Band To Watch: Feeble Little Horse

June Hart

Band To Watch: Feeble Little Horse

June Hart

When I see the “Sandy Alex G For President” bumper sticker, I know I’m in the right place.

I pace along the sidewalk, stroll into the driveway, and climb a precarious flight of stairs up to Feeble Little Horse’s current headquarters in Pittsburgh’s shabby college hub of South Oakland. Located in the crosshairs of beer-caked basement venues past and present, the apartment is, for a college pad, excellently furnished, with framed pictures hung thoughtfully on the walls, comfortable furniture, and a warm atmosphere. A John F. Kennedy memorial plate is displayed proudly in front of the fireplace. I ask, but no, it’s not an inside joke related to the band’s song “Kennedy,” a standout from their 2021 debut full-length, Hayday, which was just re-released in October upon their signing to indie stalwarts Saddle Creek.

Two members, singer-bassist Lydia Slocum and drummer Jake Kelley, are seated on a couch under the genial glow of a tastefully dim lamp, sipping beers and quietly murmuring while guitarist-singer Sebastian Kinsler, who lives there, politely gets me settled into a lounge chair. They introduce me to guitarist Ryan Walchonski, who’s resting atop the coffee table, beaming in via Zoom from his spot in DC, where he’s lived since graduating from the University of Pittsburgh over a year ago.

Feeble Little Horse’s breed of shoegazy slowcore is playfully interspersed with giggles, silly samples, and bits of conversation picked up during recording sessions and purposefully left in, like flecks of pulp floating in homemade lemonade. Their bright personalities and joke-fueled friendship are on full display by the end of our conversation, but they’re shy and somewhat stiff at first. It’s their first-ever sit-down interview, and throughout our talk, it doesn’t seem to have sunk in for them that Feeble Little Horse is a band with, for lack of a better word, clout.

They’ve been praised in the New York Times and Pitchfork; Snail Mail, one of contemporary indie-rock’s most adored acts, big-upped them on Instagram; they were courted by several of the most iconic labels in indie music; and for a band who’ve played less than 30 shows, their streaming numbers reveal that tens of thousands of people already give a fuck. Their shrugging indifference to processing their buzz makes sense when you consider their whirlwind timeline. Two years ago, Feeble Little Horse didn’t even exist.

“Lydia’s been cool since she was like 13,” Kinsler, 20, quips when we’re talking origins. The other three members were not. Walchonski, 24, was a John Mayer head in high school, while Kelley, 22, played in “boomer-rock cover bands” throughout his teens. Once he became enlightened in college, Walchonski actually served as the elder indie sage for his bandmates, introducing Kelley and Kinsler to bands like Duster and Alex G, the type of stuff Slocum, 21, had been listening to for years.

Prior to Feeble Little Horse, Kinsler and Slocum each had amateur solo projects that they struggle to describe as anything other than “SoundCloud” music. Kinsler got into Playboi Carti and Kendrick Lamar at the end of high school, deciding he was “done playing guitar” and began building music on the digital production software Ableton. Slocum, who didn’t play an instrument before FLH, would make memey, homemade pop songs on her iPad, throwing her voice over sampled sounds and uploading them to SoundCloud moments after their completion. “I never thought I would be in a band,” she says emphatically.

Technically, Feeble Little Horse didn’t begin as one. After meeting in college, Walchonski and Kinsler (who eventually did bring his guitar to school) joined a short-lived garage-rock band, where they instantly clicked as co-songwriters and quickly outpaced their bandmates’ creative energy. They soon broke off and began working on what was initially conceived as a mere studio project, reflecting their new fixation on shoegaze and slowcore.

“We just had less friends,” Kinsler jokes of he and Walchonski’s break from their bandmates. “We’d hang out on Friday nights when the other two were partying and write the songs for [FLH’s debut EP] Modern Tourism.”

On those late nights, Walchonski’s roommate, Kelley, would get home from a work shift to find the two sprawled out in the living room surrounded by equipment and pizza boxes. “Hey, do you want to record drums on this song we made today?” they’d ask. So Kelley, jonesing for a new project, would jump on his kit and bang away right in the apartment well beyond midnight, neighbors be damned.

The writing process began in February 2021, and by May, Modern Tourism was completed, entirely home-recorded by the band and mixed by Kinsler. Before self-releasing it onto streaming services, they landed on the name Feeble Little Horse, a fragment Walchonski read in a book and thought sounded good enough for their modest new band.

“It was the first time that I had made something I was proud of,” Walchonski enthuses of the EP, which has more of a post-punk pacing compared to Hayday, but lays the groundwork for their warped and quirk-filled fuzz-rock. However, it’s missing a crucial component: Slocum, whose droll deadpan, effortless hooks and evocative lyrics — zeroing in on physical grossities like grinding teeth, picked skin, and vomit — make Hayday such a thrilling, catchy and fully-realized body of work.

