Portland singer-songwriter Tall Horse finds his voice, grows into it

Tall Horse live at Bayside hi resMost of the time, the biggest obstacle to a person being a writing and performing musician is not lack of access to resources, be it a venue, a recording studio or bandmates to depend on. It’s often you getting in the way of your own self; doubting your ability to write a song or play a show, losing motivation after one bad gig, being way too self-critical, trying to be one thing when you really want to be another.

Tall Horse, the indie-folk project of Portland singer-songwriter Nick Poulin with bandmates Dustin Saucier, Dominic Grosso and Devin Ivy, was a long time coming. Poulin didn’t think he was good enough, or sounded enough like other singers, or some combination thereof. Despite growing up in Casco in a house where music was always on the stereo, he never really tried his hand at performing his own music. Until three years ago, that is.

“I would sit down at the piano and play songs by ear. I grew up singing in choirs and musicals, but never thought I was very good. I spent most of my life trying to sound like a traditional singer,” said Poulin, who turns 30 next week. “It wasn’t until I took approximately two years and wrote and recorded songs and worked on my voice that I came into myself as a musician. The major issue, I discovered, is that I wasn’t being true to the voice I was given.”
tall horseThat voice is what makes the handful of Tall Horse recordings out there sound so distinctive; Poulin’s wounded tenor anchors the songs. Since forming in May 2013, Tall Horse has quickly become a part of the Portland scene. His heartfelt lyrics and spare, ghostly style of playing puts him in good company with his bandmates; Grosso plays with the emotive Portland rockers Forget Forget, Devin Ivy plays in the spooky Portland alt-folk group Lisa/Liza, and Dustin Saucier and the Sad Bastards are regularly seen playing their brand of confessional folk-pop in venues around town.
“I’m primarily this raw, unfiltered emotion, and they add so much to each song,” said Poulin. “I’m constantly influenced by fellow musicians, artists, actors, writers, and filmmakers in this city.  I find it hard to believe I’ll ever live anywhere else.”

 

He speaks from experience. Poulin spent the better part of a decade working in film and TV, studying film at Emerson College in Boston and living in Los Angeles for a few years, before moving back to Portland and working as an editor at Channel 13. He still works in film and photography today, freelancing as a photographer for area businesses.

It wasn’t until Poulin was around 27 that he began to explore his voice, write songs and focus on his guitar playing, too. He found it was writers, not musicians, that were inspiring him.

“Most of my influences are actually authors, not musicians, but I have to say music-wise Okay, and any project by Will Oldham have been moderate influences,” said Poulin. “Charles Bukowski, Sam Pink, Knut Hamson, Celine, others have heavily influenced my lyrics. While I don’t tend to write a lot of words, I hope for the lyrics to be one of the most important elements of Tall Horse songs.”

Poulin plans to enter the studio next month to begin recording a proper Tall Horse EP, which he expects to be released this summer. The band is next set to play with Ginlab and Contrapposto on Saturday, Feb. 22 at Empire in Portland. To listen to some of Tall Horse’s songs, visit either their Soundcloud page or Bandcamp page.

Emily Burnham

About Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native, a UMaine graduate, a proud Bangorian and an arts and lifestyle writer for the Bangor Daily News, where she's worked since 2004. She reports on everything from local bands to local food, from media and the Internet to theater and dance. In her quest for stories, she's seen countless concerts and plays, been lobster fishing, interviewed celebrities, hung out with water buffalo and played in a ukulele orchestra, to name just a few. She's interested in everything -- especially if it happens in Maine. She welcomes any and all feedback or suggestions for stories.