Pleasure Horse on South Dakota, not being "100% honky" and country's evolution

Pleasure Horse on South Dakota, not being "100% honky" and country's evolution
Photo by Cyn Collins

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Pleasure Horse is a new local '70s outlaw/cosmic country style outfit. Four of the six members of Pleasure Horse grew up in South Dakota and attended college there -- which lends to their affinity for, and the quality of country music and harmonies they perform. Pleasure Horse play mostly originals in the vein of the country music they grew up with and a few covers of outlaw greats, such as Tom T. Hall.They debuted at drinking dive Palmer's Bar in early summer, and are playing their third show underground at Hell's Kitchen Thursday for InBoil's CD release.

Tim Evenson, formerly with The Flying Dorito Brothers, graduated from University of South Dakota in Music Studies in 2011 and moved here shortly after. Darin Dahlmaier studied graphic arts in Brookings, and also moved here after school. Gimme Noise had a chance to talk with them over beers at the 331 Club about what it means to perform country music in the city, and how growing up and playing in bands in rural South Dakota where there's not much to do but drink and not many musicians to play with, brought them here.

Members of Pleasure Horse are Tim Evenson (guitar, vocals, earlier with Flying Dorito Brothers), Darin Dahlmaier (bass, also in Hot Freaks), Joel Schmitz (drums, also in Buffalo Moon, and the Burglars), Ben Mahowald (guitar, harmony vocals), and Shannon Thompson and Natalie Klemz on trumpets.

What is Pleasure Horse musically? How did you form?

Tim Evenson: I've been trying to generate a country band for years. I played with a bunch of different people when I was going to school in South Dakota, trying to get something together, little recording projects.

It's country music. I'm trying to model it after a '70s Outlaw or Cosmic Country vibe -- that was in the early 70s. I think Cosmic Country was more of a Gram Parsons kind of thing joining rock 'n' roll with the old Louvin Brothers kind of folk/country music. Trying to create this electric country sound. It's not 100 percen honky! (Everyone laughs). It has elements of rock n roll in it.

Other influences are Jerry Jeff Walker, Willie, Waylon and all those guys. The '70s, when the rednecks and the hippies kind of collided. That's the idea of what I write towards or look to for ideas.

Darin, what brings you to this band?

Darin Dahlmaier: I was at a party and these guys were looking for somebody to play bass and I play bass, so I forced myself in.

TE: The creation of the band has revolved around me meeting with people individually at first and getting everyone to learn the songs, and finding people who like country music but haven't necessarily played it before in a band. So when we're all playing together we're learning together to create a different sound than if we were from Nashville or something.

I don't want it to be me as a singer/songwriter with a band, I want it to be a band. There were practices where we've had everybody there, they all have input in figuring out how the songs work best.

Do you think growing up in South Dakota has influence on your songwriting and your approach?

TE: Yeah, absolutely! Especially moving here from a rural area, its kind of this clash of two fairly different cultures and demeanors.

DD: Yeah, growing up in South Dakota -- I grew up on a farm -- you have that essence . . . there's stuff like this, but there's not the same feel . . .

TE: Now living here a year, its great -- there are a lot of great musicians who are friends I hang out with. It seemed like it was a lot easier to fast track things. Its great having people around who can play instruments . . . I went to school in South Dakota for six years, I did stuff there as well, but it was more like getting together out of boredom. Maybe not everyone could play something, but they tried. It was more of a party atmosphere there playing music.

What about your interest in playing outlaw country, Darin?

DD: Honestly, mine comes from my grandpa and riding around with him and his 8-tracks. Its something I never really explored or dug deep into. Its something I've always been interested in, but I like the idea of it. There's nothing pretentious about playing outlaw country. It is what it is. It feels honest. When you find that sound, it's like a weird nostalgic thing. It has that for me.

Tell us about the other guys' history . . .

DD: Ben, who's playing guitar with me and singing . . . I didn't really know, but when it was known I was looking for a country guitar player, friends said, "Oh, this guy!" We get along really well. He's got a great musical ear, can pick up on it. He plays banjo and mandolin. He'll play those and lap steel. Just having someone that can do all that will be great. In the bands I'd been in previously that was me. Now I have to sing and play guitar, so having that other person who can be expressive will be nice, not having to write the parts for him . . . he's a great songwriter.

What do you feel -- besides the obvious difference of Gram Parsons covers -- is different about this band than the Flying Dorito Brothers?

TE: The Flying Dorito Brothers were more about having fun, kind of a party, just sort of going with it. The practices . . . we weren't 't writing intricate parts, we were just kind of playing and it worked because it was cover songs.

The core of this group is smaller so the importance of musical knowledge and ability to craft new ideas is more important than drinking and having a good time. Though that's part of it too!

With Flying Dorito Brothers, a band of eight people, we'd talked about doing originals because I had songs, Mark had songs, and other people had songs. But we were like "how are we going to incorporate this entire huge group into this?" It would've been an incredible amount of work. We got together a couple times a week; everyone's playing together and then perform.

You both are from South Dakota . . . is anyone else from the band from there?

TE: Actually everyone in the band except for the trumpet players is from South Dakota!


Which part of SD are you from, Darin?

DD: North Sioux Falls, near the border of Minnesota. Flandreau is where I went to high school. I studied graphic design at Brookings. I and Tim played together on bills in our bands. In SD there were only a handful of bands; you're going to know everybody and wind up playing the same shows. Everybody knows everybody there.

TE: I met Darin playing shows in Vermillion, SD. Joel is from Burke.

