Dust Bowl Faeries recently released their new song, “Lost in Time,” a nautical-themed and tarantella-infused single. This is the band’s first release since 2020’s The Plague Garden, and it’s an adaptation of longtime collaborator Dennis Herbert’s 2019 song “Tick Tock.” In the original version, Herbert plays the guitar, and Dust Bowl Faeries’ lead singer Ryder Cooley is in charge of the vocals. For “Lost in Time,” Cooley reprises their role and is joined by her bandmates Jon B. Woodin on cello, Andrew Stein on percussion, Rubie LaRue on lap-steel guitar, and Liz Loguidice on bass.
“Lost in Time” is an ethereal track that sounds like it belongs in a fantasy world. Drawing inspiration from sea themes, Ryder describes the song as “surreal and dreamlike, and [it] seems like an omen or a foreshadowing of something perhaps exciting and foreboding.” In the track, the storytelling is outstanding, and its production shows just how talented the Faeries are. The main characters in the song are a clockmaker, a girl, and a taxidermy ram named Hazel, who has become a staple in Cooley’s work as a visual artist.
These characters are enchanted by the sirens, who lure them into the ocean. Despite the esoteric feeling of the song, the story ends on a positive note. “The girl and her cohorts sink to the bottom of the ocean, where they live happily ever after under the sea. It’s a bittersweet end, like drowning in a pool of warm sweet teardrops,” Ryder laughs.
Dust Bowl Faeries withdraw from the mainstream sounds that are deep-rooted in the music scene. According to their website, the band is “a faerie-tale fusion of dark cabaret, gothic polka, and post-punk music, [and] a dark-carnival band from the New York Hudson Valley. The band’s eclectic repertoire of songs draws inspiration from circus songs, murder ballads, and Eastern European folk music.” Definitely, Dust Bowl Faeries look for sounds that make them stand out from the crowd, and they achieve it!
Moreover, the band goes out of their way to collaborate with as many women as possible. Starting in 2015 as an all-woman trio, Dust Bowl Faeries know the hardships that female creators experience in the scene. For this reason, they seek to cooperate with their peers to create unique works of art. Since 2018, the band has been collaborating with filmmaker Lisa M. Thomas, who directs and produces their music videos.
Soundigest had the opportunity to interview Ryder Cooley about “Lost in Time,” Dust Bowl Faeries’ EP, and taking risks in the music industry. Read the interview and listen to “Lost in Time” below — you can also buy it on Bandcamp —.
What drew you to do a rework of “Tick Tock”?
Dennis Herbert’s song, “Tick Tock,” has been one of my favorites ever since the day he first played it for me. Dennis basically wrote the song for me to sing, and we’ve performed the song as a duet many times since. I started playing the song solo in 2019 when I was touring with Rasputina. It’s the perfect song for singing saw, kind of eerie and theatrical, and that’s when film faerie Lisa M. Thomas heard the song. Earlier this year, Lisa approached us about making a Dust Bowl Faeries video for “Tick Tock,” which seemed like a great idea, except that the band had never played it before! We were in the midst of finishing up the Carnival Dust recordings, so I brought “Tick Tock” to the band, and we came up with some cool parts and ideas. We layered our new parts over the original recording with Joe Ford of South Brooklyn Sound, and that’s how the new “Lost in Time” version of “Tick Tock” came to life, so it’s really all thanks to Lisa for wanting to make a video, and to Dennis for writing the song in the first place.
The nautical theme makes “Lost in Time” a very visual song. What can you tell us about the upcoming music video?
We’re releasing the Thin Edge Films “Lost in Time” video in December. The music video is actually an excerpt of a narrative short that Lisa M. Thomas conjured up, inspired by Dennis’s song. The longer narrative version is a surreal satire about the absurdity of being an independent filmmaker and all of the insane things that can happen on a film set. The scene that didn’t make it into the film — because it happened in real life, while we were shooting — was that Lisa’s 17-year-old cat, Zorro, who loved to be the center of attention, performed a devastatingly real death scene off set. Lisa tried to rush her to the animal hospital, but it was too late, and we had to finish the shoot with Zorro’s mortal remains in the car. The longer version of “Lost in Time” will be playing in festivals in 2023 — sans the Zorro scene —, so keep your eyes open for that.
What can fans expect from your upcoming EP?
The Dust Bowl Faeries’ upcoming EP, Carnival Dust, is very whimsical, and it is also quite collaborative. The EP starts off with a couple of up-tempo mystical songs that tend to get people dancing, “Cuckoo” and “The Changeling.” There are also a couple of songs that I categorize as gothic spaghetti westerns, “Medicine Show” and “Clockwork Romance.” Then there is a ragtime polka song (tee-hee) called “The Old Ragdoll” that’s pretty tongue in cheek and is also somewhat autobiographical. The full title is actually “The Ballad of the Old Ragdoll and the Arachnid Queen,” and it’s an homage to film faerie Lisa. The EP concludes with “Lost in Time,” which feels like an appropriate ending in this day and age since the song is quite ominous and casts a foreboding shadow upon the future.
