Ann Arbor’s earth-conscious Ragbirds sport a mixed-genre vibeThe Ragbirds will perform at 10 p.m. Friday, Aug. 27, at the Rex Liquor Emporium (in the Fitger’s complex). Cost is $5. Hear song samples at www.theragbirds.com.
It seems like most musicians come from households where music was playing 24/7. That just wasn’t the case for the Ragbirds’ sibling singers, Erin and TJ.
“It was strange; my parents never actually listened to music,” Erin told the Budgeteer. “They really didn’t.”
For coming from such a household, the Zindle kids sure showed their parents. Their rootsy, sometimes-exotic Ann Arbor, Mich., group already has a handful of releases under its belt — two of which have been released in Japan by one of that country’s record labels.
“It’s a little bit of a mystery how that happened,” Erin joked.
It all began when the Ragbirds started selling their records through Leeway’s Home Grown Music Network, which primarily specializes in products aimed at the jam band set.
“They started to sell our albums faster than we could keep up with the orders, and we discovered that many of them were going to Japan,” Zindle said. “A record label over in Japan also discovered that fact, so they contacted us. … They even brought us over for a tour last year.”
Perhaps to sidestep any overplayed “big in Japan” digs, the Ragbirds’ frontwoman was quick to make a self-deprecating joke.
“We definitely didn’t set out to strategize our Japan market [takeover],” she said with a laugh. “It just sort of fell on our laps. We were really grateful for that; we felt very lucky.”
But going back to Erin’s formative years, things weren’t all bad in her parents’ Buffalo, N.Y., household — save for some Billy Joel and Amy Grant records early on.
“When I was a teenager I discovered Rusted Root, Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel — these type of mainstream artists that brought these music world sounds into my little suburban Buffalo world,” she said. “I was so drawn to that music and to the exotic character of these sounds and styles from all over the world that I started to dive deeper into indigenous music.”
Soon Zindle started spinning music from gypsy cultures and Celtic music (which she attributes to her family’s Irish heritage). She also started learning the intricacies of African drumming as a teen.
“It was just a lot of world music I started to dive into and somehow, throughout years of songwriting, it found its way into my own sounds,” Zindle said.
Indeed, the Ragbirds sound has been praised for an almost ethereal level of worldliness.
The Uncommon Sense’s Cheryl Wilson called it “a sound and experience so unlike anything you’ve seen … you may begin to wonder if you’ve teleported to another land.”
Much of this can be attributed to Zindle’s unwavering devotion to experimentation.
“I’m the sort of songwriter who tends to search for the sound that I’m looking for,” she said. “It might sometimes mean picking up an instrument just for the sake of wanting that sound in my song.
“It’s really different from song to song, but … I guess a lot of times I hear the sound I want during the sketch that’s going on in my mind, and I’ll kind of be drawn to a certain instrument, to write the song.
“There have been times where I’ve tried a song on different instruments, finding out what felt best.”
Zindle has been known to experiment with “sound scenarios,” playing violin, mandolin, banjo, accordion and percussion — all the while singing and dancing.
“I started really young on violin and piano,” she explained. “I played those two instruments growing up … studied them classically as a child. The mandolin is really similar to violin, as far as the notes and the strings.
“And the accordion is sort of my way of taking my piano skills and making them portable.”
Of late, though, she’s been “keeping it simple” by just playing the violin. And singing. And dancing.
Another interesting fact about the Ragbirds is that the group has committed to make its records and tours as green as possible.
“We try to keep our packaging as environmentally friendly as we can,” Zindle said. “We also tour in a van that runs on waste vegetable oil, which reduces our carbon emissions by a huge percentage. It’s a much healthier fuel to use.”
The singer also mentioned a number of other means the group has been trying out.
“We keep dishes in the van and wash dishes in the hotel room. We use dry-erase boards to write out our set lists,” she said. “We do the little things that we can.
“It’s definitely difficult when you’re traveling, because there’s that constant need for quick and convenient.”
NEWS TO USE
The Ragbirds will perform at 10 p.m. Friday, Aug. 27, at the Rex Liquor Emporium (in the Fitger’s complex). Cost is $5. Hear song samples at www.theragbirds.com.