“Well, at first the band were simply called Horsepower, but a lot of people thought that was something to do with heroin. That really pissed me off, so I decided to put something in front of it to distract them. “I got ’16’ from a traditional American folk song, where a man is singing about his dead wife and 16 black horses are pulling her casket up to the cemetery. I liked the image of 16 working horses.”
– David Eugene Edwards (NME, 1996)
16 Horsepower originated out of the “Denver scene” around 1992. Edwards teamed up with bassist Keven Soll and drummer Jean-Yves Tola (yeah he is French), and the trio soon discovered a common love for country music, traditional music (from all corners of the world), and the darker bands of the ’80s, like Joy Division, the Gun Club, and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds.
They toured extensively the first years, sometimes as opening act for bands like Morphine, Los Lobos and the Violent Femmes.
Edwards said at the time that he regularly checked out Library of Congress records, old Appalachian music, and that he just listen to it for hours and hours. He expressed his for love Irish and Cajun music too, and how he saw it as all interconnected. All this seeped into Sackcloth ‘n’ Ashes.
When Edwards was writing about early America, he was referring to the darkest aspects of USA’s past: the slavery, the war with native americans and the rape of a fertile land. He’s also thinking of the moral decline and violence of the Wild West that found sinners having to answer to a form of justice much higher than that of Man’s. He writes about a young and more primitive country, he write about the punishments for wrong-doing that were much more severe and eagerly executed than today. The word of God was also the word of the state and the executioner. Edwards and the songs he wrote with Sixteen Horsepower existed in that world.
16 Horsepower – Haw (official video):
“The music of the church was the most important thing to me , that’s where I learned the doctrine, where it came to me. That was how I was spoken to.”
– Edward Eugene Edwards (grandson of a Nazarene minister)
Recorded at Ardent Studios, Memphis, Tennessee, USA.
Produced by Warren Bruleigh.
David Eugene Edwards: vocals, guitars, banjo, bandoneon and lap steel
Keven Soll: stand up bass, flat top acoustic bass, cello and additional vocals
Jean-Yves Tola: drums and additional vocals
Gordon Gano: fiddle
“Driven by off-kilter fiddles, a bizarre sense of humor, and punk-inflected country-rock, 16 Horsepower’s first full-length album, Sackcloth ‘n’ Ashes, is a weirdly captivating listen. Nearly every song is a strange, backwoods fable, delivered with clever irony that never undercuts the essential, disturbing intentions of the songs. It’s not for everybody, but for alt-country fans tired of Gram Parsons homages, Sackcloth ‘n’ Ashes is a welcome listen.”
– Stephen Thomas Erlewine (Allmusic)
16 Horsepower – Black Soul Choir (Official video, made by the Brothers Quay):
“…we went to London, where the Brothers Quay live, it was… we got along so well. They’re pretty eccentric, they’re twin brothers you know. They like the same things that we like: they like old things , things that look old, things that smell old. Their house is incredible, there’s not an inch of space that isn’t covered with something that grabs your attention, something you want to look at…it’s like a museum. We collaborated on an idea for the video and it turned out really good. I mean, I like it a lot. Not too many people see it, not that many people play it.”
– David Eugene Edwards (Video Vision)
16 Horsepower – Sackcloth ‘n’ Ashes (Spotify):