There are many underlying themes that flow throughout the Carnival Dust songs: magical happenings, political corruption, marginal creatures, ominous times, clocks and nautical journeys, folk medicine, disillusionment. It all adds up to a mellow sort of mania, a feeling that scampers throughout all of the songs.
Some of the songs on the Carnival Dust EP are collaborative and/or written by other band members or musicians. “Clockwork Romance” was written by our guitarist Jon B. Woodin (rocket faerie), while “Medicine Show” and “The Changeling” were written collaboratively. We also collaborated with an amazing photographer and art designer, Stephen Spera, who helped with the overall aesthetic of the album, so Carnival Dust is a family affair, just like a dust bowl carnival should be.
Your work is very different from mainstream music. What do you think makes some musicians stick to what’s popular and not take risks?
This is such a complicated question, and I really can’t answer it in regard to other musicians, but for me, as an artist, sometimes you’re grappling with a lot of conflicting feelings. Part of you wants to stand out in the crowd and be unique and original, and another part of you that wants to fit in and be accepted and understood. And, then, another part of you wants to be successful, and another other part of you is mad at the part of you who wants to be successful because you might be compromising yourself or selling out. And, underneath it all, there’s that nagging desire to belong, which can sabotage your creativity. We’re living in the digital age of information overload; originality is dead. Everything can be simulated and everyone’s overstimulated. A death buzz has set in, a tinnitus of the masses, a deadening, silencing, frequency of disparity, a dullness of repetition; everyone is too maxed out to absorb anything new, and nothing is new anymore, it’s all been done before. It’s really a hard time to be an artist I would say.
Honestly, what really gets me is why do people want to listen to the same old boring shit over and over again? Why do commercial radio stations play the same old crappy music 24/7? Why is it so hard for indie musicians to get their music out there?
So, let’s flip the question and ask the reader: What do you think makes people want to listen to popular music that doesn’t take risks and has nothing new to say? Why do you think people want to hear the same bands play the same songs over and over again instead of hearing something new or original or cutting edge or just… different? Why don’t listeners want to challenge themselves and take risks? Why don’t music venues want to take risks? Why don’t films and TV shows and other entities licensing music want to take risks?
Are there any authors who inspire your songs?
Oh, I like the historical, gothicy faerietale stuff, like Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky, L. Frank Baum’s Patchwork Girl of Oz, Brothers Grimm, Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s Beauty and the Beast, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, and Jean Cocteau… There are many women authors who have inspired me over the years, like Djuna Barnes, Anaïs Nin, Sylvia Plath, and then there are the dark stories of the old dustbowl south, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou; they spoke their truths, plus a little sci-fi with Ursula Le Guin makes a good nightcap.
What is your favorite part of the recording process? Is there a lot of experimentation in the studio?
My favorite part of recording is when it’s done! Recording can be pretty stressful, especially if you are self-producing, and you’re on a tight budget, or a tight schedule, or both. I think it really depends on where you’re recording and who you’re recording with. We had a good time recording Carnival Dust, and in retrospect, the name is so appropriate because we recorded at our favorite music venue, Club Helsinki Hudson, which has been shut down since the pandemic, so it really did feel like a dusty carnival inside the beautiful yet hauntingly empty club. Mikaela Davis came in for one song, “The Changeling,” with her harp; that was grand. The best part for me is toward the end when I record singing saw, then, I can be a bit more experimental. I also really enjoy mixing, when the pressure is off, except for when you wish you’d recorded that one part one more time.
What piece of advice would you give to aspiring musicians?
Rule number 1 — which I have broken many times and always regretted it —: Don’t date your bandmates!
Also, I spent a lot of years in a bunch of bands that were collaborative, which is so much fun when everyone’s getting along, but when the band breaks up, you can lose everything and then you have to start over with a new name, new songs, new merch, new socials, new musicians, new recordings. It gets exhausting after a while, like moving to a new apartment every 6 months. It took me a long time to build up the chutzpah to start my own band, Dust Bowl Faeries, and sometimes it feels lonely, like when I’m doing all the grunt work myself, but if someone quits, the band lives on. So, when you’re ready, go for it, make it yours, make it last, you can do it.
You often make an effort to work with as many female creators as possible. In your opinion, what’s the current atmosphere for women in the industry? What changes should be made immediately?
It’s a mixed bag for women and gender nonconforming people in the music industry right now. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go and we’ve done some serious backsliding since the ’60s and ’70s feminist movements. So many men in the industry got called out for sexual harassment and sexist behavior during #metoo, and I think it has made people more aware of and accountable for their actions. I still see a lot of bands with girl singers up front wearing something skimpy; there’s still pressure on women to be young and cute. The industry is ageist toward women, and there’s still an attitude that men are better musicians. Most of the booking agents, management companies, venue owners, recording/sound engineers, etc., etc., are still men. I think we need to get more gender and BIPOC diversity throughout the industry, not just behind the microphone. We need diversity in recording studios, music stores, music education, music venues/audio technicians, music management, record labels, everywhere. Until diversity permeates all aspects of the industry, we will remain stuck in these patriarchal, racist, sexist patterns that are so deeply oppressive.