While she’s native to Pittsburgh, Slocum studies art at a small Christian college a few hours across Pennsylvania, but she met the guys through a mutual friend around the time FLH was coming together. “I would joke about being a popstar,” she jests of her low-stakes SoundCloud moniker, Kiddie. “And my dad was like, ‘You just need a band so you can get out all of your analogies and your rage about your boyfriend.’ He was so right.”

After beginning what was initially supposed to be a split EP between FLH and Kiddie, the band figured it’d be more worthwhile to just invite Slocum to “be an equestrian,” phrasing the offer as such in their group chat. The way self-reflective metaphors fell out of her aided Kinsler and Walchonski’s painfully slow lyrical process, her voice was perfectly suited for the songs, and her talent for visual art gave them an in-house designer for cover art, fliers, and merch. Plus, they needed a warm body to hold a bass in order to play shows.

“I was very humbled because I didn’t know an instrument well,” Slocum says of when she was asked to join. A week before their first gig that July, Slocum bought Walchonski’s bass for $40 and taught herself the instrument by quickly learning a set’s worth of songs.

Feeble Little Horse’s physical introduction to the world just so happened to coincide with the re-introduction of live music. The project started before vaccines rolled out and the United States was still in lockdown, and while many artists felt hindered by those restrictions, FLH are grateful they had the opportunity to hone their craft in solitude rather than work out the kinks at sloppy live shows. Also, they had no idea how to be functional members of a local scene.

“We didn’t know what it was like to try and be a local DIY band because we never experienced it,” Walchonski reasons. “So we came out of this where nobody was doing anything and we kind of just did whatever we wanted because we didn’t know any better.”

“It was sick because I wasn’t cool in high school at all, so the first house show I went to was the one that we played,” Kinsler beams.

Despite their palpable nerves (“I was shaking the whole time,” Slocum recalls) and a novice sound person who foolishly drenched the entire mix in reverb, the band’s inaugural gig christened FLH a real-life band, and caught the attention of Connor Murray, who runs the (now-formerly) Pittsburgh-based label Crafted Sounds, a crucial documentarian of many of the city’s greatest indie acts in recent years.

“I hadn’t heard music similar to theirs in Pittsburgh,” Murray says, recalling that initial show during a separate interview. He was specifically drawn to Slocum and Kinsler’s vocal chemistry, and the way they pulled off “glitchy-sounding” guitar tones in a cramped basement setting. “The kids in Oakland loved it, which you also love to see. All green flags to me.”

For Slocum, the gig was also a personal flex. “There were girls that were mean to me in our choir who came to the show, and they didn’t know that I was gonna be there,” she remembers. “And they were like, ‘It’s so cool to see you in this setting.’ I was like, ‘Yeah bitch, you should’ve been nice to me.'”

Crafted Sounds eventually re-issued Modern Tourism in early 2022, but by that time, FLH had already released Hayday many months prior (via the Philly-based Julia’s War). To clarify how fast shit moved, the band had begun writing Hayday’s material before Modern Tourism was even out, and after playing a sum total of two shows that summer, they rocked their third gig to celebrate Hayday’s release in October 2021. It was a double-victory lap for the band. Not only did they have a phenomenal debut album out, they were also no longer planning to break up.

“I was moving and we were pretty much under the impression that things were gonna be coming to a close,” Walchonski recalls of the time leading up to Hayday’s completion. “Lydia came in, we recorded Hayday, and it kind of breathed new life into the band. I was so proud of Hayday and what we all contributed to it that I didn’t want to give up, I don’t think anyone else really did.”

Ending it there would’ve been a travesty. The songs on Hayday were an enormous leap forward that bottled the magical potion of fluid chemistry, sharp creative instincts, and the spontaneous joys of home-recording with your friends. Kinsler left the mic hot in between takes, pulling snippets like Slocum reading, “sorry,” aloud while texting and shaping it into a punctuated one-liner during “Chores,” a slap-happy rocker that sounds like an alternate world where Pavement cut their teeth opening for Blue Smiley. The plodding “Tricks” and the cross-faded “Drama Queen” each erupt into gushes of ear-drowning shoegaze guitars, but the album’s range extends to waltzing slowcore (“Picture”), blown-out pop (“Kennedy”), and even dreary balladry (“Too Much”). “Did I do it too much?/ Too much/ Did I want her too much?/ Too much,” Kinsler dwells during the 45-second nugget of anxious regret, channeling Alex G both sonically and in its keyhole look at a spiraling narrator.

