The Okee Dokee Brothers Head West

The Okee Dokee Brothers (Joe Mailander and Justin Lansing) love a good adventure and love even more writing songs about their life in the woods, on the water, or on the range. Their newest adventure follows them backpacking, riding, and navigating the back country of the Southwest and writing and singing about it in Saddle Up: A Western Adventure Album, out May 13. The songs are arranged to carry us from that first night in the saddle—“Saddle Up”—through the challenges and rewards of the journey—“The Great Divide,” “Hard Road to Travel,” “Lead a Horse to Water”—to the night when the horses are in their barns and the trail ride is over—“The Last Lullaby.” The Brothers weave their often humorous and downright inspirational lyrics in musical styles ranging from cowboy folk to Mexicali folk to bluegrass, and musicians from Cindy Cashdollar (“Shootin’ Star”) and John Sebastian (“Lead a Horse to Water”) lend their voices and talents to the music. As with their earlier albums, a DVD an illustrated storybook will accompany the album.
I caught up with Joe Mailander by phone just before the Brothers headed out on tour.
HC: Why did you decide to do this album now?
Joe Mailander: Well, regions really influence the music we make. We made the album Can You Canoe? where we took a thirty day canoe trip down the Mississippi from it headwaters up in Minnesota, and we wrote songs along the way; we did the same with Through the Woods, when we hiked the Appalachian Trail and wrote and recorded songs along the way. We’ve always been influenced by the sounds of the Southwest, so we wanted to head out to Colorado where we grew up. So, we headed out to the back country and spent eleven days in back country, riding horses and camping, other days we would get on a horse or mule in the Grand Canyon, reminiscing about growing up out there. It’s all about campfires on this album. We also did some standards—like “Don’t Fence Me In”—we really like and added some verses.
HC: Did you already have horses out there? Did you need to take lessons?
JM: We grew up riding and camping, but it had been a little while since we’d ridden; so, we did take some lessons, and when we went out there we worked with some back country guides, who really got us back in the saddle.
HC: Did you and Justin write while you were riding?
JM: That’s where we did a lot of our thinking. While you’re riding, you do a lot of reflecting on the journey: the metaphors of climbing a mountain with your best friend ad trying to reach a goal describe pretty well the trip we took on horseback.
HC: Tell me a little bit about your approach to songwriting.
JM: We both come up with ideas separately and maybe when they’re half done we’ll start working on them. For me, it starts with wordplay. Once we have the words, we try to find a melody that follows.
HC: Is that how you wrote the song “One Horsepower”?
JM: We have all this residual terminology from the days when horses were the main mode of transportation: like “horsepower.” I started thinking about the ways that we talk about the gears of a car and four-wheel drive, and the ways we describe the engine power of a car in terms of horsepower. So, I thought, well, a horse comes with “4-leg drive,” and “first gear is walking, second gear is a trot/lope and gallop are 3 and 4.” When you’re driving, you just put the car in gear and go, but riding a horse teaches you patience and teamwork; it’s all about establishing trust between you and your horse and working together rather than working against each other. It was a great video to shoot and a fun song to write.

HC: What are the elements of a great song?
JM: What’s so great about playing for families is that you want enough energy and hooks in a song to capture a kid’s attention, but you want to be sure to have enough ideas to engage the adults in the audience. So, the song is simple on one level, but it’s in that simplicity that you find the universal.
HC: Who are you your three greatest musical influences?
JM: John Prine, Paul Simon, Peter Seeger, and Woody Guthrie, these last two because they do such a great job of writing songs that grow out of family traditions and are simple songs with a universal appeal.
HC: When did you start playing and singing?
JM: We started playing together in high school, banjo and guitar. We played an amalgamation of styles of music: Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Flatt and Scruggs, Doc Watson; we started out playing in small coffee shops. In college, we toured across the Midwest playing in homeless shelters because we were fortunate that an organization had given us a grant to do that.
HC: How have you evolved as an artist?
JM: Like a lot of artists, I started out wanting to be a big rock star touring big arenas and auditoriums. Over the years, as we have engaged with audiences and music, we realize that our style of folk music is bringing people together and creating a sense of community, breaking down barriers between people.
HC: What’s next for you?
JM: We’d like to explore doing a winter album; we’ve done spring, summer, and fall now.
Album tracklist:
1. Saddle Up
2. Don't Fence Me In
3. Cow Cow Yippee
4. The Great Divide
5. Jackalope (with Jim Campilongo)
6. One Horsepower
7. The Legend of Tall Talkin' Sam (with Rosie Newton)
8. Hard Road to Travel
9. Shootin' Star (with Cindy Cashdollar)
10. Sister Moon and Brother Sun (with The Benally Family)
11. Good Old Times
12. Lead a Horse to Water (with John Sebastian)
13. Somos Amigos (con Carlos Medina)
14. The Grass Is Always Greener
15. Last Lullaby