The Painted Horses-7 Questions
Hailing from the mountains of Santa Cruz, The Painted Horses combine a familiar folk sound with a long-unfamiliar amount of sincerity. Singer-songwriting duo Denys Kozakis and Natosha Wengreen and upright bassist Jon Payne are the mainstays, but they’re often joined in live shows by musicians wielding everything from banjos and lap steels to organs and violins. Their debut album, Ponderosa Pines (2015) demonstrates it all in a charmingly romanticized romp through the woods with the promise of home at the end of the road.
Sticking close to their roots, The Painted Horses will be touring California and Oregon for the summer.
Highlights of 2015 for the band include the NPR Tiny Desk concert submission being featured as an editors favorite, doing multiple video session for Jam in the Van and Humboldt Live Sessions, and a debut album/song feature on CMT's the Edge.
In addition to playing multiple music festivals in California including American River Music Festival, Redgate Ranch Music Festival, and Dio Fest, the band had the pleasure of playing renowned music venues such as Slim's (San Francisco, Ca), The Chapel (San Francisco, Ca), Lagunitas Brewing Company (Petaluma,Ca), Sweetwater Music Hall (Mill Valley, Ca), Leo's (Oakland,Ca), Kuumbwa Jazz Center (Santa Cruz, Ca), Moe's Alley (Santa Cruz, Ca), and several shows in the Fillmore Poster Room (San Francisco, Ca).
We talked to Denys Kozakis about the current tour.
Ponderosa Pines evokes a strong sense of home. What about your roots has inspired you to write and settle down locally?
Denys Kozakis: Although I was born in Los Angeles, Santa Cruz has always been my home. I grew up in the same town I live in now. Knowing your space with nostalgic memories has always inspired my music. There is so much life here from my past that it’s easy to feed on that creative (and uncreative) energy to write. Most of the songs on Ponderosa Pines deal with my past experiences and the natural surroundings of old growth redwoods and the California coast. I don't know if I will stay in Santa Cruz for the rest of my life but I do know I will always come back.
All the tracks on Ponderosa Pines are originals. Have you felt pressure to cover more traditional folk songs as a means of establishing yourselves?
DZ: There has always been that pressure, especially when you get a request for certain events, but there is nothing like playing and creating your own sounds. I would like to think that my words and music speak for me and people enjoy the honesty.
There’s a soft but definite country-swing under many of your songs. Would you situate country as a genre or culture somewhere alongside folk?
DZ: Americana, country and folk music are all things I grew up with. It has influenced my guitar playing and songwriting, and I enjoy telling stories. To be honest, they all seem similar, and I like the idea of mixing it all up. Why not? When we gathered a full band for the album, it just came out that way. There wasn’t a whole lot of intention when arranging the songs, other than whatever felt right. I’m very happy with the outcome.
Knowing your space with nostalgic memories has always inspired my music.
Do you plan on always maintaining a strong connection with California, or would you let your career take you further from home if necessary?
DZ: My family is in California, so it's hard not to connect or see myself here. California is where I started, and I believe it's where I will end up. That being said, the idea of new adventures has really begun to inspire my imagination.
The album art for Ponderosa Pines is sure to draw some comparisons to conspiratorial imagery. Was there an intended meaning behind it?
DZ: Although it may seem that way, I don’t think any of us intended to have any sort of hidden message in the art. Our very good friend is an artist up in Portland, and I always said to her, whenever I make an album, I’d like you to do the art. She sends us a photo of her progress, and we share ideas.
Despite constant collaboration and expansions in your backing band, you’ve defined the Painted Horses as a trio. What core concept do you three hope to bring to the band?
DZ: What is great about the three of us together is we each are good at something different musically and other ways. Jon is our future plan guy. He gets us moving forward and thinking about a bigger and brighter future. Natosha is our sweet organized everyday operations gal. She is what gets those daily duties completed.
Who are some songwriters or bands that you’ve drawn heavy inspiration from?
DZ: I’m a strong believer that whatever I’m into will in one way or another make its way into my songwriting. Although I mostly try to draw inspiration from my experiences and surroundings there are many artist that greatly inspire me—Wilco, Jeff Tweedy, Dr. Dog, Blake Mills, Shovels and Rope, Fruit Bats, Gregory Alan Isakov, Graham Parsons, Townes Van Zandt, The Byrds, Bob Dylan, and Graham Nash, to name quite a few.