Getting to Know: Tether Horse
by Cat Johnson
Hailing from Santa Cruz, Calif., Americana outfit Tether Horse is quickly becoming a favorite of the local roots crowd. Formed in 2008, the band got its name from something that frontman/songwriter Matthew Joe Chaney saw that made a lasting impression on him: a pretty girl leading a horse where she wanted it to go.
“The name ties in with feeling like you don’t have control over what direction you’re going,” Chaney says. “That lots of outside factors: family, friends, society all come together and direct you. Sometimes it’s a good thing,” he adds, “and sometimes it’s not so good.”
With a name in place, Chaney set about putting a band together. He gathered up a handful of friends and old bandmates and Tether Horse was born. Playing the Santa Cruz and Bay Area music circuit, the band quickly built up an audience and developed a reputation as an exciting new addition to the rich indie-roots scene.
When it came time to record, Tether Horse, whose current incarnation includes Chaney (guitar/vocals/banjo etc.), J.J. McCabe (fiddle/vocals/mandolin/cello etc.), Christopher J. Sulots (bass/glockenspiel), Evan Sarkisian (drums/cajon) and Tina Devoe (vocals/percussion), gathered friends with know-how, pooled their resources and spent a week in a 10×10 room laying down tracks.
“We didn’t have a lot of money to record, so we couldn’t go into a big studio,” says Chaney. “We had each other and a good network of friends.”
At the end of the session, however, what they had was “totally unusable,” says Chaney. There was no isolation possible, they had software issues and after a week of “hammering at the project,” they had nothing.
“Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong,” he says. “We had to regroup and figure out what we wanted to do.”
Armed with a fresh outlook on the project and a bunch of recording equipment, Tether Horse headed up to the Santa Cruz mountains and turned Chaney’s parents’ house, which his family had built in the 1920s, into a make-shift studio.
“We went up there and isolated everyone in different rooms of the house,” Chaney says, “and
recorded 16 tracks in two days.”
“I was in the room that I grew up in,” he continues, “one of the guys was doing backup vocals in the pantry, J.J. was in the bathroom and my grandparents were there making food for us.”
The result is In the House that Took Me, an album that reflects the band’s commitment to authenticity and the music. Featuring songs such as “Things Taken from the South,” “Collecting Feathers” and the audience-favorite “Thick Like Molasses,” the recording put Tether Horse on the map as a local band to be taken seriously. The music is unpretentious and honest, filled with catchy hooks, toe-tapping rhythms, well-placed instrumentation and a refreshing lack of production trickery.
Since then, the band has continued to extend its reach into new areas, both geographically and stylistically.
“The good part of being in a band is that it’s a collective kind of thing,” says Chaney. “After spending so much time with the band, I just come in with half-finished songs and we kind of jam them out and go from there.”
When asked how he describes the Tether Horse sound, Chaney laughs and says, “Probably poorly.”
“For a while we were saying Ameri-kinda,” he says, “but now-days I lean towards folk-influenced pop-rock.”
After weathering the storms of an up-and-coming band finding its legs, Tether Horse is going strong and talking about the next album.
“What I’m most excited about now is recording our second album and seeing how people react to it,” says Chaney. “It will make it even more difficult to describe what we do.”
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