Oregon trio The Hackles open up about their achingly raw and breathtakingly warm third LP ‘What a beautiful thing I have made,’ an intimate indie folk album rooted in connection, identity, purpose, and place.
for fans of The Head and The Heart, Blind Pilot, Iron & Wine
Stream: “James’ drink” – The Hackles
I’d hold my breath for things to change, but I’m already blue…
The past few years have seen us, as a society, undergo a collective reckoning.
Forced into a state of isolation and disconnected from the rhythm and flow of our daily routines, we woke up. We reflected on who, and what, was important to us; we re-centered and re-balanced ourselves; we redistributed our time, and refocused our energies and attention on that which mattered most.
When the world opened back up again, some folks were eager to get back to their old ways, and they did: They reassumed life as it once was, forgetting or disregarding the adjustments they had once made, and putting the past in the past. Others sought to hold onto their refreshed perspectives, and to find ways of integrating their changed mindsets into our reopened reality – embracing the “new normal” as their forever after.
Maintaining this shift in outlook isn’t easy, especially when our days are busy, bustling, and filled with distraction, but The Hackles’ third album is a resounding reminder of those changes we once made, and why we made them. An intimate indie folk album rooted in connection, identity, purpose, and place, What a beautiful thing I have made is achingly raw and breathtakingly alive: The Oregon group’s radiant, resonant music provides a captivating backdrop for life’s deeper questions and considerations, compelling us to step back out of our everyday and once again dive deep into ourselves, our worlds, and the things that make our lives worth living.
could you tell it was the last one
our eyes adrift and swaying inches distant
i left your sweater in the kick drum
the night has left us all just swimming in it
i want to sing into your faces
and see you dancing in the dim dim light
i want to freeze us in our places
and stay forever in the last good night
– “James’ drink,” The Hackles
Released April 7, 2023 via Jealous Butcher Records, What a beautiful thing I have made is a gentle giant of mindfulness and emotional expression. The Hackles’ third studio album is the best possible product of the pandemic, doubling down on values like human connection, presence, and togetherness – all while building upon (and expanding) the warm, Americana-laced folk that has made the Astoria, Oregon-based band a favorite of ours for so many years.
Atwood Magazine had the honor of premiering The Hackles’ sophomore album, A Dobritch Did As a Dobritch Should, in 2019. At the time, we praised the then-duo of Kati Claborn and Luke Ydstie (both of Blind Pilot) for finding their voice in a mesmerizingly rich sea of indie folk sound: “Built off wonder, reflection, strain, and curiosity, A Dobritch Did As A Dobritch Should is a mature reckoning with life’s innumerable tides,” we wrote in our feature. “The Hackles maintain their folk essence while charging ahead into exciting new terrain that makes their music all the more intimate, and all the more intense.”
The same praise applies to What a beautiful thing I have made, which sees former Hackles guest instrumentalist Halli Anderson (of River Whyless and Horse Feathers) joining Claborn and Ydstie’s project as a full-time band member – an event that itself had a transformational impact on the group’s music, their lyrics, and of course, their identity.
“A major difference (the major difference?) between Dobritch and What a beautiful thing is that Halli is now fully a member of the band and brought songs and her arrangement and production aesthetics to the recording process,” Kati Claborn tells Atwood Magazine. “I also think Dan Hunt’s drumming shaped a lot of the songs on this record. Thematically, What a beautiful thing is more internal, personal struggles, less big-picture ideas. Since it was recorded during lockdown, we had less contributions from friends than we did on Dobritch, with the notable exceptions of horns from Dave Jorgenson, Bart Budwig, and Justin Ringle, and vibes from Ian Krist. We did have some drummer crossover on a couple songs with Olaf Ydstie and Cooper Trail.”
In addition to Anderson’s elevated presence in the overall creative process, the biggest indisputable influence on The Hackles’ new music was the COVID-19 pandemic, and the many lessons learned from that unforgettable, undeniable period in our lives.
Rather than sweep everything under the rug, the folk trio took a microscope to their emotions and experiences, picking them apart piece by piece for further examination.
“Unfortunately, the story behind this record is largely a pandemic one,” Claborn says. “The pandemic started, Luke and my elementary-aged daughter was home from school, and my dad, who was a huge part of our lives and lived a couple minutes away, was diagnosed with brain cancer and passed away. Trying to find the mental and physical space to create something was really a struggle. We tried recording some demos at home and at my dad’s house, but the process really started moving forward when we got our friends Dan Hunt and Adam Selzer out to Astoria to record some drums in our local studio, The Rope Room. We recorded most everything else at our house (Halli lives a block away) over the next year or so. Since the future of live music felt very uncertain, we didn’t feel any rush to finish the album quickly to get out and tour on it, which led to a lot of experimentation and reworking of the songs.”
