Posted By McClain Johnson ~ 14th June 2016
Catch The Ragbirds at The Bottleneck
The Ragbirds combine world music, bluegrass and more to create their sound. Their latest release is the album The Threshold & The Hearth. The Michigan-based band’s music has been described as infectious global groove. Vocalist and violinist Erin Zindle recently discussed the band’s beginnings, her personal mantra and advice for musicians just starting out. The Ragbirds play The Bottleneck with Rolling Foliage June 18th.
How did you become interested in music?
My early experiences with music start with my family and the church we grew up in. My mother always sang with my brothers and I as we went about our day – at meals, in the tub, as we played, etc. My parents also sang in the choir at the Baptist church we attended. The church used hymnals so I grew up following along in the music from a very early age which helped me be an early reader and my dad always sang the tenor parts so I grew accustomed to hearing the harmony. At Christmastime my dad’s 8 brothers and sisters would gather and sing carols in harmony with guitars. I think it is because of this climate that It was always very natural for me to sing. I started violin lessons at the age of 9 and piano a few years later.
How did the Ragbirds first get started?
In 2005, I had written more than an album’s worth of songs that were tugging at my sleeves so I decided to record them. I asked my boyfriend, percussionist Randall Moore (who is now my husband) to record the rhythm tracks. The early songs were very much centered around the world rhythms that Randall and I laid out. We found a guitarist and bassist to record those parts and we cut the record before we even played a single show together, then we hit the ground running and haven’t stopped since. We’ve had a few lineup changes over the years, but my brother TJ Zindle joined the band in 2008 and our current drummer Jon Brown and bassist Dan Jones joined a little over 2 years ago.
What is your creative approach to songwriting?
I am a lifelong student of the songwriting process and I could talk about it for days, so I’ll try to answer this as concisely as I can. I try to approach songwriting from many different angles to keep the process fresh and to challenge myself, but my most natural way of writing is to sit down in a quiet place with a pen and paper. For me, the words are at the center of my songs and I put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into the words before they are ever even sung. It is like a puzzle and once the words are “just right” they practically sing themselves. This is the greatest thrill and in these moments when a song lifts off the page into my throat I feel more alive and complete than ever. I usually rush to record the melody at this point and quickly find an instrument to sketch out the harmonic structure, experimenting and editing as I shape the song into being.
What inspires you lyrically?
Working through struggles. One of the lyrics on our new album is “I’m a self-improvement junkie” (from the song “Sometimes Honestly”) and it’s so true. I’m always striving for self-awareness through my songwriting, and seeking out the message of wisdom that the song wants to teach me. I’m trying to express my trials and sorrows by finding my way through them into hope and joy. Songwriting is the best tool in the world to help me do that. My greatest hope is that other people who hear the songs when they are in a dark place can find their way out too.
How did the song “Six Wheels” come together?
Oh, gosh. I wrote that song about 6 years ago I think. We were in the middle of one of our busiest touring years and we were constantly on the road. Touring can be exhausting and the lifestyle tends to be dominated by masculine energy. So, I was on the road with 5 boys (4 band members + our merch guy) in a van and trailer (that’s the 6 wheels) and was writing songs about our experiences which eventually were recorded for our 2011 album Travelin’ Machine. “Who’s got sugar who’s got spice?” was something I wrote in my journal one evening as I was reflecting on my need for femininity. It’s easy to lose touch with yourself in a sense when you are surrounded 24/7 by people who are very different from you. I was so grateful on the road every time I’d get a little “girl time” – like if we’d stay with a friend, or even just the little hospitable touches that women would bring to the show experience – like home-cooked meals in a clean green room, etc. Those little moments were so refreshing and those human connections mean the world to all of us who live a traveling lifestyle.
Do you have a favorite quote or motto that you live by?
I have a mantra that I repeat each morning. It’s an acronym for the word EMBRACE, which reminds me to embrace each day.
E – Enjoy the day
M – Magnify the positive
B – Be the strongest version of yourself
R – Rise above the petty stuff
A – Accept responsibility (+ apologize effortlessly)
C – Control your tongue
E – Empathize with others
What advice would you give to musicians just starting out?
This new music business is full of many possibilities so it’s important to go into it knowing your own personal definition of success. If you are genuine (both vulnerable and humbly aware of what makes you unique) and always striving to learn and improve then you will succeed. It’s just that success doesn’t look anything like the old model – and it usually is not the same as fortune and fame. Know yourself and plan for the long game. If there’s anything else you can see yourself just as happily doing then do that thing, because this way, this business is a hard way to go. It’s also worth every bit of the hard work and disappointment. It’s the only job I’ve ever had. I’ve been touring in bands for almost 20 years! I always remind myself how lucky I am though, because what else could I be doing with my life that would make so many people happy? I know that this is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing, and if you know that about yourself too, then the sky is the limit.