Five Questions with … Mail the Horse

February 18th, 2016

The folk- and classic rock–loving group Mail the Horse (above, performing “Flowers, Keys & Gasoline”)—Donny Amidon, Michael Hesslein, Chris May and Brendan Smith—first laid roots in coastal New Hampshire before making the move to Brooklyn. They’ve become known locally as a DIY band not to miss. They open for the Cactus Blossoms tonight at Mercury Lounge, and the guys answered Five Questions for The House List.

As a touring band, what’s the best part of staying local to play Mercury Lounge? And do you ever notice if your music is received differently at home versus on the road?
Mercury Lounge has been good to us, and it’s still one of the best places to see music in the city. They pride themselves in establishing solid artist relations, which is something we appreciate. It’s great to see familiar faces but also nice to not know anyone in the crowd and let go a little more. Bottom line is that we like to play and we like to make people feel as many different emotions as possible during our sets. That’s what we pride ourselves on.

Planet Gates came out about a year ago. Are you guys working on anything new? And do you ever fine-tune music live before recording it?
We’ve been writing and are about to start recording in the spring. We performed about half of the tunes on Planet Gates before we recorded them. Studio is always different than a live performance so there are always adjustments to be made. We look forward to seeing where the next set of sessions take us.


What bands have influenced your music?
We all spent a real decent chunk of our formative years listening to way too much of the Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan obviously, the Band, Flying Burrito Brothers, the Byrds and other “cosmic” American bands from the ’60s and early ’70s, but we also dig in deep with the Stones—all eras—and on tour our playlists and our tastes tend to be very, very eclectic. We listen to straight up Journey and then we listen to Pharoah Sanders and then we listen to Ryan Adams, then we listen to Gene Clark demos from the late ’70s on YouTube. But we also all listen to a ton of contemporary stuff. There’s an album coming out this week by this band Murals that we’ve been looking forward to for months.

Do you have any crutches when writing a song—are there certain words or styles you feel you lean on too much?
It’s OK to have something to lean on because it gives you confidence in your abilities,= and you can make it your thing. But it’s very important to step outside the box and challenge yourself musically—or in life in general. Most of the time when you find yourself leaning on something, it means you’re honing in on something. And then once you get closer to it, maybe you catch it, and then move onto something else. Sometimes you never catch it, or sometimes it morphs into something new. It’s like chasing something that you can’t see but can feel. Also, we wrote a few songs over the years with recurring lines about dead dogs. I think all the songs are great, but maybe it’s something else’s time to die!

Do you have to be depressed to write a sad song? Do you have to be in love to write a love song? Is a song better when it really happened to you?
Some of the best songs ever written are stories that don’t relate to the songwriter. It always helps to feel a certain way, but it’s fun putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Singing/ playing with conviction is the most important aspect or no one is going to believe you either way. Two of us had a fiction professor tell us a quote: “Write about what you know, whether it happened to you or not.” If your goal is expressing emotional truth, the facts can become irrelevant. Bruce Springsteen didn’t drag race all those cars himself, right? But “Racing in the Street” sure rings true. Big time.—R. Zizmor | @Hand_Dog