Sep 28, 2018
At fifteen, Dead Horses frontwoman Sarah Vos’ world turned upside down. Raised in a strict, fundamentalist home, Vos lost everything when she and her family were expelled from the rural Wisconsin church where her father had long served as pastor. “My older brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia and my twin had mental illnesses and cognitive disabilities,” explains Vos. “When the church kicked us out, they basically told my dad, ‘If you can’t lead your family, how can you lead your church?’”
“At the time we were expelled, we lived in the church’s parish house,” explains Vos. “Suddenly, my father was unemployed and my family was homeless. My parents couldn’t afford insurance for the medical care my siblings needed. We were kicked out and completely abandoned.”
However, Vos’ love of music carried on after she left the church.
“Almost half of those services [were] just singing hymns,” she reflected in a recent interview. “I also went to a parochial school, so I had to memorize hymns and Bible verses all day, too. When I really look back, before I had the chance to explore music on my own, that was really central. Even the way I write songs [today] is reminiscent of hymns. That’s maybe why I was so drawn to folk music to begin with: it’s geared towards communities singing it together.”
By the time Vos turned 18, her family had begun to get back on their feet. She headed to Milwaukee for college, and there, came to terms with revelations about her sexuality that her religious upbringing had forced her to repress. The mix of freedom and relief and shame and guilt was overwhelming, and a depressive breakdown ensued.
“I couldn’t take care of myself,” she remembers. “I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t do anything. I stopped going to classes, and then I dropped out altogether and moved back home to Oshkosh. That’s where I met Dan.”
When bassist Daniel Wolff and Vos first started playing music together, it felt as if the clouds had finally parted. Vos introduced songs she’d been writing since high school open mics, Wolff learned a new instrument for the band (the double bass), and within months, they had earned a devoted local following. Regular gigs led to steady residencies led to regional touring and their first recordings. Two of the band’s original members ultimately left the group due to opioid addictions (“I still see the pawn shop sticker every time I look at my guitar tuner,” remembers Vos), but the Dead Horses moniker the pair created as a tribute to a friend who’d over-dosed from heroin stuck even after their departure.
American Songwriter called Vos “a compelling vocalist…who carries every tune with her husky, deeply emotional tone that feels lived in and real,” while No Depression hailed her songwriting as “beautiful and fresh.” With a fleshed out touring lineup, the group logged countless miles, sharing bills along the way with Trampled by Turtles, Mandolin Orange, Rhiannon Giddens and Elephant Revival in addition to making festival appearances from Bristol Rhythm and Roots to WinterWonderGrass.
We were lucky enough to welcome them live on stage at Big Top Chautauqua. In this episode of Tent Show Radio you'll hear the show given by Dead Horses when they came to the Big Blue Tent in 2017.
Michael Perry is a New York Times bestselling author, humorist and radio show host from New Auburn, Wisconsin.
Perry’s bestselling memoirs include Population 485, Truck: A Love Story, Coop, and Visiting Tom, and his latest, Montaigne in Barn Boots: An Amateur Ambles Through Philosophy. His first book for young readers, The Scavengers, was published in 2014 and first novel for adult readers, The Jesus Cow, was published in May of 2015.
Raised on a small Midwestern dairy farm, Perry put himself through nursing school while working on a ranch in Wyoming, then wandered into writing. He lives with his wife and two daughters in rural Wisconsin, where he serves on the local volunteer fire and rescue service and is an intermittent pig farmer. He hosts the nationally-syndicated “Tent Show Radio,” performs widely as a humorist, and tours with his band the Long Beds (currently recording their third album for Amble Down Records). He has recorded three live humor albums including Never Stand Behind A Sneezing Cow and The Clodhopper Monologues.
Learn more about Michael and where to get his publications at www.sneezingcow.com.
Follow Michael Perry