Blessed Feathers, of Flagstaff

“Eric! Here’s a writing prompt: picture a perfect musical duo. Describe the duo.”

Well, a few things immediately come to mind: the members of this duo should spurn the use of the ukulele though be masters of the instrument, should an appropriate context ever arise; they should know Dinah Washington from Billie Holiday; they should have the sort of charming accent that makes anything sound like gospel truth, no matter how bizarre; they should have remarkable taste in visual art, literature, music (duh), pies, clothing; they should be experts at keeping campfires burning correctly; they should work in bakeries or book stores or coffee houses or museums or national parks; they should have laser vision and super strength.

I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to say, “Eric! You stupid dolt! You just went and described Blessed Feathers.”

To which I’ll respond: “Don’t call me a dolt, Dad. And I know. That was precisely the point.”

It’s been nearly a year and a half now since Flagstaff saw the arrival of two of the most remarkable local artists we’ve had in years. They have yet to reveal any laser-vision or super strength, but I’m waiting patiently, looking out of the corner of my eye. You never know, with people of a certain echelon of radness, when they will decide to display their full radness. All of the other traits described are accurate.

But in addition to their remarkable talents there are remarkable oddnesses. As there should be. I wonder, when I listen to There Will Be No Sad Tomorrow, if there is anything in Donivan’s wail on the first track, Hitchhiking, that suggests a man who wears shorts three-hundred and forty days out of the year. Likewise, is there anything to the twang of Jacquelyn’s banjo on Wide World (from previous album Order of the Arrow) that indicates an encyclopedic knowledge of pie? Does their music suggest obsession with donuts?

I mention these things, because I’d like to attempt to convey some portion of the wackiness, the vivacity, the value of these wonderful Flagstaffians. Many of us here know D & J personally, many of us are acquainted, many of us have simply noticed them at Bookmans and Macy’s–we who have had the pleasure of hanging out with them don’t need any of my meager depictions, and already know exactly who to turn to if they have a question about pie that needs answering (I believe Donivan’s patronage alone has turned Sugar Mama’s into a Fortune 500 company). Those who have yet to meet these two raddest of folks should go straight to the next Blessed Feathers concert and try to corner them after the show–and in the meantime, read this brief interview to get a sense of the coolness you will be encountering.

  1. You’ve recently performed in Europe! Tell me about it: what were the venues like, the audiences, etc.?

Jacquelyn: The venues were very hospitable. The venue employees as well as the attendees spoke excellent English. At “Global,” the venue we played in Copenhagen, after soundcheck they served us a candlelit dinner under a massive chandelier, with our album cover projected onto the wall behind us. We felt like royalty, sitting there at the end of a long banquet table with the employees and the opening band all laughing together.

Donivan: We played at a jazz club in Odense called “the Dexter,” and during sound check the engineer said: “Wait just a second, I’m going to come change your microphone.” I asked: “Why, is this one broken? I didn’t notice anything wrong.” And he said: “No, I just think this other type of microphone would compliment the sound of your voice better.” In all our years of touring, that was the first time the sound guy had paid such attention to the details.

  1. You’re entering year two in Arizona– what attracted you to Flagstaff, and how has it influenced you as artists?

Jacquelyn: I visited my cousin here years ago, and seeing how close stunning places like the Grand Canyon, Sedona, and the San Francisco Peaks were to Flagstaff, seemingly right in your backyard, was a really exciting feeling. The natural side of this area is so diverse, and art plays an important part in it as well, especially the downtown area.

Donivan: Coming from Wisconsin, it’s a welcome change from the cold, gray Midwest. Having so much sunshine is a relief. And as for art, Jacquelyn showed her paintings at one of the First Friday art walks last summer, and the downtown area being so close and compact makes it easy to enjoy and get involved with. There’s certainly no shortage of painters and musicians here, despite the city being relatively small.

  1. How has your live setup evolved over the years? and what can we expect to see/hear this summer?

Donivan: We’ve toured with four different live drummers, we’ve tried live-drum looping, and we’ve toured as an acoustic duo or trio. We’re constantly trying to rework live versions of our songs so as to find the most efficient, but also most enjoyable presentation. Our newest album came out in the fall, for which we toured for a few weeks in the Southwest, West Coast, and in Europe. We just started recording new songs last month, and we hope to start playing shows again later this year after reworking our live set.

 

  1. Jackie, I’ve seen some of your awesome paintings displayed downtown. Are you painting these days, and will we be able to see them up again?

Jackie: I haven’t been making large-scale paintings, just smaller things on notecards and projects for friends. I’d like to show more of it this year, but have nothing planned just yet. It’s searchable on Instagram with “#JacquelynBeaupreArt.”

 

  1. It’s exciting to hear that you guys are recording new songs! “There Will Be No Sad Tomorrow” has a wonderful, expansive sound. Can you describe how the new tunes are comparing to TWBNST and past work?

Donivan: My taste in music has been growing older and older, as modern American music seems to get more boring every year. So I’ve been seeking out the strangest of the strange in classic tunes, weird guys like Tom Waits and Captain Beefheart. My songs have been getting longer and longer as well. Not quite as long as Fela Kuti’s songs, but experimenting more with the sounds and grooves as opposed to the same old verse/chorus standards.

 

  1. Who are some writers that have influenced you as lyricists? What are you reading at the moment?

Jackie: I have this book of poems from 1909 that I’m always going back to. It’s called “Narrative & Lyric Poems,” with some exceptional sections on “Poems of Joy In Life” and “Poems of Courtship & Love” that are really beautiful. But it’s falling apart by now and I’m getting afraid to turn the pages.

Donivan: As far as song lyrics go, Jacquelyn loves Neil Young’s “Harvest” and “Harvest Moon” albums. We both love Townes Van Zandt, one of the greatest lyricists that there ever was. His songs were so simple, yet he could describe life or drugs or women with such beauty and complexity. It teaches me that beneath all of the guitars and drums and melodies in our music, there needs to be a simple, meaningful, well-written song at its heart.

 

Postscript:

My bumbling attempt at a bio leaves out some important details. Here they are:

There Will Be No Sad Tomorrow, the most recent BF album, was released on October 9th of 2015. It can be researched and purchased at the first link below (along with other pertinent links to places where you can hear Blessed Feathers songs, and find updates).

  1. Official Website & Store
  2. NPR Feature
  3. Vinyl Me, Please Release (Newest Album)
  4. Bandcamp (Free Streaming)
  5. Soundcloud (Free Streaming)
  6. Facebook

The lovely folks hail (more or less) from Wisconsin. They have been ramblers for a while, one or the other of them having been librarians in Big Sur, English teachers in Peru, and cross-country bicyclers, all the while releasing three full-length albums and several singles/LPs on ramshackle labels. The most recent, TWBNST, was featured on Vinyl Me, Please. Look for performance dates, releases, in the coming months.

 

Eric Dovigi, web-editor


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