An Interview with Erin Zindle of The Ragbirds
One of the highlights for me of Summer Camp this year was The Ragbirds' set at one in the morning at the Campfire stage. It made you forget about the rain. Recently I was lucky enough to get frontwoman Erin Zindle to answer a few of my questions:
AH: Erin, your sound is complex yet accessible at the same time. (thank you) The blend of world music with traditional folk and African drums is not something that’s seen very often. Is the songwriting a group effort or do you handle all of that as well?
EZ: I write the songs that The Ragbirds play and generally direct the overall style and esthetic of our music. But the songs take on a new life in the hands of my band mates as they shape the parts for each song into the version that we end up performing. I am a folk songwriter at the core, with a focus on lyrics and song craft, an addiction to poly-rhythm and a love for world music. I love to let the songs take me somewhere I've never been.
AH: Who are some of your favorite artists that influence your music?
EZ: I always name as my biggest influence Paul Simon, particularly in his Graceland/Rhythm of the Saints season as a solo artist. I am a huge fan of his way with words, and the poly-rhythms that he weaves into each layer of his songs from the drums all the way through the melodic instruments. I listen to a lot of music from all over the world as well as American folk artists. Some of my favorites include Amadou & Miriam, Anais Mitchell, Ali Farka Toure, Glen Hansard, Conor Oberst. I'm not sure how much they influence my music but they inspire me to write.
AH: Is it ever difficult to be touring with your husband?
EZ: Yes. Of course it is sometimes difficult. But it is a beautiful thing to share this music together and we are very lucky to have found each other.
AH: Are you pretty much self-taught on all the instruments you play or were there lessons involved?
EZ: I was classically trained on violin and piano. I have also taken vocal lessons over the last three years and they have revolutionized my technique and my sound. I am a huge believer in seeking out experts and learning from others. While some great players are self-taught, there is a lot of wisdom and perspective to be gained that you can't teach yourself.
AH: It’s been almost ten years since you got your start (in the early incarnations of The Ragbirds). Is it hard to believe it’s been that long already?
EZ: It's been 8 years and it has surely flown by!
AH: What would you say is the biggest achievement of the band to date?
EZ: In terms of straight up bragging rights we had a song on the Top Pop 100 in Japan and performed there for 10,000 people. We've had some great opportunities to open for bands that we consider heroes. We've toured the country, performing in 46 states, won a few awards, but nothing huge. The truth is, our biggest achievement as a band has been the deep connection with fans who have expressed, sometimes with tears, how much the songs have touched them. There is no way to truly weigh the value of that honor.
AH: Where does the inspiration come from? Was it your environment in Michigan or something else altogether?
EZ: Inspiration comes from everywhere. I tend to write about my own life and observations of the world, allowing myself to be as vulnerable and honest as I can.
AH: Who’s been the coolest artist to play with (or at least be at the same venue with) for you?
EZ: I performed a song on my violin with Matisyahu and that was really an honor. The Ragbirds have opened for Rusted Root, John Butler Trio, Dawes, Railroad Earth, Wookiefoot and many more. We have shared festival stages with hundreds of bands worth naming as well.
AH: Travelin’ Machine came out last year, is there anything new in the works or are you pretty much focusing on touring for now?
EZ: We are working on writing and developing new music for a new album, TBA. In the meanwhile we are touring and expecting a baby in August. Once the baby is born we plan to record and tour again - this is what we do.
AH: Is there anything you would like to say to the fans?
EZ: Yes, I have a lot to say. And I say it through my songs. I'm grateful for every ear that hears and every heart that truly listens.