M897 Artist Spotlight: May 2013
An Unrelenting Ann Arbor-based Folk Band
Story by LCC Radio Staff Reporter Karen Hopper
Within moments of meeting Erin Zindle of The Ragbirds, there is an urge to describe her as demure. Her speaking voice is soft and gentle. Her posture is proper and refined. She wears a modest dress that accommodates her growing baby-bump (her first child, with husband and bandmate Randall Moore, is due in August) and her hair has the slightly staticy look of having been freshly brushed. That she intends to make a good impression seems obvious.
But that is far, far, from the whole story. Because while Zindle’s music is all about positivity--in conversation, “peaceful” is a popular word choice--her approach to music is unrelenting and fierce.
The Ragbirds tour and perform constantly, doing as many as 200 shows in a year. They offset the environmental impact of constant travel by using a van which runs on vegetable oil.
When they aren’t playing gigs, Zindle and Moore teach music (during the summer, Zindle is a songwriting instructor at Interlochen Arts Camp) out of their home. The other members of The Ragbirds--Zindle’s brother T.J. on guitar, bassist Brian Crist, and drummer Loren Kranz--are equally dedicated. Nobody has a day job.
“The Ragbirds,” says Moore, “are a small business.”
Building a Voice
As it turns out, Zindle’s good posture and soft-spokenness are not about making a good impression. They are the result of work, dedication, and choices made in service to her music.
Someone once told her that, “I had a good harmony voice but I should never be singin’ lead . . . and I just took that as fact.”
When she was first starting The Ragbirds, she wasn’t planning on singing; all she intended to do was write songs and play her violin, maybe do some arranging and producing. She went as far as to put an ad out for a lead vocalist. But no one responded.
“I had all these songs, and I was anxious to get rolling . . . nobody else was around to sing them. So I started with a recording, which is kind of backwards for most bands.” But as she listened to her recordings and received a warm reception from the people around her, she grew into the idea of being the lead singer.
And even then, “It took me a couple of years of struggling with hoarseness, and my voice cracking all the time--I had really bad technique; I was pushing all the time--so after the first few years of The Ragbirds . . . I decided to seek out some counsel, some teachers. I found an Alexander technique teacher, who really was a great first step for me just to get the foundation of not pushing, not exerting my body so much to get the sound out, but just learn how to align and use my body properly so my voice can come out effortlessly.”
Her current vocal coach is Cari Cole, whose other clients include Courtney Love, Journey, and American Idol alumni.
“She has a whole vocal program that has been just revolutionary for me. But I practice all the time. I’m always working on my voice. It’s my hardest instrument.”
Her dedication to learning how to sing properly has meant an overhaul of her life “with the intention being to be proud of my singing voice and to feel good about singing and to consistently be able to sing the songs that I write.” This has meant “Taking care, even, just with how I use my voice when I’m not singing. Even just talking and posture,” she laughs, “and what I eat and everything.”
Zindle’s story is a true Michigan story--she had a dream, and has lived her life in pursuit of that dream; tackling tasks that once seemed beyond her.
Made in Michigan
Zindle and Moore credit the Michigan music scene with providing an atmosphere in which they could grow.
There was a time, after the end of the relationship that initially brought her to Michigan, when she might have returned to Buffalo, where her family lives, but “I could see this was a place for hope and growth and community. So that’s why I’m here.”
With the baby due in August, The Ragbirds plan to take time off in the fall, and then initially play shows that are closer to home. Like many Michigan families, they’ll accommodate a growing family with a larger vehicle, some hired childcare, and eager grandparents.
They have songs they want to record during the downtime, and are considering releasing an EP, which would make 2013 an especially productive year—their live album, “We Belong to the Love” was released in February.