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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, April 19, 2014

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In Music

Local band Blessed Feathers releases its debut album, "Peaceful Beasts in an Ocean of Weeds," tomorrow. (PHOTO: CJ Foeckler/Blessed Feathers)

Blessed Feathers use locales from past, present for inspiration


Everybody does something different to commemorate the places they hail from and travel to. Some people take stacks of photos and make photo albums – or Facebook albums nowadays. Others collect memorabilia and other fun little odds and ends that spark memories of places from the past.

Donivan Berube and Jacquelyn Beaupre, known on stage as the indie folk duo Blessed Feathers, did something different. The local band made "Peaceful Beasts in an Ocean of Weeds," the musicians' debut album, as well as a tribute to the places they've called home throughout the years.

"It's all local. There's so many geographical references," Berube said. "It's not exactly Americana, but I guess that's what we write about: our experiences, where we come from and where we are."

At least half of the songs off of Blessed Feathers' six-song EP, which releases Oct. 9, are influenced by places from Berube's past. "Holyoke/Springfield" is based on the town of Holyoke, Mass., the "slacker town" where Berube was born. He was raised in Lakeland, Fla., the inspiration for the song "Hey! All You Floridians."

The duo didn't attempt to change their particular sound for each region or place referenced in the music. Instead, their lyrics, and even their inflections, bring out the song's inspiration.

"I really think the way that you say or pronounce your words kind of brings people back," Beaupre said. "I feel like, in that way, those places come back to you."

Berube moved from Florida to Wisconsin shortly after graduating from high school in 2008. His timing, however, wasn't the best as the night he arrived in town, a massive snowstorm hit. His luck improved significantly after he arrived in West Bend and applied to work at the same restaurant as Beaupre.

"I remember my boss sitting down with him for the interview and thinking 'He's really tall,'" Beaupre said. "My boss came up me afterwards and said 'You're really going to like him.'"

The boss turned out to be right as Berube and Beaupre began to bond over music. Beaupre had already been writing songs at the time on her own, but she didn't have a way to decently record the tunes until Berube arrived. She gave him some of her songs to record, which Berube recorded and, in a self-described "assh*le move," added some of his own material.

"She would record a guitar track, and she'd sing on it. That was it," Berube explained. "When I gave them back to her, I had added drums and electric guitar and some vocal harmonies. It could've gone horribly, but she liked it."

In spring 2010, the two began playing the songs for a poetry club at a local bookstore. They built up their name and built up a solid repertoire of numbers that helped make Blessed Feathers an up-and-coming local band. The bookstore performances also introduced them to their current manager Dan Backhaus.

With the support of Backhaus, the duo brought some of their songs to producer Kevin McMahon, who agreed to produce their EP at his unique barn studio in Gardnier, N.Y., in July.

"One section of it was a very nice, iconic image of a studio with all the buttons and screens," Berube said. "The rest of it was just a literal barn."

For the Berube and Beaupre, it wasn't just a cool place to record the album. The atmosphere made their voices and music sound more natural, and McMahon would use barn elements, such as homemade wood blocks and even a silo, to create interesting sound dynamics.

"He (Kevin) would take our voices," Beaupre said. "He'd run them into the silo of the barn and use it as reverb."

Recording in strange places isn't exactly something new for Wisconsin-based folk musicians to do. Most famously, Grammy winner Bon Iver recorded a majority of "For Emma, Forever Ago" in an isolated cabin. Blessed Feathers, however, doesn't want to be compared to the indie king or use their similarities to sell tickets and albums.

"Obviously, everyone loves Bon Iver, but I don't like that it's everyone's standard thing to attempt to associate themselves with him," Berube said. "I understand why they do that, but I told our bio writer to please not do the run-of-the-mill Bon Iver Wisconsin reference because there's so many people doing that right now."

They may not be Bon Iver, but Blessed Feathers are still going places. They're beginning their fall tour tonight with a concert at the Stonefly Brewery. The duo will then hit a bunch of stops on the way to New York before returning to Milwaukee at the end of the month with a new collection of cities to inspire memories and maybe even a few more songs.


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