Artist to Watch: Margo Cilker Discovers Her Sense of Place on ‘Pohorylle’
Margo Cilker has long had an eagerness to get in touch and explore the world around her. This wanderlust echoes throughout the nine songs on her sparkling debut Pohorylle, from the country jazz get-up “Tehachapi” to album opener “That River,” “Flood Plain” and everything in between.
A native to the San Francisco Bay area, Cilker now resides with her partner in South Central Washington. Previously, her travels have led her to Enterprise, Ore.; Clemson, S.C. and Spain, all helping to inform and shape the sound and perspectives present throughout Pohorylle.
“I feel like I’m always living one town ahead of the press,” Cilker says to The Boot. “Ever since I began touring I’ve wanted to find a place where I could settle down with a small town community that was full of natural beauty.”
Cilker’s wanderlust was bestowed on her by her parents, who constantly took her on hikes and trips to Mexico to visit her eccentric uncle during her youth. It was in Mexico that she became amazed with how much music was ingrained in the culture there. That sense of adventure led Cilker to travel east to attend Clemson University, where she eventually went to study abroad in Spain.
While there, her musical ambitions and influences continued to grow. Cilker bumped into and eventually joined a band performing Creedence Clearwater Revival and Neil Young covers. She also became captivated by the local Basque culture of the region, which is reflected on Pohorylle in the romanticism of her songwriting and subtleties in arrangements, including the additions of horns and accordion.
“My inspiration has always come from being around nature and new places,” says Cilker. “I’m blessed to have parents that always took me to explore the woods and backcountry. My grandparents also have an amazing farm tucked into California's Trinity County that’s full of mountains with a river winding through. It’s long been one of my favorite places to go for inspiration.”
One of the songs most directly influenced by Cilker’s travels is the swinging “Tehachapi.” The track was inspired by Cilker’s cross-country expedition home to the Pacific Northwest after dropping out of school at Clemson that took her through Tehachapi, a small town just east of Bakersfield, Calif. Cilker recalls Little Feat’s “Willin’” — another song that references Tehachapi — being her anthem at the time, further contributing to her wonder as she passed through town.
“It was a very cathartic moment rolling through town,” says Cilker. “At the time I wrote the song I was rooted in one place, so a lot of its contents are me reminiscing on my travels while also exploring the contrast of being in one place compared to moving around.”
However, Cilker’s lust for exploration isn’t the only topic explored in the album. She also touches on abuse and personal injury in “Broken Arm In Oregon” and exposes the flaws in southern tropes on “Kevin Johnson.” She later reflects on the feeling of helplessness against authority, subjugation and the angst of young women in today’s world with “Brother Taxman Preacher.”
The song touches on how many of our societal structures were designed to benefit predominantly white men, from brothers (“So I could light up every room / That I ever walked through / All that matters is / What's in your head that's true”) to the taxman (“I could go from door to door / Incriminating all the unlucky and the poor”) and the preacher (“I could tell you who to love / I could tell you who to vote for / Who to pity, who to f---”)
“That song is me crafting something productive out of the dark feelings that I have,” says Cilker. “The constructive nature of music is so healing to me. Part of being a writer is going through traumatic experiences and being able to make something beautiful out of them.”
Helping to breathe even more life into all facets of the album are harmonies throughout from Margo’s sister, Sarah Cilker. Their musical bond was forged at a young age, thanks in part to their grandmother Esther, who herself was the child of a preacher, and one of his four daughters who traveled around performing in a family band.
“Whenever Esther and I are together, we always break into song,” says Cilker. “I feel like I got my musical work ethic from her. She taught me that when you have a good voice it’s important to use that God given ability you were blessed with to spread happiness and love into the world.”
Cilker has done just that with Pohorylle and will look to do the same with her highly anticipated follow up which she recently began recording in Vancouver, Wash. She’ll also bring that joy to the people on her upcoming tour dates out west with Hayes Carll and overseas in Europe this summer and fall. You can see Cilker’s upcoming itinerary below and find additional ticketing information at her official website.
Margo Cilker 2022 Tour Dates:
April 19 — The Commonwealth Room — Salt Lake City, Utah
April 20 — The Olympic Venue — Boise, Idaho*
April 21 — Tractor Tavern — Seattle, Wash.*
April 22 — Tractor Tavern — Seattle, Wash.*
April 23 — Aladdin Theater — Portland, Ore*
April 24 — Arcata Theatre Lounge — Arcata, Calif*
April 26 — Harlow's Restaurant & Nightclub — Sacramento, Calif*
April 27 — The Guild Theatre — Menlo Park, Calif*
April 28 — Great American Music Hall — San Francisco, Calif*
May 1 — Kilkenny Roots Festival — Kilkenny, IE (2 sets)
May 2 — Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival — Belfast, UK
May 3 — Ruby Sessions — Dublin, IE
May 4 —Workman’s Cellar — Dublin, IE
May 6 — Poetry Club — Glasgow, UK
May 8 — The Cluny — Newcastle, UK
May 10 — The Blue Basement — London, UK
May 12 — The Great Escape Festival — Brighton, UK
May 21 — Fisherman's Village Music Festival — Everett, Wash.
June 2 — Schellraiser Music Festival — Mcgill, Nev.
June 18 — Lost Art Music Festival — Douglasville, Ga.
July 2 — High Sierra Music Festival — Quincy, Calif.
Sept. 1 — End Of The Road Festival — Salisbury, UK
Sept. 3 — Moseley Folk Festival — Birmingham, UK
Sept. 21 — Ideal Bar — København, DK
Sept. 22 — Kulturkvarteret Kristianstad — Kristianstad, SE
Sept. 23 — Folk å Rock — Malmö, SE
Sept. 24 — Garage Bar — Höganäs, SE
Sept. 27 — Belleville, Oslo — Oslo, NO
Sept. 28 — Bar Moskus — Trondheim, NO
Sept. 29 — Captain James Cook — Östersund, SE
Sept. 30 — Kulturväven — Umeå, SE
Oct. 1 — Gasklockorna Gavle — Gävle, SE
Oct. 2 — Bryggarsalen Konferens, Event & Konsert — Stockholm, SE
* dates opening for Hayes Carll
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