“Our initial vision for this record was that it was going to be stripped-down and tone-focused. When we ended up recording it from home in the situation described above, it ended up a much more dense, textural record. I think this record captures how the three of us each bring a unique musical identity and also really care about serving each other’s songs.”
The album title itself is pulled from the track of the same name, whose evocative lyrics tell a fictional story of a farmer and a traveling musician engaged in an existential discussion about life and our individual, lasting or temporary impacts – ultimately deciding to skew their perspectives “until it seems like you made all the right decisions after all”:
Make a pile of the weeds, make a pile of the stones
I am building a home for my heavenly bones
It’s all lumber and rust, should-have-dones, it’s a bust
But I do see my hand in every reach of this land
What’s the state of me now? Am I digging in the rain
For the glory of mud or glory of the pain?
Every green blade of grass knows just from whence it came
What a beautiful thing I have made
Put myself down when I go lame
Well there’s need and a will, and the door is open still
We’ll get a ride into town, make our peace, make the rounds
– “What a beautiful thing I have made,” The Hackles
“Probably doomed to be perceived as an over-the-top self congratulation (but not meant that way!), the title is snagged from lyrics found on the album,” Luke Ydstie explains. “The protagonist of the song ‘What a beautiful thing I have made’ is getting hung up on the futility of life’s work given the impermanence of what’s accomplished – weeds regrow, fences sag, buildings rot, etc. In an attempt to shore up the comforting idea of having a purpose, they decide that there’s inherent importance and beauty in the doing of something they love, regardless of longevity or impact. That sentiment felt relatable to the process of making a record, and also the title pairs well with the illustration of a garbage pile on the cover, which summons its own rich vein of questions and connotations.”
The title track’s harmony-rich musical warmth and contemplative wonder make it an instant standout off What a beautiful thing I have made, but The Hackles’ new record is packed with heartfelt highlights and memorable moments. Album opener “Damn the word” sets the tone for the record from a musical and lyrical perspective, finding Claborn in the midst of her own inner reckoning, her visceral voice supported by a vivid, charming banjo and later one, a churning and reverb-drenched electric guitar. Tracks like “Hum with the worms” and “Birdcage” see the band crafting colorful worlds of enchantment and intimacy, whilst the impassioned “James’ drink” is a cathartic, smoldering, and sweetly soothing indulgence.
did we end up at the chart room
or did we end up somewhere else
my blood is honey on a worm moon
my body lives outside itself
i want to sing into your faces
and see you dancing in the dim dim light
i want to freeze us in our places
and stay forever in the last good night
i know we’re all a single being
united when we move and breathe and think
so i can feel what you’re feeling
and i can take a sip of Jame’s drink
– “James’ drink,” The Hackles
Each band member has their own favorite songs and lyrics as well. “There is a singular percussive hit (in the background at 3:49) in ‘Angela’ that, for some unknown reason, excites me every time,” Halli Anderson smiles, citing the line “Put myself down when I go lame” from “What a beautiful thing I have made” as her lyrical highlight. “I like this vernacular for the measurement of worth,” she says.
“I love the transition from the unhinged violin outro on ‘Steve’ into the beginning of ‘Alligators,'” Kati Claborn says, throwing in the lyric “Don’t go out out when your will is off its chain” from “Water for your bedside” as her favorite line.
Meanwhile, Luke Ydstie is “very into the wiggly instrumental break that happens after the initial verses in ‘hum with the worms.’ The clarinet puts it right over the top.” His favorite lyric comes from the song “Angela” – “Laid down underneath a sky of fiberglass.” “I love the way it sounds and the juxtaposition of the vastness of sky and the itchy claustrophobia of bare insulation in an attic,” he reflects, adding one more extra favorite (“obviously a perfect lyric,” he laughs) for good measure: “Threw all my good intentions under the bus” from “Steve.”
Damn the word never once spoke
Drew the line between you & me
Pity the heart never once broke
Walking around like a Christmas tree
Just waiting to die like a Christmas tree
Wring my hands & tow the line
Just one more beer
In all my dreams you walk away
And leave me here
Leave me here
There’s a lot to love in What a beautiful thing I have made.
Golden and glistening, The Hackles’ third album is a tender indie folk seduction. Whether the Oregon trio intended to or not, they leave listeners in a state of comfort, catharsis, and introspective wonder. What are our priorities in this world? What kind of lives do we intend to lead, and how are we faring on those intentions? Are we the people we want to be? Are we living the lives we want to live? It’s deep stuff, but it’s well worth the time – especially when that journey is soundtracked by music as beautiful, as bold, and as wondrous as this.
“We would love if some people map this record onto their own lives, make them feel some feelings,” Ydstie and Claborn share. “Honestly, at this point, we’re really looking forward to recording a live album next, with lots of friends around.”
Experience the full record via our below stream, and peek inside The Hackles’ What a beautiful thing I have made with Atwood Magazine as the band goes track-by-track through the music and lyrics of their sophomore LP!
