Smile Politely

Five Questions with Donivan Berube of Blessed Feathers

Blessed Feathers is Jaquelyn Beaupre and Donivan Berube from West Bend, WI. West Bend is about 45 minutes north of Milwaukee and describes the angle the Milwaukee River suddenly takes on its otherwise southern decent to Lake Michigan — a town situated on an elbow. Blessed Feathers are at home within the pastiche of great Wisconsin music and artistry, but thinking of them as residents of a small Midwestern town might be more productive. At 30,000 people, West Bend is nearly ten times smaller than C-U. And, as you’ll read below, Jacquelyn and Donivan are more than a little isolated; they pay the bills by working in the same restaurant they met in, retreating to their small apartment to write, read, compose, collaborate — living off music, love, and hijacked wifi.

While on the road, Blessed Feathers takes on and sheds additional members — usually friends — who understand that the underlying dynamic of the band is the creative partnership and relationship between Beaupre and Berube. Right now they’re performing as a duo, and they have a new short record out titled Peaceful Beasts in an Ocean of Weeds, which you can buy here. The record will also be for sale tonight at Mike ‘N Molly’s when they play alongside Ohio’s Way Yes and Chicago’s Mutts.

Smile Politely: You two seem to share nearly everything. You work in the same place, write songs and perform music together, and you live together as partners. This collaboration is the most striking thing about the songs on Peaceful Beasts. Can you talk about the ways that your partnership gives way to Blessed Feathers?

Donivan Berube: The limits of our collaboration are a little strange. Like you say, we share everything: work, house, phone, car, computer. Yet we physically cannot write a song together. I mean, we’ve tried before and we just can’t do it. It’s horrible. So Jacquelyn will sit down and write her songs front to back, record a foundation for it, and then hand it off to me. And I take it the same way with my little songs.

Last trip we were traveling with a band — drums and guitars — which was great because playing music can be really simple when you have more guys up there filling in the parts. This time though, we’re traveling as a two-piece, which allows the two of us to fit all our gear and luggage and everything we need in a little four-door hatchback and travel cross-country. I suppose we’ve been chasing down a way of approaching this as a long-term experience, and at this juncture, we’re getting there. Slowly.

SP: In the bio on your website, you joke that Jacquelyn plays everything and you play everything else. I’m interested in your musical histories. Where did you both start?

Berube: Jacquelyn was forced to play flute in high school, which she wasn’t into at all. We both really got into this when we started teaching ourselves how to play guitar. She got one from her uncle in Milwaukee; I got one in Florida. We picked it up by ear and moved on from there. I got really good at playing piano for a while, which she can play too. So on the album, for instance, I played all of the drums and guitars and sang tons of harmonies, while Jacquelyn played accordion (self-taught there, too), banjo, she played Thor’s vibraphones for a minute, she did an arrangement of flutes in “Winter Sister.” Hopefully, it will encourage people to pick things up and tackle them with sheer ambition. You don’t need lessons for things anymore. You can type any song in on the web and learn 20 different versions of every song out there. Or you can ignore all that and play however the hell you want, because doing shit like that is OK now.

SP: From my distant perspective, it appears that your lives center around creativity. I imagine a small living room with instruments and recording gear strewn about, spiral notebooks with lyrics, poetry, and other writing projects, great books and periodicals with dog-eared pages and library barcodes. And stacks of raw material for your self-published zine (Sleeping in a Torn Quilt / Dreaming of Gold) cluttering up a large portion of one corner. How close am I?

Berube: You are just about spot-on with your description of our place. Our spare bedroom has become Jacquelyn’s art room, basically an explosion of paint and clothes and chalk and sewing materials. We are always creating and building, so our apartment is a factory more or less, where we’re always pressing books or zines or albums or artwork. As far as creative discipline, we dropped our internet access a year or two ago, and I haven’t had a phone for about the same length of time, so if I have to plug in at the library or something when I have some business to attend to. I mean, it doesn’t sound so extreme to me. I know people who are living off the grid. We forget sometimes that not everyone out there lives with the same normalcies that Americans have come to expect. There was life before the internet, and remembering that can be rewarding.

SP: Wisconsin is a beautiful state and also has a reputation for great indie music. How does the landscape bleed into your music? Can you say a few things about the music community that you belong to in West Bend (or surrounding areas/Milwaukee)?

Berube: West Bend doesn’t have much of a music “scene.” We have one AM country radio station. There’s one ultra-conservative newspaper. There are a few bars and coffee shops or what-have-you, but I’m not really sure what happens when you type ‘West Bend, Wisconsin’ into Bandcamp. We’ve sort of had to gravitate towards Milwaukee (about 45 minutes south) for shows and radio and all that. But we love where we live, totally. You can hear the geographical references bleeding through in our songwriting. “By Song Through the Americas” is about a transcontinental train ride. “Hey! All You Floridians” is about my time spent growing up there. “Holyoke / Springfield” is another one. It’s really just a byproduct of our personal lifestyles, the fact that our songs are about what they’re about. But besides the brutally cold winters, Wisconsin is a fantastic place. We’re 30 minutes away from Lake Michigan, but less than an hour away from the state’s biggest city. Everybody always dreams of the places they want to see and live, so maybe sometime we’ll be living in Brooklyn and singing about subways and city grids. Who knows.

SP: This EP seems to mark a bit of a new beginning for Blessed Feathers [nary a mention of your 2010 and 2011 recording on the website that I could see]. Can you say something about the band’s evolution up until now and what your plans are in the coming year? Three-year plan?

Berube: Working on Peaceful Beasts this summer was actually the very first studio experience we’ve ever gotten. So up until this point all we’ve ever had are just the recordings we put together in our apartment, with one microphone and an obsolete laptop. So we’re thankful for the chance to have gone to New York to do that and to be on this trip, because otherwise we’d just be working at the restaurant and recording in our apartment like always. But we’ll be at CMJ for the first time next week, and we’re looking forward to some nice consecutive days in the city.


Blessed Feathers bring their dreamy folk to Mike ‘N Molly’s along side Way Yes and Mutts. Show starts at 10:00 p.m. right after trivia and the cover is $5. Check out facebook for details. 

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