Field Notes & Fixations: Horseplay

By Thomas Hentges

Over the course of countless teenage summer nights, lifelong friends Jack Winders and Jayden Howie didn’t envision their hobby of strumming guitars and singing songs as much more than killing time on the banks of the Minnesota River. The two Belle Plaine, Minn. natives first got serious about playing their own music upon meeting drummer Seth Tuscherer during the trio’s freshman year at South Dakota State University. The band blossomed humbly over the course of their college tenure, eventually adding Levi Malterud on bass, and has built an impressive following, particularly on their home turf in Brookings.

The band recently released their sophomore album, The Things That Keep Me Up at Night, and celebrated with a raucous night at a Skinner’s Pub lined wall to wall with Jacks.

I recently had the opportunity to talk the new album, songwriting and the band’s history with the group’s reluctant leader, Jack Winders.

TH: Tell me a little bit on how the band came together?            

JW: Jayden and I are childhood friends and went to high school together in Belle Plaine Minnesota. We started out just covering some of our favorite tunes with some other classmates, but it wasn’t until we were freshmen in college at SDSU that we really started to write our own stuff and began to play shows focused on original music. Our drummer, Seth Tuscherer, was on my floor freshman year, and I met our bass player Levi Malterud at an open mic on campus.

TH: Had any of you played in bands prior? 

JW: As far as I know, none of us played in other bands, though we had all played music in some capacity before we came together as Horseplay.

TH: You seem to have somewhat of a formula in your song-structure. Big choruses certainly seem to be commonplace. Can you tell me a bit about your writing process?

JW: Typically, I’ll come up with a melody and some lyrics – often just a chorus or a verse – and then run it past the band. I’ve written lots of songs that didn’t get the approval of the band or even myself, so the initial feedback from the guys is a huge factor in my writing process.

TH: Does the band write collectively?

JW: Yes and no. We have done some collective writing in the past. For this record however, I wrote the songs and lyrics. It wasn’t really something we talked about, it just happened to work out that way this time. That’s not to say that we wont write collectively in the future again. I’m almost certain we will. Keep in mind that although I wrote these tunes, they certainly changed shape when I brought them to the guys.

TH: Is there a “leader” of Horseplay?

JW: For the sake of answering the question, I would say that I am the leader of the band , although I don’t like to think of it that way. I like to think of the four of us as equals who are all contributing what is expected of us.

TH: Do your songs mostly come from first hand experience, or do you find yourself more a storyteller?      

JW: Some of each I would say. I guess it’s no secret that a number of these songs are relationship based, so some of those come from first hand experience and some are a bit more drawn up. The song that is most literally drawn from my life is “These are the Days”. My grandfather passed away earlier this year and this song is obviously pretty reflective of that event.

TH: My favorite track on the album is “Make it Home”.  It showcases all the strengths of the band more than any other track on the album. Did you feel this track was something special when you completed it?

JW: I certainly felt that this track was something special when we finally got it down. We had been playing it live for quite a while before we went into the studio, so to really hone in and get it sounding how we wanted was a rewarding experience. It was also the first song that we tracked for this album. I think it was a boost of confidence for all of us when we were able to track it live and get the sound we heard in our heads.

TH: What song on the album are you most proud of?

JW: I am probably most proud of “Buried Under Satellites”. It’s a little different from our usual sound and a little more produced, especially vocally. That said, the core of the song is all a live take upon which we added some additional guitars, samples, and other elements. This one was probably the most difficult to track, but we are really pleased with how it turned out. From a lyrical standpoint I would say this one is the track that I am most proud of too. It took on more of an abstract form, open to interpretation, while still sending the message that I wished to get across.

TH: I have to ask, because I can’t help but hear it on occasion in the big choruses, etc…  Do you guys listen to/pay much attention to modern country radio?

JW: No, not at all, actually. I think a lot of the big chorus feel comes from listening to bands like Houndmouth, The Wild Feathers, and others that tend to have choruses built on big three-part harmonies. I am a huge fan of sing-along songs and that is something that I want people to be able to do with our tunes.

TH: It’s inspiring to see how you guys have built a following in Brookings. How would you describe your fan base?

JW: We have been fortunate enough to build a great following in Brookings. Our fans and friends have been so good to us and have really supported us along the way. After four years of school here, we have made so many connections and it makes playing hometown shows an awesome experience. Everybody comes out and is looking to have a good time.

TH: How long did it take for you guys to build your fan base?

JW: Quite some time. When we first started playing our original music at venues in the area it was mostly just our friends and some family. But the more we played, the more people started to catch on and come out. In contrast to those first shows as freshman or sophomores, our release show in Brookings on April 1st brought in hundreds of fans and packed the venue to the gills. We were so humbled by the turnout and the support. It is something we wont forget any time soon.

TH: Tell me a bit about the sessions for The Things That Keep Me Up At Night?

JW: We recorded this album at MOAMP Studios in Sioux Falls, with the process starting in mid December. Apart from the vocals and some miscellaneous things, we live-tracked these songs, which was a great learning experience, as we had never done that before. I think recording that way did a lot for the sound and brought out some really cool moments within the songs that we didn’t plan in advance.

TH: How long did it take you to record?

JW: The live tracking took about five days. Adding vocals and other overdubs took a little longer and was a bit of a juggling act to schedule over the holidays. We wrapped up all tracking the second week of January.

TH: What did you learn in the process of recording the album?

JW: I learned that I really liked live tracking. Being able to feed off each other in a similar fashion as a live show was really helpful. I don’t see us moving away from that type of recording as we progress. I also learned a lot about the whole process from tracking, to mixing, to mastering.

TH: What do the next six months-year look like for Horseplay?

JW: We are all graduating this spring. I’m not going to lie, it will make things a bit more difficult than they are right now. That said, we will keep making music. It might take some time to recalibrate, but the music will still be there. There are a lot of variables to consider as we figure out our personal and collective lives post graduation. But once again, I’m sure we will continue to play music together. We always work it out somehow.

For more information, visit horseplayofficial.com.