This is about community and what we can accomplish collectively. The sum is always greater than the parts.”

Visit our website at to receive a free download of one track from “Space and Time.”

Upcoming Dead Horses CD Release Shows in the Fox Valley:
— 10/12 Grand Opera House, Oshkosh, WI (Free, All Ages) 3:30PM
— 10/24 Mill Creek, Appleton, WI ($5, 21+) 8PM
— 11/21 Lyric Room, Green Bay, WI ($5, 21+) 8PM


Rebecca is a pianist and graduate student living in Milwaukee, WI.

Leave a Reply

Scroll To Top