The Horde & The Harem frequents Portland, Bend and Eugene and will make its debut in Ashland on Saturday, March 2. - Photo courtesy of David Yousling

The Horde & The Harem at Caldera

Don't judge a CD by its cover, at least not "A Long Midwinter," a new album by Seattle band The Horde & The Harem. The cover, which depicts a fur coat wrapped around a bunch of flowers lying in the snow, and the CD's bleak title are based on a tragic short story, "Master and Man," by Leo Tolstoy. And while these elements suggest a grim soundtrack, the music is surprisingly cheery.

The Horde & The Harem plays chamber folk — they call it "emotional indie rock" — much like The Decemberists but with more pop, more harmonies, "a two-step feel" and "grooves you can move your body to," says principal songwriter, vocalist and guitarist Ryan Barber.

On its way to Austin, Texas, for The South by Southwest (SXSW) festival, the band will make its Ashland debut at 9 p.m. Saturday, March 2, at Caldera Tap House, 31 Water St. Cover charges are $3 to $5. Call 541-482-4677.

In Seattle, the band plays with a trumpeter and trombonist, but on the road, it's just Barber, drummer Jack Chandelier, bassist Geoff Kirkby Tatro, guitarist Noble Monyei and keyboardist Hanna Stevens.

Barber calls The Horde & The Harem his most successful band to date. He moved to Washington from San Francisco with a different band, which later dissolved. Four years ago, he formed The Horde & The Harem. (The name comes from a book about Neanderthals. Barber acknowledges that it's a hard-edged name for a band with a fairly whimsical repertoire.)

The band played the Northwest Folklife Festival, then Seattle's Capitol Hill Block Party and, later, landed a spot on the Bumbershoot roster. The Horde has since settled into its current lineup and established itself as a "must-see" in the Northwest music scene.

When The Horde rolls into town, look for the trailer with a half dozen bikes strapped to it.

"Most of us are bike commuters, and all of us bike all over the place," Barber says. "When we get to a big city with a van and trailer, it's nice to have the mobility of the bike."

If the band was acoustic, it would leave the van at home and tour by bike.

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