Folk Duo Red Tail Ring Brings 'Old-Time Minded' Sound To Modern Music

Jun 21, 2014

Michael Beauchamp and Laurel Premo are a folk music duo that make up the group Red Tail Ring.
Credit Eana Agopian

As a musician, using your talent for someone else's benefit can be both rewarding and frustrating. You can get paid to perfect your craft, but you can't control how often you perform - or who will be listening. Michael Beauchamp and Laurel Premo had both hit those walls back in 2009.

"We were both wanting to be in a band and get a little more serious - play with the same people very often, and both delve a little more into traditional music than we had been doing with our singer/songwriter stuff," says Premo, who is from the Upper Peninsula.

"I'd played music for a number of years, but all the bands were pickup bands or just for an album or just for a series of shows, and so it was hard to have musical continuity and just a rapport with someone over the long term where you grow together," says Beauchamp, a Kalamazoo native. "So I was really interested in Laurel and I playing music together for a really long time so we could learn about each other over the long haul. "

After several years of performing separately, the two University of Michigan grads decided to create a mutual sound - and started calling their duo Red Tail Ring.

Their sound is reminiscent of folk artists like Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan - folk-like, with a bit of twang and longing.The band's "old time minded" sound hearkens back to the days of using washboards, spoons and tin buckets as musical instruments - which they've incorporating into their music from time to time. 

 "To us that phrase means that we come from the perspective about knowing about traditional music, and are gathering a lot of vocabulary both musically or otherwise from it," says Premo. "We might be playing new music, but we're coming from the background of traditional stuff."

"I do play a jawharp - have you ever seen one of those? Strange metal thing that you put against your teeth and breath into - and Michael plays the spoons once in awhile."

Their album debut in 2011 was actually two separate recordings, “Middlewest Chant” and “Mountain Shout.” Middlewest Chant is filled with original music, while Mountain Shout is the band's take on ballads and other folk songs. 

“The songs come into being in a variety of different ways, but they all go through this process of arrangement - us figuring out what instruments we are going to use and who's going to lead the song and what's going to be the characteristic of the song from the standpoint of us really performing it," says Beauchamp of their work style. "Something in that process kind of makes it a Red Tail Ring song in our eyes, which is why it's so fun for us to take traditional songs and make it our own, because we put those traditional songs even though we didn't write them through the same kind of arranging process."

Their touring schedule takes them all over the country, but they still maintain a strong hometown presence with Square Dance Kalamazoo, the monthly event they helped found at Bell's Brewery. "It's come as you are, you can bring a partner or not - it's all ages," says Beauchamp.

Adds Premo, "Half the people are in their twenties. The other half are just people who love to dance and are super-fit in different generations. They can keep up."

In 2013, they released another album, "The Heart's Swift Foot," and in May they presented a collaboration with folk group Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys. "The New Roots Exchange, Vol. 1" includes joint performances, and tracks where each group performs a song written by the other.

"It was fun and easy to work with them. We recorded that EP in the middle of in the summer. We loved the studio, but it did not have AC yet," remembers Premo. 

Beauchamp agrees. ""It was fun - it was very sweaty. There was a consequence almost - a heat consequence if you didn’t get it down in like, five takes."

"So we concentrated," says Premo.

Beauchamp says he and Laurel’s checks and balances system helps to make both of them into better partners and musicians, and fuses their strengths to create a signature sound. "The music that we've come up with has been better than what we might have been able to do as solo artists, because we're constantly critiquing each other or giving each other advice or using each other as sounding boards."

Premo agrees. "I've become a lot better songwriter because of his skill and expertise in that area, and just been pushed - pushed to work  harder and reach more."