Led by the ever-enthusiastic and musically versatile Erin Zindle, the folk-rock fusion band The Ragbirds has enchanted audiences all over the country. The Sun talked to Zindle about the story behind the mythical Ragbird, her songwriting and eco-touring. The Ragbirds will play at The Haunt at 10 p.m. tonight.
The Sun: What inspired your band name?
Erin Zindle: Well, I used a lot of bird imagery, in my poetry, my music and my art, so I started with the bird as my theme. And since my inspiration comes from all over the world, I was imagining all these cultural tapestries and taking little bits and pieces, kind of like the rags, all patched together to create this creature, the Ragbird. This creature is cuddly, homemade and patched together, but still has the ability to fly.
Sun: You play the violin, the piano, the accordion and the banjo. How did you master so many musical instruments?
E.Z.: I learned from great teachers how to play the piano and the violin growing up; these are my main instruments. The accordion is similar to the piano and the banjo is similar to the violin, I haven’t seriously studied playing the accordion or the banjo. Mostly I play the accordion through transferring my skills from piano playing, and the banjo I pick up and play it my own way.
Sun: One would expect a song titled “Silence Is Everywhere” to have a gloomy or dark tone to it, but you threw in happy, optimistic beats and drumming. What inspired you to push the song in this direction?
E.Z.: Everybody has got a bully, and sometimes it’s a voice in our heads. For me the song is about fighting off the voice in my head. For other people the song might be applied to real life bullies or other situations. I do write a lot of songs with darker themes; it’s more of a hard-earned hope after being through a lot and still having this positive outlook on life. More difficult subjects I’ve sung about, such as losing a loved one ... I always try to sing positively and in a helpful approach.
Sun: How has your music evolved since you first began playing music together?
E.Z.: I started off pretty shy. I worked really hard and really developed my voice, and I think my voice is the number one thing that has grown the most. With the rest of the band, it is hard to compare the changes. Songwriting is always improving — the more we do it, the better we get. I wonder what I’ll produce when I am 60. Some people think age is a terrifying thing to think about, but I get excited thinking about what I’ll come up with after a few decades of experience.
Sun: The Ragbirds are really into eco-touring, something not that many bands are into these days. What made you guys go in this direction?
E.Z.: For such a wide tour that we are having, it is hard to estimate how much environmental damage it would do if we used traditional fuel. The cost would also be heavy. We did a lot of research on sustainable fuels, and we discovered that waste vegetable oil was a good option because it wasn’t made through a harmful chemical process. It was something that was straight out of the dumpster, and 99 percent of the time it was free. We the band would go collect it ourselves. We would ask the restaurant manager if it would okay to collect the waste oil and explain the environmental concept to them.
Sun: What would you say to aspiring musicians or artists?
E.Z.: It is really important to know yourself through your music or your art. You need to let it simmer. The key is to focus on your skills, because that is the foundation of everything. Get to know your true self through your art — constantly look at it to envision yourself. There is a lot of music and art out there right now, you have to have something unique in order to stand out.
Sun: Anything else we should know about you?
E.Z.: Well, I grew up in Buffalo and Ithaca College was my dream school. Ithaca is a beautiful and exciting place, and I can't believe that this is the first time I'm going to play my own music in Ithaca.
Check out The Ragbirds at The Haunt tonight at 10 p.m.