West Bend is a Southeast Wisconsin town where the Milwaukee River shifts directions, angling to suddenly head West. It’s also the home of Blessed Feathers, a duo that initiated when Donivan Berube’s life similarly altered course. Hailing from Lakeland, Florida, Berube was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, teaching himself guitar and recording songs in his bedroom. He left home at 17, disassociating himself from the church and driving 36 hours from the Florida sunshine into a Wisconsin blizzard. Berube found work in a restaurant in West Bend where he met Jacquelyn Beaupre, who is now his partner in both music and life. Blessed Feathers arose from Beaupre’s solo material, which Berube produced while living on a farm in Farmington, WI in 2009. Originally he was only interested in augmenting her songwriting, bolstering the organic, folk-inspired tracks with additional instrumentation and vocal harmonies, but slowly the duo began constructing songs together, each bringing their own stylistic tendencies to the table.
The pair played their first show at a West Bend bookstore in April of 2010 at a meeting of the Fireside Books’ Poetry Club, building a reputation in the surrounding towns. Their stock of songs grew, all captured via a laptop and microphone in their bedroom. In mid-2012, however, Blessed Feathers selected their best five tracks to record with producer Kevin McMahon (Real Estate, Titus Andronicus, The Walkmen) at his studio in New Paltz, NY. The songs, which comprise the band’s debut EP, Peaceful Beasts in an Ocean of Weeds, encapsulate Berube and Beaupre’s collective experiences, aiming to capture both their emotional and geographic journeys.“I feel like these songs were birthed in Wisconsin, so what we’re recording is how we feel about our home and focused on imagery from our home,” Beaupre says. “Donivan has a few songs from Florida, from before he came up to Wisconsin. But most of the songs are little bits and pieces of our life here in Wisconsin. They’re all rooted in locale, all about places we’ve lived. We’re picking out small pieces of our own history.”
The pair contributed numerous instruments to the album, including banjo, flute, vibraphone and various percussion. But, ultimately, McMahon and the band focused on maintaining the earthy, homespun sound that Blessed Feathers has cultivated over the past few years. The EP resonates with a woodsy vibe, urging the listener into an intimate, skillfully crafted sonic space—aided in many ways by McMahon’s recording style. “He has little tricks up his sleeve,” Beaupre notes. “Because we recorded it in a barn, he took our vocals and played them back through speakers in a silo outside, rerecording the natural echoes, and that became the album recording. It’s a wonderful sound and we loved that idea.” Berube and Beaupre still work in the same restaurant where they first met, spending their time, as Berube says, “cooking dinner for strangers.” They share a seven-year-old cell phone and can only access the Internet from their local library. They are interested in capturing all their experiences, not just the ones they’ve found in West Bend. Their music is optimistic, gleaming with a sense of appreciation for the things around them and the things within them. The pair likes to say that Beaupre plays everything and Berube plays everything else, but a better way to put it is that together, they can play anything.