by Len Lear
One does not normally think of Craigslist as a place to put together a terrific audience-pleasing band, but that’s exactly how Black Horse Motel, which includes two Chestnut Hill area musicians who “killed” the audience on Aug. 14 at the 54th annual Philadelphia Folk Festival in Schwenksville, Montgomery County, was formed. (The festival is put on by the Philadelphia Folksong Society, which has been based at 7113 Emlen St. in West Mt. Airy for many years.)
The band, which plays infectious tunes with clever lyrics, tight harmonies and impressive musicianship, consists of David Richardson, Megan Manning, Desiree Haney, Galen Fitzpatrick of Roxborough and Ryann Lynch of West Mt. Airy. When asked the members’ ages, we were told, “We are mid-20s to mid-30s, and that’s all we’re saying!”
Ryann, originally from South Jersey, went to Drexel for a Bachelors in music technology, often rode her bike through the Wissahickon trails a bunch, “and I was hooked. I love the Germantown, Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill area. That was back in 2003 and I’ve lived in West Mount Airy ever since.”
Galen, who grew up in Morrisville, Bucks County, has been living in Roxborough for about three years. “My wife and I fell in love with the neighborhood,” he said, after an afternoon spent looking around. “It is hilly but homey.”
The band was born in New Jersey out of the 2008 break-up of Megan’s former band. New players were found through Craigslist, and the band eventually moved into the folk rock genre and called themselves Black Horse Motel. David and Desiree joined in 2010, also via Craigslist. Desiree auditioned as a keyboard player, only mentioning in passing that she had begun to teach herself cello.
After their original lead singer left the band abruptly in 2011, rendering a recently recorded, yet unreleased EP defunct, David stepped up to the mic as the lead singer. Two more members, Josh Cradic and Johnell Lawrence, joined and helped record the band’s first album, 2013’s “Red Summer Spirit,” and played many shows in the Philadelphia area. Josh and Johnell both left the band in 2013.
Galen and Ryann joined in 2013, through — surprise, surprise — Craigslist! “Galen and Ryann breathed some much needed new life into the band, and we have been writing new songs and playing more and better shows ever since!”
Where on earth did the name Black Horse Motel come from? The old Black Horse Motel used to sit at the intersection of the Black Horse Pike and Lower Landing Rd in Gloucester Township, NJ. Megan grew up in the area. and the band practiced there as well. The motel building burned down in the ‘90s, but the huge black and neon sign was undamaged and remained standing in the vacant lot until 2011. “We passed this sign every time we traveled to rehearsal from Philly,” said Megan, “and it kind of seeped into our consciousness. When the name for the band was suggested, it was an almost instant, unanimous yes.”
Galen, of Roxborough, is a self-taught musician and a special education teacher by day. Ryann, of West Mt. Airy, took some lessons here and there but learned mostly by listening to CDs and participating in Jams. She is a board certified music therapist with a master’s degree from Drexel’s Creative Arts in Therapy program. She works a 40-hour work week, primarily using guitar and piano, specializing in Alzheimer’s and dementia care at Waverly Heights, a retirement community in Gladwyne.
The band writes all of their own music. Dave and Galen write most of the demos initially, and then the entire band arranges and orchestrates from there. Some of the other musicians and bands that group members most admire include The Who, Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac, David Bowie, John Prine, Def Leppard (Rick Allen continuing to and re-learning how to play drums after losing an arm deserves the utmost admiration), etc.
According to Galen, “Musically, I grew up in classic rock from my dad and R&B and soul from my mom. I dug into ‘80s hair rock and ‘90s grunge and indie on my own. I’m not afraid of pop or dance music when it’s good. I’m discovering more folk and alt-country from playing in this band … If I like it, I listen to it. If I don’t, I don’t. I’m not concerned with what I ‘should’ be listening to.”
What was their favorite gig of all time? Galen: “It may be corny, but I really cherish my first gig with Black Horse Motel. Penn State, anxiety, it was pretty great.” Ryann: “I haven’t had that gig yet. The entire ride makes my life worth living.”
If they could meet and have a conversation with anyone on earth, who would it be? Galen: “If I could get Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Gillian Welch and Terry Pratchett to all somehow be the same person, I’d love to get an ice-cream and discuss Sudoku strategy.” Ryann: “David Attenborough: I really just want to hear his voice in person. I’m a nature fanatic and have almost every nature documentary he has ever narrated. I’m not kidding.”
The ultimate goal of Black Horse Motel is to 1.) Quit day jobs. 2.) Go on tour. 3.) Make a new record. 4.) Repeat steps 2 and 3.
The band has three gigs coming up soon in Philly: Sept. 18 at Bourbon & Branch, 705 N. 2nd St.; Oct. 10 at Kung Fu Necktie, 1250 N. Front St,, and Nov. 13 at Boot & Saddle, 1131 S. Broad St.
For more information, visit blackhorsemotel.net.