Interview: Hoth Brothers Band’s Sarah Ferrell on how she became a Hoth sister

The double bassist talks about how she joined the band and the challenge of taking her instrument on a river rafting experience.

Despite having had to cancel their proposed first tour of the UK late last year due to the pandemic, the New Mexico based Hoth Brothers Band have continued to pick up fans on this side of the Atlantic with the recent release of their second album, ‘Tell Me How You Feel’. The album, which finds the band firmly settled as a trio (consisting of Bard Edrington V, Boris McCutcheon and Sarah Ferrell) has been warmly received with AUK awarding it 8/10 in our review.

The band are an acoustic trio who play music rooted in American folk and country traditions but their songs are originals, written by Edrington and McCutcheon. Originally working as a duo, the pair were joined by double bassist Ferrell just in time for her to contribute to their 2019 debut release ‘Workin’ and Dreamin”‘ and she now has equal billing on the new album. Hence the Hoth Brothers became the Hoth Brothers Band. Americana UK’s Paul Kerr was able to talk to Ms. Ferrell via Zoom at her home in Albuquerque.

Hi there. You are standing proud on the cover of the first album with your double bass, alongside Boris and Bard, despite the album being credited to the Hoth Brothers. Now you are a fully-fledged member it seems. What led you to join this band of brothers?

I’m really now the Hoth sister I guess. When the guys started the band, I was sort of hopping in here and there at times to sing harmony and play bass, but they were essentially a duo. However, when we were recording the first album it became clear just how well the three of us sounded together so we decided to keep it like that and become a band.

I believe you had played with Bard before in a band called Three String Bale.

Yes, we were together in Three String Bale for six or seven years. We met when our sons were both babies, maybe aged about one, and some other friends knew that we both played music and said you guys should play together so I went over to Bard’s with a guitar and we sang songs all night and just hit it off. Bard was playing then with a guy called Tom Studer and so they already had two guitarists but then I mentioned that I also play double bass. They thought that was a great idea and a friend of mine had an old bass sitting in their garage, so I got that and joined the band. That was the start of my history with Bard but then, after a couple of years, he moved away to Tennessee and then Mexico but when he came back to New Mexico we just picked it up from where we left off. And then Bard had met Boris while they were both working pruning fruit trees and had formed their duo so I just kind of joined in.

You are originally from Indiana. How did you end up in New Mexico?

I came here to study healing arts and massage therapy in the school which was here in Albuquerque although originally I had no intention of staying. I had always played music but I found that there was too much alcohol and drugs around and I needed to split from that so I came here to study. But there’s a saying that New Mexico is the land of enchantment or entrapment, once you come you never leave, so here I am.

And what sparked your interest in old-time music?

Well, when I was a kid my mom listened to a lot of country music, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings and all those guys, and I claimed to not like it but I was always tapping my toes to it. Then I worked in a summer camp as a teenager and there was a lot of music around. Every night we had a campfire and people pulled out guitars, and I started to really enjoy the old folk songs. In college, I was part of a vocal quartet singing a lot of eastern European music but there was always lots of fiddles and banjos around so I got more into old-time music, buying up records and then eventually playing with Bard and Tom.

Boris says that the Hoth Brothers Band play modern music but with respect to the old-ways.

That’s right. We all love traditional music. I play in another band called The Squash Blossom Boys who are strictly a bluegrass band, but with Bard and Boris, they are such creative songwriters themselves that they really don’t want to just play songs that are already out there, but they definitely have that old-style in their blood. I’ve played with a lot of musicians but these two are just unique in that they get an idea and they can’t get it out of their heads until they’ve turned it into a song. I’d like to say that it’s such a cool experience to play with Bard and Boris. I’m envious of their songwriting abilities, they are just like open conduits allowing the music to flow in. I know they put a lot of effort into their writing but they are so prolific. Like, yesterday, I opened up my phone and there was a musical file from Boris, a great song about a woodpecker which I’m now figuring out. It’s just pure joy that I get to play in a band with them, it’s a real privilege.

One of the things I really liked about both albums is that there is a wide variety of styles on display. How do you and the guys decide which direction a song is going to go in?

Sometimes Boris or Bard will know from the start, but a lot of times it’s just sort of an organic experience. Last time we met up, they both had three or four new songs and we went through them one by one and maybe one of us would throw in a harmony or play a melody which sparks an idea. Most of the songs they bring in are originally just one voice and guitar but when we all join in the songs will take on different shapes. However, as I said, sometimes we’ll know from the start. When Boris brought in ‘Judith’, the first song on the album, he said from the start that he envisioned it as a Carter Family like song and that’s what we did. It also depends on who wrote the song. I’d say Boris is more likely to have an idea of what the song should sound like while Bard is more open to seeing where it goes.

And we get to hear you sing lead on one of the songs on the new album, on ‘Wilding Of Robby’.

