with video: Enjoying a big year, The Ragbirds coming home to The Ark
The Ann Arbor-based, Gypsy-influenced folk rockers recently released a new CD. They’ve been on the cover of iSpy magazine. High Times named them the Band of the Month for January, and they just did four performances at the prestigious South By Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas.
Since they’ve put 12,000 miles on their vegetable oil-fueled tour bus just in the past two months, “Travelling Machine,” seems an apt title for their new disc.
“We’ve been keeping our nose to the grind—it’s been a lot of good times and we’re really excited. It’s been real encouraging for sure,” front woman and multi-instrumentalist Erin Zindle said of the attention that’s now being paid to the band.
Zindle and the rest of The Ragbirds, including brother T. J. Zindle (electric and acoustic guitar, vocals), husband Randall Moore (congas, tabla, djembe, timbales, bongos, percussion), Brian Crist (bass, percussion), and Loren Kranz (drum set, vocals), will perform at The Ark Friday night, fresh off the South by Southwest appearances.“We’re folk rock with a lot of world music influence. It really is a pretty wide net of sounds that show their influence in our music,” Zindle said. “It’s not traditional world music by any means; we’re not trying to make authentic Cajun or Latin or Celtic or African music. But at the same time we have such a great love for these cultural sounds we let those things make their impression on us and come out as naturally as they can through our original music.”
A Ragbirds show is an energetic affair, with Zindle skilfully switching among violin, mandolin, banjo, accordion, and percussion instruments, all the while dancing around the stage. The new CD, said Zindle, captures more of the lively feel of the group’s concert appearances than did earlier efforts like “Yes Nearby,” “Wanderlove” and “Finally Almost Ready.”
“It’s a big step for us,” Zindle said of the disc. “It’s really more representative of our high-energy live shows than we’ve been able to accomplish on previous records. That was really by design. We road-tested the songs for this record—I wrote these songs with the stage in mind—and I wrote them while we were on the road. I kind of picked more uptempo tunes to put in this collection.”
She said fans will notice a few changes in the band’s sound—nothing drastic, but evident nonetheless.
“We’ve tried out a few new styles, two in particular on this new album. There’s our first Cajun/zydeco -style tune and also a sea chantey. I feel like it’s been more of an extension of our original sound, not necessarily a change—the biggest change in the band was when T.K., my brother, joined the band in 2008. That was the most drastic change because he brought a lot more rock and roll / electric guitar sound.”
The South by Southwest event has been something she and her bandmates have been hoping they could do for a while, Zindle added before the band headed south.
“It’s our first time there. We’ve tried to make it happen every year now that we have an official showcase and a few other good opportunities it’s definitely worthwhile. We’ll be in (Austin) for six days; it will be a good chance to network and we’ll get to go to some of the panels and get to see some other cool shows.”
Besides making music, The Ragbirds are known for a commitment to the environment, and even drive a tour bus fueled by vegetable oil obtained from restaurants along the way, a conversation starter on its own as they travel from gig to gig.
“To me its good for people to see there are other alternatives out there,” Zindle explained. “Even though this isn’t the answer for everybody, it just happens to work for us, and it is so much better for the environment.”
The bus gets about the same mileage as it would burning diesel fuel, 15 or so m.p.g., towing a heavy trailer. “It’s not great mileage but it’s 90 percent fewer carbon emissions on vegetable oil than it is on diesel. It had a certain food-like odor but it smells so much better than diesel fuel,” Zindle said.