The Horse Thieves
The Horse Thieves
“I’ve been thinking,” said McLean,“how the best stories have their ending in mind before they begin. Let’s make a record together and call it 'Outlaw Ballads'. I’m not sure what it'll be about, but it feels right, doesn't it?” It was spring of 2010. The future was hazy and the story was unclear, but it did feel right to tell it.
Perhaps as they told it, it would start to make sense. The name The Horse Thieves also felt right. Mclean was descended from a long line of horse thieves somewhere in southwest Scotland, and Miller, who raises Arabian horses, had aspired to be a professional horse trainer before music took over. The name, like the music, was the natural outgrowth of who they were, both alone and together. Miller had tasted some success in Europe playing with the band Black Apache, but the band was on hiatus, its future uncertain. He'd written the song 'Travelin' Man' while playing with them, but the song had seemed distant, from another time - possibly the future.
McLean had been pushing his solo career uphill for half a decade, but felt like it was going in the wrong direction. Both felt the growing tension of their plans, their projects, and the people in their lives. That summer, Miller’s marriage of five years ended, clarifying the looming sense of heaviness he'd felt for some time. As many do in dark times, Miller retreated, stoking fires of loss and heartache in the dark parts of the soul that only true outlaws ever visit, and rarely with another.
Which is what makes this story so special. Out of a wasteland of deep loss and rejection, a true friendship was cultivated and Mclean began to write songs with Miller in mind. Songs like 'Vagabond', written by McLean, tells a piece of Miller’s struggle. A real story, though a hard one to tell, was finally beginning to unfold. In the fall, they began recording Outlaw Ballads in a guest house on Miller’s family ranch.
Miller took over most of the production, and they pieced together songs that each had written in response to the difficulties he was facing. 'Ignorance is Bliss' and 'O River' came out at this time, born of long talks and meditation about how life is never what you think it's going to be. They recorded through the winter, often working through cold nights and shoveling cars out of the snow in the mornings. 'Outlaw Ballads' began to take shape.
So did the band. As the project neared completion, Fawn Dasovich - a mutual friend of McLean and Miller - heard the recordings and felt an immediate connection to the songs. Dasovich began working on the record, bringing it to a new place. After adding her haunting keys to 'The Devil Told Me So', everyone knew that Dasovich was there to stay.
Finishing the record that winter was a milestone for the still forming band, but they were now faced with obstacles that McLean had foreseen for some time. He'd been working with a small record label as a singer/songwriter, and the conflict of interests was becoming obvious. Still wanting to keep his other commitments, Mclean chose to put The Horse Thieves on hold. He spent that spring touring, but The Horse Thieves were never far from his mind.
The songs that stirred in him when he put his pen toward that band felt like home, and home is an alluring thing when you are far from it. 'Throw the Dice' was written during this time, as McLean agonized over which endeavor to follow. By late spring The Horse Thieves had played some small shows locally, but were afraid to draw much attention to themselves while McLean worked out his issues. Despite the band's reluctance to self promote, what had started out as a side-project - little more than songs scribbled like road maps looking for direction - was gathering its own inertia.
Having not yet released any material and largely keeping the band a secret, The Horse Thieves found themselves featured on the cover of The Pacific Northwest Inlander, a publication with a circulation of a quarter-million people. It turns out people are drawn to secrets, and the band was suddenly handed unintentional success. It was this success that McLean contemplated one night while camping with friends in a valley, beside a lake. He stayed up all night, thinking how there are things we work hard for, and in the end, bring about almost reluctantly.
Other things seem to stir at the very thought of them. The Horse Thieves was the latter and he knew it. He was tired of standing in the way. 'Outlaw Ballads' - ironically titled, in light of how he now felt - still sat on the shelf, and now new material was emerging.
Mclean decided that night to set down one thing and pick up another; to walk away from what he'd built and pick up what had grown from it. Every new story begins at the end of the one that went before, and 'Valley of Decision' - The Horse Thieves' second album - began that night. What Outlaw Ballads was to Miller’s story, 'Valley of Decision' was to Mclean's. Songs like 'Dakota Wind' and 'Dakota Wind II' looked to the past for directions to the future, chasing elusive memories for answers.
The Horse Thieves released both albums on the same day. Not because they set out to, but because that's how the story told itself. Jordan Miller - Adam's brother and former Black Apache frontman - joined the band soon after production of 'Valley of Decision' began, lending his musical talents and charisma to the mix. Drummer Tiffany Stephens joined later, at the very end of the recording process; drawn in by the content of the songs and the spirit of the band. With a bright future ahead and many trials behind, The Horse Thieves’ story is finally ready to be told. Read more on Last.fm.
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