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Milwaukee Band Dead Horses Reflects On Keeping Their Own Path & Their Partnership

Daniel Wolff and Sarah Vos make up the folk duo Dead Horses.
Photo by David E. Jackson
Daniel Wolff and Sarah Vos make up the folk duo Dead Horses.

Milwaukee-based band Dead Horses considers themselves a folk-inspired conversation between friends. Since 2010, guitarist & singer Sarah Vos and bassist Daniel Wolff have been making and sharing music together on the road — that is of course, until 2020.

Before the shutdown Dead Horses had been keeping a strong touring pace, opening for The Who in September of 2019 in Alpine Valley followed by a festival in Tennessee. On the way back from the festival they got in a serious car accident that totaled the band's van, but they rented a vehicle the next day and kept pushing and touring.

Their latest EP "Birds," was released in February of last year — right before the coronavirus pandemic cancelled all of their shows a few weeks into a tour, sending them back home to Milwaukee to finally process the events that had piled up.

"It was interesting ... we didn't feel a strong eagerness to really jump into anything," Wolff reflects. "We saw a lot of other musicians jumping on livestreams and doing stuff like that to keep performing, which was really cool to see. [But] because of the events of late 2019 and then everything taking place in March of 2020, Sarah and I, we just wanted to let it breathe a little bit."

Taking the time to take a break during a period of uncertainty was necessary and refreshing, Wolff adds. "So much of our lives is Dead Horses, and [the break] led us to have conversations like, well what is it that we do want to do? Fast forward now two years later and we're gearing up to record another album and I'm very, very excited for that."

During the break, Vos said she took a step back from writing and even listening to the amount of music she normally would. "It was really a palette cleanser almost for me," she says, "and then near the tail end of it once things started gearing back up again I found myself to feel super creative."

Many musicians felt a pressure during lockdown to utilize the time to its fullest and create more content. But for Vos? "Absolutely not," she says adamantly.

"I'm pretty stubborn about that. I think that the creative stuff, especially for me when it comes to songwriting ... you just get out of the way of that stuff that's coming through you. And if it's not knocking on the door, that's OK. Just wait."

While Wolff was inspired by other musicians during lockdown, he says he had to come to terms with realizing everyone is in a different situation.

"I quickly then realized I don't need to feel like I, or us as Dead Horses, need to keep up with anyone," he says. "We've felt pretty comfortable acknowledging that we're on a trajectory, and it's Sarah and I trying to figure out what that is and what works for us. And that's been something that I feel like our communication has even gotten better over the last year and a half."

Now, Dead Horses has been getting back on a touring schedule. And while it took some getting used to performing again, both Vos and Wolff note their partnership is just as strong despite the time away from each other.

"Dan's been like a more significant person in my life than probably anybody, and it was also kind of cool to be able to step back from each other and then once things have started picking up again it doesn't feel weird — it just feels like we trust each other," says Vos. "I'm proud of how far both of us have come and that we're just still doing this together."

Wolff agrees, also noting, "I admire Sarah's honesty, [and] not just in the songwriting ... and it stems from the friendship and the relationship because of everything we have gone through."

Since the lockdown delayed sharing the EP "Birds" with live audiences, Vos and Wolff have been having fun revisiting their self-produced project.

"I'm really happy with how it turned out. We made it a little more grassroots, closer to home," says Wolff.

"I think I'll always kind of treasure it as that piece of work and it's ... almost just a snapshot of maybe a year timeframe of us," Vos adds.

"Family Tapes" by Dead Horses
"All I Ever Wanted" by Dead Horses
"There's a lot of just little confessions that I maybe wouldn't tell someone in person, even a friend or something. But it feels so good to get that stuff out and put it in a song and know that it can connect to somebody and make them feel less alone, and it makes me feel less alone expressing it," says Sarah Vos describing the song.
"Birds Can Write the Chorus" by Dead Horses

Dead Horses will be playing a show at the Stephanie H. Weill Center for the Performing Arts in Sheboygan on Sept. 24.

Audrey Nowakowski is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
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