Rock

Indie Supergroup Bonny Light Horseman Are Putting New Spins on Traditional Tunes: Emerging Artists Spotlight

Bonny Light Horseman
Nolan Knight

Bonny Light Horseman

Welcome to Emerging Artists Spotlight, the Billboard series where we highlight a musician or band who has recently made their debut on the Emerging Artists chart. Whether they are new to the industry, or have been around for a while but are just starting to have a chart impact, the intention is to showcase where they are here and now. This week’s pick is indie-folk supergroup Bonny Light Horseman, who debuts at No. 46 (on the chart dated Feb. 8) thanks to the release of their debut self-titled album.


Bonny Light Horseman might be fresh onto the indie scene, but its three members have been mainstays for nearly two decades.

Anaïs Mitchell has notched three solo albums on Billboard’s Americana/Folk Albums chart, and won a Grammy and a Tony Award for Hadestown, which she created; Josh Kaufman has produced albums and composed, arranged and written music for The Hold Steady, Bob Weir, The War On Drugs and The National; and Eric D. Johnson has landed three albums on Billboard’s Heatseekers Albums chart as leader of the Fruit Bats.

The indie folk trio struck up a collaboration in 2018 at Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner’s Eaux Claire festival with 37d03d events. Under their new moniker, Bonny Light Horseman, the trio puts a new spin on traditional folk songs from the British Isles.

Each member brings their own distinctive strength to the table -- Mitchell and Johnson trade off on vocals and occasionally harmonize, while Kaufman produced the entire album.

One of the set’s standout songs, “Jane Jane,” features a classic call-and-response refrain between Mitchell and Johnson. “I became enamored by the song from a version by the obscure American folk singer Tia Blake,” Johnson tells Billboard. “This is a bit based on that version, which is a mashup of a couple of different traditional songs. It's a little jaunty, a little Christmas-y, and somehow through our little ringer we made it a little poppy, I think. I love singing duets with Anaïs.”

Bonny Light Horseman (released via Vernon and Dessner’s 37d03d Records) debuts at No. 92 on the Top Album Sales chart and No. 63 on Top Current Albums with 1,000 copies sold, according to Nielsen Music/MRC Data.

Learn more about Bonny Light Horseman below:

Members: Anaïs Mitchell, Josh Kaufman, Eric D. Johnson,

Ages: 38 (Anaïs), 41 (Josh), 43 (Eric)

Hometowns: Brooklyn, NY via Vermont (Anaïs), Stony Brook, NY & Paterson, NJ (Josh), Los Angeles via Portland via Chicago (Eric)

Recommended Bonny Light Horseman song: “10,000 Miles” (Anaïs), “The Roving” (Josh), “Jane Jane” (Eric)

Anaïs: “We recorded [“10,000 Miles”] in the middle of the night in Woodstock, N.Y., it was kind of an afterthought, one of the last songs we worked on. I loved singing my heart out with Eric on this duet, and the passion of the statement ‘the seas they will burn, the sun it will dry the ocean up, if I never return.’”

Josh: “I love that [“The Roving”] came into focus at the last minute of recording, that it speaks on a multi-generational/millennial level lyrically and that Anaïs’ vocal sends me to another place every time I hear it. Also! I love singing the chorus with Eric and playing that little counter guitar line. Feels like an all timer. Thanks music!”

Outside of the music:

Anaïs: “I have a six-year-old daughter and we’re getting ready to have another little baby at the end of March! So that’s been on my mind a lot, thinking about making that shift again to being a full-time mom for a bit, and that really special strange reality of having two people sharing one body for a while.”

Josh: “Pretty much looking to focus on my family and be present with them when I’m not working/creating music.”

Eric: “Slow bopping around my neighborhood, being deliberate and quiet, the occasional foray into nature, smelling the ocean."

What’s next:

Anaïs: Well, see above ;). Also, my Broadway show Hadestown is launching a national tour in the fall, and I’m finishing a book about the evolution of the lyrics of that show. So that’ll all be coming up this year! Excited to make more music too, both alone and with Bonny Light Horseman.

Josh: “I work a lot as a record producer and have a lot of those projects scheduled for the next year. I love being in the studio with all of the possibilities around and the light pouring all over the sweet yellow brick road.”

Eric: “Writing then subsequently recording the next Fruit Bats record, more shows for that band and Bonny Light Horseman, and whatever other fun projects rotate my way.”


Past Emerging Artists Spotlights: AJJ | Sleep On It | (Sandy) Alex G | Knocked Loose | Charly Bliss | Tank and the Bangas | Bear's Den | J.S. Ondara | Delain | Mabel | Kiana Lede | I Am They | Temples | Aurora