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December 2019

 Photography by: Zeke Hanson

Dead Horses

By: Zeke Hanson

For Christmas last year, one of our staff writers, and all-around great human, gave me the gift of The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.  A different friend of mine recently posted a story with a Pressfield quote on it, that brought all of the book flooding back.

It’s a great quote.  It’s a great book. If you’ve ever strived to create anything, there’s a lot to identify with, and it doesn’t take long to read.


“Fear doesn't go away. The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.” – Steven Pressfield


The stink of art is that the perception is never accurate.


If you’re not in it, it seems like something you could never do but have some appreciation for.  Or you think they’d be better off, settling down, getting a real job and paying in their social security so that the whole system doesn’t collapse.


There’s a necessary discomfort to creativity.  It gives the work attitude because it is formed by an act of defiant will.


“I did look the other direction for a while, there was a familial push to do so.  My parents were always very supportive of me learning and performing music, my entire family was, but there was a point where they were like, ‘are you going to do something else?’  Dan Wolff of Dead Horses, “so I sought out other opportunities for a little while, like studying to become a teacher, but ended up hating the coursework and dropping out. The music was there all along, it was the thing always in the back of my mind.  When I shed all the obligatory feelings of ‘I need to do something else,’ it felt great.”

“Same here,” says Sarah Vos.  “There’s no one moment, but I remember being a pretty young kid, sitting on my bed and playing a toy guitar and pretending to be playing in front of people and writing songs even as a child.  But then, coming to a point where I was like, ‘Okay, that’s what I want to do, but I don’t know how to do it.’ And I hadn’t met the right people yet. Even starting Dead Horses, I don’t think the original intention was to make it a career.  But it slowly grew into that. It wasn’t forced, it was something we were doing for fun, that turned into… ‘okay, this is something that we can make sustainable and let’s shoot for it.’ Here we are.”

Whether it’s the travel, the freedom of schedule, the Instagram feed, or the people travel always looks like adventure when you’re not the one living out of the van.


All that being said, when you look back on the ground you’ve covered you’re able to reflect on a lot of really cool things that have happened too.


Dead Horses is a band made up of Sarah Vos and Dan Wolff.  They travel all over and they’ve been playing together for years. 


We were lucky enough to have our ears pulled their direction by Mike Yeager of White Wall Sessions (WWS).  Dead Horses was playing a Pink Moon Room at WWS and he thought they would be a great interview.

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Dead Horses was a fantastic Pink Moon Room show.  It was nothing short of captivating.


We followed them to Yankton, South Dakota and caught them at a Little White Church Session.


“The travel is part of what gives a lot of the inspiration for the songs but also a lot of my personal beliefs,” says Sarah Vos.  “And the experiences you have traveling through's pretty quick usually, day to day. When you're on tour you're going pretty fast but it's crazy what you can learn from an hour walk around town before sound check.  There comes to be some mundane feelings here and there, you're just moving all the time but I think it keeps me mentally healthy and strong having new environments consistently. It really helps mold my world view.”


The specific feeling that you are exactly where you are supposed to be, doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing is extremely rare and wonderful.


“One of the places that I've discovered that I really love, that's even closer to home is the Driftless Region.  Specifically, Viroqua, Wisconsin. I had no idea! It's maybe only 3.5 hours from Milwaukee but I grew up in Wisconsin and I had no idea that there was this part of WI that was so different.  It's kind of near La Crosse so it's close to the Mississippi River, it's just gorgeous out there, the landscape is beautiful, the people are this interesting mix of traditional and old school but also very progressive at the same time.  So, that's been really intriguing to me and has definitely added to some of my trips when I'm at home and off. I like being out there. It feels really good.”


“We used to play a song about a bridge in Eureka, a really small town in Wisconsin. I was out on a drive with a friend to see the leaves changing and we saw this beautiful bridge kind of out of nowhere.  So, we decided to stop and take some pictures and there was a bar there so we stopped into the bar and had a beer and we’re talking to the bartender…and they’re saying, ‘Oh, they’re actually gonna tear that bridge down because they want to get their yachts through here.’  There’s nothing wrong with the bridge, it was a gorgeous bridge built in the ‘50s. We did a song about that, and even filmed a video. The videographers we worked with were awesome, they made sure to get out there before the bridge came down, and then after, then we did a bunch of interviews with the local people and their opinions about it.”


