Get to know Red Horse!

By Brandon, July 12, 2010

What happens when three good friends who just happen to be three of the most prolific folk songwriters in music today get together? Red Horse. The new folk super-trio comprised of Lucy Kaplansky, Eliza Gilkyson, and John Gorka is their fantastic new album featuring stunning harmonies and simple acoustic production.

We sent them a few questions to get under the hood of Red Horse and learn about their collaborative process, the recording sessions and how much fun making this album was. Hope you enjoy and don’t forget to pick up a copy of the Red Horse the album today!

1. What is the significance of the name ‘Red Horse’? What inspired you all to come together to record as a group?

ELIZA:No hidden meaning there, for me anyway, I just like horses, the name had a nice visual for me, simple, and then of course there is the word play on the “Red House” label connection for these 3 artists…hey, it was John’s idea…( I blame John!) Plus it was better than “White People with Problems” (my suggestion). This whole idea was just a whim..based on a desire to have fun with two of my most favorite performers in the world. We thought it would be fun to do some shows and that evolved into a recording project. I think Lucy’s husband Rick had the idea to record. I think I had the idea to do the shows. I think John had no idea whatsoever.:)

LUCY: John came up with the name Red Horse as a kind of play on the name “Red House”, since we’re all on Red House. Eliza emailed me a few months ago and asked me if I wanted to do some gigs with her and John. I loved the idea and mentioned it to my husband, Rick, and he said “why don’t you guys make an album together?” I suggested that to John and Eliza and everyone wanted to do it.

JOHN: I don’t know if Red Horse has a lot of deep meaning. We are all Red House artists. A house usually stays in one place, most horses can run, and sometimes a red horse can fly… I think it’s like that. For me it’s a colorful symbol of freedom. We liked it better than some combination of our names, I guess. We thought it would be fun to sing together. Lucy’s husband Rick said “why don’t you make a record?”, so we did. I’m glad we have a souvenir of our time together. Now we have to ask Rick what to do next.

2. How did you go about choosing the songs? How did you all decide on the cover tunes?

ELIZA: I liked the idea of going back deeper into the catalogs and choosing songs that were ripe for a makeover. I had always wanted to do a more gritty production on “Walk Away From Love”, and Lucy and John both chose more obscure songs of mine that benefited from new interpretations. I went way back into John’s catalog for “Forget to Breathe”, though I stayed close to the original structure and just added a cool hymnlike guitar part. Lucy’s song “Promise Me” jumped out and demanded that I give it a shot. As for the cover tunes, of course they had to have great harmony potential , but it was also our chance to round things out in terms of balancing the various moods of the whole recording, so we chose with that in mind as well. That was the hardest part for me actually, til I found that old Neil Young song. I used to sing it way back when, and it was fun to record-it’s a deceptively simple sounding song with a very inventive and original chord progression and melody, and the harmonies are really fun to sing. Plus Mike Hardwick played a killer twang and thump Gretsch guitar solo on it.

LUCY: Eliza and I each chose a song of our own that we either wanted to re-record/reinvent, and John, who’s so much more prolific than I am, had a new song he wanted to do with us. We each chose a cover we wanted to do, and ran the idea by the others. In my case, John and I had sung “Wayfaring Stranger” together at a gig in November, and he suggested we do that one. I thought it was a great idea.

JOHN: I think we each considered what batch of songs would get along with us and each other. I think.

3. You all covered a couple of each other’s songs on this album. Why did you choose the songs you did? What were your initial reactions to hearing your song(s) interpreted by the others?

ELIZA: Normally artists do their own material on projects like this, so we thought it would add a new twist and challenge for us to cover each other’s songs. It really changed the recording landscape, and I think was the most satisfying part in the end. Choosing was a process we each came to separately, searching though the material til a song resonated personally-you have to be able to step into the character and make it your own. I was thrilled to hear their versions of my songs, just thrilled, I like them better than my originals. It breathed new life into them for me. .

LUCY: A couple of years ago someone at a show of mine requested “Blue Chalk”. I’ve sung harmony on that song for years with John, and I didn’t think I knew the lyrics, but it turned out I did. I sang it at that show, and have been singing it in shows ever since. So it was kind of an obvious choice. There are a bunch of Eliza’s songs I love and would love to sing, but “Sanctuary” blew me away. I thought it might work well with solo piano and would be really different from Eliza’s version.