Kinsler’s bevvy of samples (many of them removed for copyright reasons in the newly-released Saddle Creek version) and Slocum’s flippant humor (“I got you all dolled up, wearing my Christmas gift/ But you look dumb as fuck,” she jabs at her ex’s new beau in “Chores”) make their “internet music” savviness — honed through an appreciation of hyperpop, trap and tongue-in-cheek pop — part of FLH’s lively personality. It’s a digital-soaked flair and not-so-serious vibe that situates them in an emerging wave of shoegaze bands alongside Wednesday, They Are Gutting A Body Of Water, Hotline TNT, A Country Western, and Full Body 2, all of whom FLH reference as influences, and (almost) all of whom are based across Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

In fact, it’s almost a bit strange that FLH aren’t living in the world capital of noisy, freaky ‘gaziness, but when I ask if they’d ever consider making the move, they let out a resounding “no.” “I think ’cause of the internet it doesn’t really matter where you are, and it’s not that far of a drive [to Philly] for a show,” Slocum reasons. “And we’re in school, so music’s not our life. If music was our life, maybe we’d do that.”

That comment stuck out. FLH just signed to a venerable label and have amassed the type of hype that many artists would drop everything they’re doing to capitalize on. Instead, especially considering how young they are, they have an almost improbably pure and admirably wise aversion to chasing conventional notions of music industry success. To them, the integrity of the art — and crucially, the sheer enjoyment of making it — outweighs any potential monetary gains.

“I have always been very hesitant about approaching music and our band with a goal of [it] being a primary source of income,” Walchonski explains. “I like it as a hobby because I think it allows me to be more creative as opposed to making decisions purely because, ‘Oh, this will get us the most money,’ or, ‘These are the things we have to do in order to survive off of music.'”

Aside from Slocum’s graphic design major, the other three are pursuing fields outside of the arts (chemistry, business, history), and Walchonski is grateful to have a nine-to-five job that doesn’t put any pressure on FLH to generate income. In fact, Kinsler remarks on how funny it is that employees at their new label now pay rent and fund their kids’ school supplies by selling Hayday records — the idea of making a living off of FLH is so foreign to him right now that it’s humorous. Slocum muses that they’d straight up make “bad music” if the pressure of a full-time career was hanging over their heads, and the other three agree.

So if they aren’t looking for career stability and they’re more or less apathetic about press accolades (they gleefully excoriate the music journalists who’ve wrongly interpreted Slocum’s metaphors), do they at least want to head into a proper studio for the next release? “Never,” Slocum and Kinsler proclaim in unison. As a matter of fact, their sophomore album, due out sometime in 2023, is already completed. Aside from tracking drums in a local practice space, the whole thing, like Hayday, was recorded at various apartments throughout Pittsburgh. Slocum recorded her vocals in a makeshift “blanket fort” (a structure she delightedly brings up multiple times) and Kinsler upgraded the $80 microphone to something modestly nicer.

After the interview, they play it for me at Kinsler’s dining room table, one song at a time from a Dropbox folder. It sounds sleeker than Hayday, but no less adventurous and emotionally reeling. The band members chatter about their impressions between each song, trading notes and observations as if they haven’t really spent very much time discussing the finished product. They’re excited, clearly proud, but also actively thinking about the next one already.

“We can’t hang out,” Slocum half-jokes. “What are we doing now? We need to make a song right now.” Kinsler adds, “There’s nothing else that we can do that would be more fun.”

For a band who write music that’s highly catchy, densely textured and either supremely sad or outwardly funny, I’m shocked to hear that the main idea they want to explore is hardcore punk. “I wanna scream,” Lydia says. “I’m gonna get a double-kick pedal,” Kelley adds, reiterating his comment when I double-check to make sure he isn’t joking. But don’t worry, the silliness that makes FLH such a breath of fresh air in a traditionally stuffy, solemn genre will remain intact.

“And we have to get Nathan Fielder,” Slocum adds to a room of laughter. “We’re gonna find a way to pay him to do something. We need him.”

TOUR DATES:
12/28/22 – Philadelphia, PA @ Johnny Brenda’s
12/29/22 – Washington, DC @ The Pocket
01/01/23 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Club Cafe
01/02/23 – Columbus, OH @ Ace of Cups
01/03/23 – Chicago, IL @ Schubas Tavern
01/05/23 – Morgantown, WV @ 123 Pleasant Street

The reissued Hayday is out now digitally and 1/13 physically via Saddle Creek.

We rely on reader subscriptions to deliver articles like the one you’re reading. Become a member and help support independent media!

more from Band To Watch

Please disable your adblocker or subscribe to ad-free membership to view this article.

Already a VIP? Sign in.