The Ragbirds have been touring the state and country for the past 10 years. Their sound is a fusion of folk, rock and world music. You can hear that fusion in their latest album, called The Threshold and the Hearth being released today.
Erin Zindle is the lead singer, songwriter and a multi-instrumentalist for the Ragbirds. Zindle spoke with me about the album, motherhood and the craft of songwriting.
Zindle says the songs on The Threshold and the Hearth tell the story of Betty and Bill, two fictional characters who fall in love and build a life together in Ann Arbor.
A lot of the songs were written when Zindle was pregnant and became a new mother to her baby girl.
The scene in the song Good Time to Be Born is set in a grocery store. The main character in the story is a cynical man who eventually has a change of heart and ends up paying for a young mother’s groceries.
Zindle says she wrote the song when she was pregnant and scared to bring a new life into the world.
“I was watching documentaries about how the water is poison and the food is running out and [was] watching a lot of news, and all the violence. And I was talking to my Dad about it and he gave me this bright and cheery bit of advice -- that the world has always been pretty messed up and there are much worse times and places to be born into than right here in America, in Ann Arbor,” Zindle says.
Zindle says once her daughter was born, she gave her a whole new understanding of what it means to hope for the future.
“She just changed my whole world and gave me a whole new outlook,” Zindle says.
Another song on the album was actually written in a dream Zindle had during a sleepless time right after her baby was born.
Zindle says she had a dream that Paul Simon came to a Ragbirds concert and after the show Zindle and Simon wrote a song. That song ended up being the chorus to a track song on their new album called, On Your Side.
“[As] I was coming out of the dream into the waking world ... I was clutching this song as if I was physically holding on to it as I as passing from dream to awake, so that I could bring it into the world with me. And then when I woke up, I could gather the pieces and I was like, ‘oh, I still remember it.’ So I grabbed my phone and I was desperately trying not to wake my husband, so I grabbed my phone and I whisper sang it into my phone,” Zindle says.
Zindle teaches songwriting at Interlochen Arts camp, near Traverse City, in the summer. She says good songwriters have to be "the eyes of the world" (to quote a Grateful Dead lyric).
“It’s important that we always have our eyes and ears open to observe what’s going on all around us,” Zindle says. “As songwriters it is kind of our job to ... those observations come into our minds and work them kind of through the filter of our hearts and out through our instruments and our voices and into a form that can really move people and touch people.”
Zindle and the Ragbirds will be perform their latest music at a CD release show at the Magic Bag in Ferndale.