The great part of traveling and interacting with other creatives is that you get to feed off of their work.  Sharing inspiration from shared appreciations and works.


“Being on the road for several hours of the day creates a time for us to meditate, too,” says Dan Wolff, “There are times when we have headphones on and we're tuned in to our own thing, but often we’re searching for inspiration, which is necessary when you're sitting stagnant in a van headed from city to city.  I've been digging into a lot of older music, even late 1800s/early 1900s classical music. Making use of the time to explore a bunch of stuff that I'd never heard of or listened to, but recommended by other music heads we meet.”

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When Dead Horses was formed, Dan started playing the double bass specifically for the project.  “Sarah knew these two guys from high school that I had just started playing with, which later became Dead Horses, and they were the ones who had recommended I try the upright.  So I did.” Dan continues, “I’d been forming bands with friends since middle school, playing electric bass, drums, sax and guitar, but pretty much the general rock band format of things.  I always liked strings and played a little violin, taking a few lessons in college. I basically like learning how to play whatever I can get my hands on.”


“There seemed to be a natural space for us where we were first emerging as a band,” says Sarah, “there was a natural space for bluegrass, which directionally, we used to lean more heavily than we are now, but there was a scene happening all over Wisconsin and the Midwest that was this bluegrass revival of sorts. We had the opportunity to play that kind of music.  It was a fun thing to dabble in and get us started as a band. We’ve gone much more in the folk and americana directions.”


When the tour starts to take a toll and the passion becomes forced, it’s nice to have a foundation to rely on. When that happens for Dead Horses, they cling to music.  Dan says, “also...what else are we doing to do?”

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“That’s true,” laughs Sarah, “that’s real.”


“I guess, the fact that you’re creating something,” continues Dan.  “We’re pretty lucky to be able to do that. I think everyone has the ability to create things.  A lot of people don’t.”


Sarah expands, “There’s a message that we’re putting out there into the world and we have a team of people that are supporting the project as a whole, our manager, our booking agent, our publicist, fans and friends that push that forward.  Even in some of the places that we’ve been playing longer. I’ve noticed, for example, that a lot of our fans really like when we play on farms…like an organic pizza farm…that’s where people want to see us. It’s this environment where you can go, and you can bring kids, and you have a good time, listen to the music and it’s an experience.  I really like that about what we do too.”


Dead Horses is an act that you need to hear.   Whether it’s on Spotify or at a venue, don’t miss out.  There is something special about their music, and it isn’t just the listener who experiences it.  “I think art stands alone,” says Dan, “without a viewer or a listener.”  


“I would agree with that,” says Sarah,  “it comes down more in solitude, when you’re really making strides personally, but the goa, is to get out there and share it.  So, the effects are profound in both cases, but very different. Which is cool to have those two realms. There’s so much personal time to shape what you have to offer, then collaborate, and then share it too.

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Hit up Spotify now.

Follow them @deadhorseswi

Listen to them every chance you get.


Let’s say, hypothetically, there’s a lifeboat being held for you, so you won’t drown, but let’s say that this new Titanic that’s being built, Dead Horses is the band for the ship, and it sinks again.  When the band plays on, what’s the song that you play before you jump on that lifeboat?


Dan:  (laughs)  I have no idea.  Water?

Sarah:  Yeah! That’s great!


Dan:  That’s an original song. 


Sarah:  It’s called Water and it’s about how, when I wrote it I was reading a lot of Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass specifically, the idea at that time to me was brand new, that ‘every leaf of grass proves that there is no death’, meaning all life turns into other life and there really is no end and the only end is for your ego. I think that’s a really beautiful concept..  So, it would be very fitting for this life ending for us, and it’s also a very upbeat song. That would be cool. What did they play on Titanic? Is it Amazing Grace? There’s another great hymn that I think would be cool called It Is Well With My Soul, it would fit well with that because I think the man who wrote that...well he was overseas and his family was coming to him and they all died in a boat accident en route. That’s when he wrote this hymn called It Is Well With My Soul.  I think that that’s very moving, but that would be a sad song.

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