Stream: ‘What a beautiful thing I have made’ – The Hackles
:: Inside What a beautiful thing I have made ::
“Damn the word”
I have a recurring nightmare about being misunderstood by people I love, and the feeling it leaves me with is what I tried to communicate in this song. I have a really hard time articulating this feeling, possibly because it’s born of mistrusting your own thoughts and words. ~ Kati
“Hum with the worms”
I’ve built a handful of interconnected tree forts and platforms in our side yard- ostensibly for our daughter, but mostly because I’ve always liked building forts. I’m trying to come to grips with the fact that all the things I build will eventually fall apart and succumb to the blackberries and ivy, and that I’ll go through my own version of that too. On the opposing side, I often wonder why I give my projects such importance that I feel ok cutting down the Things growing where I want to build. The verses wander through some self doubt, but the chorus becomes resolute and embraces the idea of decomposition. ~ Luke
This is a song for the Voodoo Room, a beloved Astorian institution and living room for our local music community. On March 14, 2020 we played a show there. It was a typical night at the Voodoo, too many people packed onto the tiny stage and a roomful of good friends; that was the last time we would play there. In the ensuing months and years, that night and that bar became a symbol of the warmth and closeness that we missed. The Voodoo is no longer – the building has changed hands, and the space is transforming into the next version of itself, but for a while, for us, it was the heartbeat of Astoria and is sorely missed. Viva la Voodoo! ~ Luke
“Angela” is a Desdemona Sands cover; a project that Halli and I have with our friend and neighbor, the wonderful singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist, Gabrielle Macrae. It was written in a tin can in a rain storm, and is a song about small moments with big consequences, and being forced to reshape the stories we tell ourselves about who we are, and where we come from. ~ Kati
Here is an excerpt from an article that ran in The Daily Astorian the first week that I moved to town: “A 19-year-old Astoria man was arrested early Tuesday morning on multiple charges after allegedly shooting a deer within the city limits. Officers found a Nissan truck with a dead buck in the bed of the truck . . . . it was later determined that [he] shot the deer, gutted it and loaded it into his vehicle. Officers noted that the backdrop for the gunshot was the nearby Bayshore Apartments, and that [the man] appeared to be intoxicated. ‘Fortunately, except for the deer, no one else was harmed . . . ‘ – said Astoria Deputy Police Chief Eric Halverson.” ~ Halli
“Pictures of Elvis”
When I wrote this it had been raining hard for a very long time. Living in this damp corner of Oregon where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean, it was really easy to imagine the water creeping higher and higher and consuming everything (on a quicker scale than is currently happening, I guess). “The boys” are a stand-in for people who could do something but don’t, and the song contains references to two separate literary fantasy worlds. Nixon and Elvis resided photographically in the employee restroom of a cafe in Astoria I really loved, and the general tone of resignation reflects my feeling that in an apocalyptic scenario, I would not be one of the survivors. I think the clarinet and violin parts do a commendable job expressing the beauty inherent in humankind even when in a self-destructive spiral. ~ Luke
“Water for your bedside”
Some of the heaviest, most immense stars often burn themselves out of nuclear fuel, collapse from the core, and then explode. What follows is the death throes of becoming a black hole; the veritable point of no return. Some stars are destined for this outcome from birth. This song is about the curious beauty of watching a loved one go into a spiral of emotional recklessness. ~ Halli
“What a beautiful thing I have made”
A fictional self who works on a farm lightly disparages another fictional self who is a traveling musician, then the farm-self questions their own choices, and then they go to a bar together and agree that rather than living with regret, one should skew one’s perspective until it seems like you made all the right decisions after all. ~ Luke
I was reading Terry Prachett’s Discworld books and came across the line, “It makes no sense at all, and if it does, I don’t like it.” The line immediately resonated with me in the way it beautifully elucidates my feelings as to the things people are capable of in positions of power. I wrote the line down & it led me to “Steve”, a song that delves into one character’s slide into such a place. ~ Kati
This one crawled out from the bottom of the chaos hole of pandemic home-schooling, inspired by the immortal literary work “No Fighting, No Biting” by Else Holmelund Minarik (illus. Maurice Sendak). The form is based on the familiar concept of endless repetition with escalating tension and discontent. “Shimmies” is a highly local colloquialism used to describe a pair of pink pajama bottoms I had at the time. ~ Luke
“First time for everything”
In times of great need, the monks of the Temple of Raagini descend from their mountain home to remind us that the most important time to seek hope is when it’s the hardest to find. Luke and I recorded the guitars and vocals in my dad’s house after he had passed away. He was our biggest fan, and it felt like a good way to honor his memory. We hadn’t intended to put that version on an album, but nothing we recorded after captured the song in the right way. ~ Kati
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© Justin Ringle
:: Stream The Hackles ::