First of all, Boris and Bard thought that my voice should be front and centre on the album somewhere as it wasn’t on the first album, and secondly, because of the storyline, it just felt more appropriate for me to sing it.

Hoth Brothers publicity pic

Both of the albums are quite lengthy, 16 songs on the first and then 17 on the new disc. Given that the guys met while pruning fruit trees, was there any thought to cutting the records back to around the 40 minute mark?

Well, Bard and Boris always have so many songs. I think on each album we went in with the idea of recording a dozen or so songs but then both of them pitch for their songs to go on so we just keep on recording and although they are long albums, someone said that the songs flow so well that before you know it, it’s over.

There’s one cover on the album, Lewie Wickham’s ‘Rough Ragged Edge’. How did that come about?

It was Bard who wanted to do that one. He had seen a video of Lewie singing the song and he really wanted to put it on the album. Boris and I were like, aw, it’s not our song and we’ve got way too many already on the album, but Bard really pushed for it and I’m glad he did so. It’s such a beautiful song. When I actually listened to the whole album and got to this last song, there were certain lines which just brought tears to my eyes. Bard was right, it just seems to fit so well.

I wanted to ask you a couple of things about the band. First off is about that label used to describe you, which I think Boris coined, Salt Cured New Mexicana.

New Mexicana is really just a simple take on the term Americana, New Mexico is such a unique place that we felt it should be acknowledged. As for salt-cured, who knows really? There can be a salty aspect to the songs I suppose but it’s more like we’re preserving some of the traditional sounds. I liked the term when I heard it but I haven’t really thought about what it means too much, it just sounds good.

Secondly, I believe that Hoth stands for High On The Hog.

It’s a southern expression. If you are living High On The Hog, it means you are living well or are affluent and able to afford the best cuts of meat from a pig which are from its back or from the top of the leg, while poor folk ate belly cuts or even trotters. That was the original name of the band before we recorded but Bard eventually decided he didn’t really want to keep the name. He thought it was kind of too southern and a bit red neck. And then, at one of our shows, someone had abbreviated our name on the poster to HOTH and Bard thought maybe we should just go with that so we did. And then we added Band as I was more involved.

OK. Bearing in mind the modern take on old-time music, a couple of songs on ‘Workin’ And Dreamin’’ were quite contemporary, referring to your ex-president, the orange man as he was called. Are you sad to see him go?

Not at all. Sometimes now, there does seem to be a gap in the news, there’s not this giant figure looming every day with his crazy, almost comedic nonsense. But obviously, the harm he was doing was not worth the comedy he was providing. So, we’re all really happy to see the back of him.

How has COVID affected your area and the band and folks you know?

Our state has probably been the most strict of the entire United States so we’ve been very locked down at times, especially last spring and then in the fall of 2020. There’s been no live music for the past year. We’re all in New Mexico but I’m in Albuquerque, Bard is in Santa Fe, which is an hour north, and Boris is in Dixon which is another hour north of that, so we’re all scattered about the place. But with technology and audio files we’ve still been sending music all the time and get together to play once a month but once the pandemic is over we’ll definitely be back playing with each other in person and we actually have a live show planned for May, outdoors and in a brewery.

For the three of us, we are all friends as well as being in the band and our families are all friends but we had to go for several months without being able to see each other until restrictions were loosened a little but then we still had to keep safe and be careful. We’re all human beings and we need to practice our art so it’s been a balance. We did get a chance to play a house concert on a porch at one point but it was really strange. There were only about ten people there, everyone had masks on, and there was no hugging or anything. As for my other band, I haven’t seen them in a year.

I read that you are also signed up to do something called the New Mexico River adventure in August.

That’s a pretty cool thing. It was one of the only times we played together last year back in August. Bard and Boris have done it a couple of times before but this was my first time. The audience pays for a three-day river rafting trip with overnight camping and music. Basically, we float down the river all day on the rafts and then stop at a camping ground and the three of us play for an hour and a half, then everyone has a camp-style cookout and then we play again. So, we do that on the Friday and Saturday nights and then on Sunday we have a long leisurely lunch and the three of us play another show. It’s really great fun but the main hassle is getting all our instruments onto the rafts, especially me with my double bass. Packing that on top of a raft was an adventure. But it was a great thing to do in the middle of COVID, spending time playing for 20 odd folk over three days. Happy just to be playing again and sharing such a great experience and it was all made as COVID safe as it could be. So hopefully we’re doing it again this year, COVID permitting.

Well, thanks for taking the time to talk to AUK, and hopefully at some point, the Hoth Brothers will get to our shores.

We were really disappointed that the tour was cancelled and I was especially looking forward to seeing Scotland. I was listening to a podcast and learning things about its history but we will definitely be over at some point once we are able to.

The Hoth Brothers Band ‘Tell Me How You Feel’ is out now as an Independent release

About Paul Kerr 415 Articles
Still searching for the Holy Grail, a 10/10 album, so keep sending them in.
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