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From Oakland basements to California festival: feeble little horse set to play Coachella

Three white men and a woman pose shoulder to shoulder for a portrait on an Oakland street.
Nick Miller
feeble little horse
From left to right: Jake, Lydia, Ryan, Sebastian. feeble little horse didn't start with crazy ambition, and yet listenership continues to grow.

Through mutual friends and SoundCloud, four Pittsburgh college students found themselves in a band known as feeble little horse playing local house shows.

Almost three years later, with significantly less time to rehearse and write songs together, the band is now making its way to bigger stages. Later this month, feeble little horse is scheduled to play Coachella.

A product of phones

Prior to its rise in popularity, the band got its start in Oakland. Pitt students Ryan Walchonski and Sebastian Kinsler began making music together in early 2021. Shortly after, the two guitarists were joined by drummer Jake Kelley — Walchonski’s roommate at the time. Together they released their first EP.

Eventually they met their lead vocalist, Lydia Slocum, through a mutual friend.

Slocum, a long-term Pittsburgh resident and current MFA student at Chatham University, says initially their mutual friend made fun of both of them for each making SoundCloud music. But the platform allowed them to musically encounter each other, and ultimately paved the way for more music.

“There is an element that I often forget where it's like yes, we were introduced, but I feel like Instagram and SoundCloud played a big role,” Slocum said. “Without those two apps, like, we probably wouldn't have made music.”

From there, the group produced the track “Dog Song” together. According to Kelley, Slocum was initially supposed to just be a featured artist on the band’s next project.

“It went so well that we were like ‘Lydia should just be in the band,’ and so we've been playing together ever since,” Kelley said.

Slocum described the forming of the group as a “product of the phones.”

The group has since released two more EPs and accumulated over 300,000 monthly listeners on Spotify.

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Thirsty DIY days

In the early days, the band played many DIY house shows in Oakland basements. Kelley said playing live shows was formative.

“Playing basement shows was fun because I went to one awesome house show my freshman year. And when I went to it, I had a blast there,” Kelley said. “I was like, I really want to play in a band that, you know, writes original music and people actually enjoy it. And I found that with these dudes, which is cool.”

Slocum noted that they didn’t necessarily plan to start playing DIY shows.

“I feel like we just take the opportunities that come at us — it wasn't really planned,” Slocum said. “Personally. I wasn't like, ‘oh, I really want to play basement shows.’ It's just, like, what happened? And I never thought I'd play Coachella. It just kind of happened.”

As an avid member of the Oakland music scene and podcast director at Pitt’s student run-radio WPTS, Zack Rodick has observed the band and the DIY scene change with time.

Rodick, a junior at Pitt, said he’s been a big fan of the band since first seeing them perform at a show at the now-closed Rothko House.

“To me, what really got me hooked onto them was the sound that their guitars had. Like they sounded alien, like otherworldly, like radio signals from a distant planet or something,” Rodick said. “From that point on, I tried to attend every feeble little horse show I could.”

Moving away from house shows packed with sweaty college students, the band eventually started to book professional venues both in Pittsburgh and out of state. It was at one particular show that they met their current artist manager.

Dawood Nadurath saw feeble little horse’s performance at a venue in Bushwick called the Living Gallery and said he was instantly drawn to the band. He said seeing the lively community of young fans at the show was a sign of their potential.

“There were people who had driven from other places to come and see them at this pretty rundown venue in New York,” Nadurath said. “So I think from that moment I just kind of knew, like, there was something special and magnetic about the band and the performances.”

When he saw the band’s set, Nadurath was working with the record label Saddle Creek. He helped the band get signed to the label in 2022.

Nadurath eventually left the company and took up the role of feeble little horse’s artist manager. Now he mediates between the band and their label.

“I remember Ryan [Walchonski] telling me whenever he initially asked me to be their manager, he was like, ‘I'm thinking about my email more than I'm thinking about writing music. And I don't like that. I want to be able to just remember why I enjoy doing it,’” Nadurath said. “So ultimately, my hope is that Ryan never has to email again and they can continue making music with the support of myself and the other people on my team.”

Nadurath said seeing the community and environment that the band fosters at their performances, both in Pittsburgh and elsewhere, makes him hopeful for younger generations of musicians — especially independent artists.

“I think it's just given me a lot of hope that there's still really interesting music and an audience for people to latch onto it. Watching them kind of like grow every day, kind of beyond any of our beliefs, has been very inspiring,” Nadurath said.

Nick Miller
feeble little horse

Rodick shared a similar sentiment, characterizing the atmosphere of the music scene in Oakland and feeble little horse’s performances as “gripping and intense.” The band’s show at another former DIY venue called The Deli last April especially stuck out to him.

“I like to judge the popularity of a band by how humid it is in the basement when they're playing, and I was mad dehydrated afterwards,” Rodick said. “It was super hot [and] humid. Everybody was dripping with sweat, but it's like I didn't even care when I was in it.”

While the nature of the DIY scene is such that venues often come and go, Rodick said he hopes the Oakland community will continue to create spaces for artists to grow and audiences to enjoy great music.

“I don't think the scene is nothing without feeble little horse. And I don't think feeble little horse is nothing without the scene,” Rodick said. “I think they both mutually reinforce each other for this bigger goal of getting good music out there and allowing people to have the space to express themselves and be appreciated for that.”  

While the band didn’t necessarily plan to play so many basement shows, Kelley is grateful for the community that the Oakland music scene has provided.

“Everybody's super supportive and seems to like our music, and I'm just really happy to be part of a scene where I'm friends with a lot of the bands whose music I listen to often, like that's not something everybody gets to experience, so I'm very happy about that,” Kelley said. “I love the Pittsburgh scene.”

An unplanned hiatus, interrupted

The band’s upcoming Coachella performance comes after a several month hiatus and canceled tour this past summer. In June of 2023, the band canceled their sold-out U.S. tour for personal reasons and ended their unanticipated break with their Coachella announcement.

“We were kind of in the midst of taking a long break of shows and kind of evaluating the level of involvement that the band should take up in everybody's lives,” Nadurath said. “And we were having honest and frequent conversations about their relationship to music and their relationship to one another.”

Despite the setbacks, Nadurath said they weren’t going to miss out on booking one of the bigger music festivals in the country.

“The Coachella play date was somewhat of a turning point for us,” Nadurath said. “We decided his thing is going to continue getting bigger, whether or not we are actively watering it. And so we should figure out how to maintain it in a way that we can enjoy ourselves.”

These days, Walchonski lives in Washington D.C., Kelley has limited vacation days at his full time job as an accountant and Kinsler and Slocum are still in school studying chemistry and fine art, respectively. So the long term future of the band is not set in stone, and it’s unclear if feeble little horses will make any more basement show appearances.

Slocum says they’d need a really big basement for that.

For now, the group eagerly awaits their performances at Coachella on April 14 and April 21.

Betül Tuncer is a senior undergraduate student at the University of Pittsburgh double majoring in Media and Professional Communications and Legal Studies and pursuing a Digital Media certificate and a Museum Studies minor.