What brought you to Minnesota?

DD: I was gonna pry drink myself to death in South Dakota, quite honestly!

Uh huh! I can relate, being from there. Nothing else to do . . .

DD: I was going to college, in a college town I lived a block from a street with like ten bars on it, you know. There wasn't a whole lot else to do. I was like, I'm going to drink myself to death, came close.

TE: Its kind of the same thing. I graduated and didn't want to hang around. My sister lives here and owns a house. I moved in with her because its easy. I wanted to be around musicians and do this.

DD: I knew a bunch of musicians here. So moving up here, and getting involved . . .

How did you come up with the name Pleasure Horse?

TE: I always thought it was funny -- a horse that's owned not for work but for pleasure. Also what sold me on it was when I found out about women being stoned for losing their virginity from riding a horse, and I thought of "pleasure horse" losing your virginity in a non-bestiality way

DD: Yeah, in that, horses are like school bus seats. (Laughs)

TE: Also I like writing about dirty things. The themes of country music are about women and drinking so it kind of seemed right about me.

We're playing a cover of the Tom T. Hall's, "Faster Horses." One of the choruses is: "Faster horses, younger women, older whiskey and more money." (laughs) So that takes the themes of country music and boils it down. That song really features the trumpets. Hooks for Hands always had trumpet players, and I felt the most powerful part of the show were when the trumpets came in. I wanted to take that power and pop feel and add it to this West Texas, country, mariachi feel. And when I walk in and see a band with a trumpet player, its like whoa. It stands out. That's why I wanted trumpets. It's a really good punctuation to a good song. Its loud and in your face. I like that. You can't hide them, you can't fake it.

When we started coalescing members, I had to have trumpets. One is my sister's friend. My sister, Karalee might be singing in the band as well. She sang with Flying Dorito Brothers. She's got a great voice. I've been getting her to hone in on her country swagger.

What are your aspirations with Pleasure Horse?

DD: Free whiskey . . .

TE: Yeah, free whiskey and a place to play . . . actually country music is one of those things I think every kid hates, especially if their parents listen to it. It wasn't until I went to college I went through some sort of backwards route -- listening to alt-country, or semi-country, there was country aspects creeping into the music I was listening to, I was like 'Oh, nooo!" I was fishing with my dad and I'd be like "okay, we can listen to that. Merle Haggard, Tom T. Hall, Dwight Yokam. And I guess I don't mind." Then it was like a year later, "Hey Dad! I burned you this CD!" I feel like country is kind of a dirty word musically because of what's become popular country music and how its really been boiled down to the least common denominator because of "This is a country song because the guitar goes like [voices twang guitar]. But its pop songs."

Once I fell in love with not only the 70s country but bluegrass, mountain music, heavy vocal harmony stuff, I was like, "okay! It's not all about like Taylor Swift. There's something there." So then as a songwriter, I was like that seems pretty easy.

So many people I've known that I try to get to listen to country music . . . it's a valid form . . . its not all Toby Keith. After awhile seeing them go "Alright, I can tap my foot to this and not feel like a sellout, or a redneck." Or, "I do feel like a redneck but that's okay." (Laughs). Lyrically, it's a genre where you have to look at the bare essentials of what makes a country song. These are the themes, and ideas, and take your own life and be like "It's exactly like that!"

You just need a broken down car, you don't have a job . . .

TE: Yeah, stuff just has to go wrong!

Its like the joke of the backwards country song. The truck works, the dog didn't die, he got the girlfriend back . . .

TE: Yeah, yeah! Happy endings.

Have you seen the country bands grow here and change?

TE: I've always beeen impressed with the country music here. I love the Cactus Blossoms a lot. I want to fill that other part of country music that's a little less recognized. I like to be in loud and electric bands. So I like that combination. I was with Hooks for Hands and Flying Dorito brothers. I like the big group mentality. Our band is already 6 members. I'd like to get a keyboard player and pedal steel.

Growing up, all my friends could sing harmony. We'd get a big group of people and sing the various parts to the song. I like big instrumental bands. But when you have people on stage singing harmony, it kind of causes you to put down your drink for a second, "Oh. Now he's singing in harmony!" Trying to write songs I try to consider, if I were drinking beer in a bar, what would make me put my drink down, make me stop and actually listen.

The town I grew up in, Freeman, near Sioux Falls, we started misbehaving at a young age but we could all sing. It seemed like drinking and singing together worked well. In high school we started a little bluegrass group. If we had to played church or school functions, it was like a Mennonite school, playing Stanley or Louvin Brothers, we felt like we were getting away with something. Like, "now there's a guitar in church! An upright bass!"

But everybody, old people love that shit. Especially when young kids are doing it. They feel like their youth is coming back to them. So yeah, I pretty much learned singing in church and then around campfires. I think you have to be really good to write a song that works without harmony. And throwing in a little harmony makes it easier on yourself. It can be a mediocre melody but harmony makes it sound good. It's just an attention getter, and it's a fulfilling feeling because you're locking something in.

It's interesting to compare the sentiments of country living while you're living in a city. It's kind of an escape, too. When I'm watching country music in a bar in Minneapolis, I feel like I could be in a Podunk bar in the middle of nowhere, you know?

I know, I feel that too! I like that . . . the nostalgia.

TE: It feels like the speed and the tempo of the city have slowed down, and you can relax and pretend you don't have anything to worry about.

Hell's Kitchen Aug 16 for Inboil CD Release Party, also with Tiger VS and Battlerat
10 p.m., 21+, $5 Cover

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