JOHN: We suggested a few songs to each other as possible candidates. The 2 main considerations I had were: Which songs could I pull off and which songs would I not mind singing for the rest of my life.

4. Are there any songs that didn’t make it on the album?

ELIZA: I did a very unsatisfactory version of “Promise Me” that did not come close to Lucy’s excellent original arrangement, so Cisco (my son and co-producer) and I scrapped it, and built on a whole other concept, a kind of smoky “late night” version of the song that was just delicious to sing to. We also dumped my initial cover choice, an old Hazel Dickens song called “Will Jesus Wash the Bloodstains from Your Hands?”, a fabulous anti-war/ anti-empire song that I just felt wasn’t the same without Hazel’s authentic hillbilly vocal. I sounded way too straight for it and I don’t like to fake an accent. The Neil Young cover (I am A Child) was a better fit.

LUCY: We had some ideas for covers that we nixed, but as far as I know we didn’t record anything that didn’t make it on the album.

JOHN: Speaking for myself, all of the other songs didn’t make it on the album. Seriously though, there was a song that I tried to record that didn’t make it and that is for good reason.

5. What was the collaboration process like? How did you come up with the arrangements?

ELIZA: We all communicate so well with each other and there wasn’t much disagreement, so we sort of breezed through the concept part. We all agreed to keep the productions simple and in the folk vein, so it would be easier to match the songs up in the end, plus we all agreed we should do a final mix and master in one studio (Mark Hallman’s Congress House in Austin), so there was cohesion. I was amazed at how well it all matched up, mostly due to the consistancy of the harmonies throughout, along with Mark’s gifted mix/mastering abilities.We also sent each other rough mixes throughout the process and we gave input back and forth about the arrangements as they unfolded.In the digital age it is really simple to work long distance with music files. I can’t say it was all easy, because there was a learning curve with all this digital studio stuff going on simultaneously between 3 different studios, producers and artists, plus working out harmonies long distance is not ideal, but we were happy with the end result.

LUCY: I love Eliza and John as artists but also as people. They were wonderful to collaborate with, always open to and respectful of others’ opinions and ideas, and very very funny.We each came up with our own harmony parts on our own, and they just sort of gelled together.

JOHN: There was a tremendous number of emails. We each have such busy lives, so we basically made a record without really having the time to make a record. Somehow we were able to get it done. The basic idea as I recall was to have the record be vocal and guitar centered maybe with one or two other touches. Some of the arrangements evolved from there and became a little fuller. I think we mainly tried to serve the song in regards to production. We were responsible for 4 songs each and we sent many mp3s around for comments and consideration. For me it was my first time making a record as a member of a group. I was used to being the lone wolf. It was a welcome change.

6. What can fans expect at a Red Horse show?

ELIZA: I think we will run the full emotional spectrum, there will be some laughs because Gorka is such a dork and you never know where that will end up. But there will for sure be a depth of seasoned songwriting offered. I imagine we will challenge and inspire each other to throw down our best stuff. I doubt we will do the same songs every night, most likely keep it spontaneous. And we will sing our asses off!

LUCY: Since we’ve never done a show together, who knows? I’m sure we’ll do most of the songs from the CD and some other songs of ours too. People can certainly expect lots and lots of harmonies.

JOHN: Nice outfits, good hair, fun surrounding all of us singing songs we know.

7. Finally, what music are you currently listening to?

ELIZA: I have been enjoying Richard Shindell recently, his latest “Not Far Now”…dang , he is such a great songwriter and singer. There is a young woman out of Wimberley Texas named Amanda Mora who totally got me with her recent debut recording “the Ribbon”..exquisite! also the new remix of the Rolling Stones lp, “Exile on Main Street”, and then those latest Beatles remixes just blow my mind. I haven’t heard all of them yet, but they are so rich in analog sounds and production,as well as deeply musical. I need to just throw down the big bucks and get the whole collection. I’m listening to Mark Knopfler , Radiohead, Emmy Lou Harris, Mary Chapin Carpenter (great new record) and a whole lot of “no music” too! Sometimes you just need a break.

LUCY: My 7 year old daughter only wants to listen to The Beatles, so that’s about it in our house!

JOHN: Outside I’m listening to the music of frogs and birds. Indoors I’ve been listening to music from my trip to Italy in May and also this new group from the US…


back to homepage