The Meaning of Tyler Childers’ “Feathered Indians”

Tyler Childers at the Charleston Music Hall in April 2019. Photo by Mia Al-Taher.

Tyler Childers’ “Feathered Indians” is one of the best country songs released in the past decade, and perhaps one of the best songs overall, too. The song, and the rest of Tyler’s 2017 album Purgatory serve as reminders that country music is still kickin’, and yes, there are young people out there writing real, meaningful lyrics, and setting them to music with real instruments.

Despite only having been released in 2017, “Feathered Indians” has all the makings of a classic song, and it is likely that we’ll be hearing him sing that opening line, “Well, my buckle makes impressions on the inside of her thigh…” for many years to come. We picture a passionate embrace between two lovers as Tyler brings us into his world, singing a heartfelt tune about a girl that he once knew.

We aren’t the only ones who noticed how good “Feathered Indians” is, either. After the release of Purgatory, I saw Tyler Childers on the Who Stage (for up-and-coming artists) at Bonnaroo, and it was not packed at all.

Less than one year later, after the album had more of a chance to make its rounds, he had embarked on a sold out headlining tour across the country, for which I was lucky enough to attend the first of a two-night stand in Charleston.

The difference in the two shows was astounding, with the Bonnaroo set featuring a much less professional-looking Tyler, who still looked like he marched out of the backwoods of Kentucky.

Tyler Childers at Bonnaroo 2018. Photo by Shelley Mays.

Purgatory was a total hit with just about anybody who can appreciate good songwriting, and it even convinced many hesitant listeners to open their hearts to country music.

The lyrics to “Feathered Indians” particularly resonate with many people. The song tells the story of his relationship with a good religious girl who doesn’t necessarily approve of his rough and rowdy ways. She inspires him to want to be a better person, to leave some of his bad habits (like smoking) behind.

“If I’d known she was religious, then I wouldn’t have came stoned,” Tyler sings. “To the house of such an angel, too fucked up to get back home.”

Anyone who has ever tried to impress a woman will know the feeling that Tyler describes here, and elsewhere in the song, even if you haven’t personally experimented with drugs or other risky behaviors. This is where his wanting to change starts, but it gets more powerful as the song progresses.

Soon, Tyler and this religous woman are “Looking over West Virginia, smoking Spirits on the roof”. Well, Tyler is smoking American Spirits, and the woman he’s with is disapproving. “She asked ain’t anybody told ya, that them things are bad for you.”

Tyler replies by telling her yes, many people have told him they are bad, “but up till now, there ain’t been nothing that I couldn’t leave behind.” This means that of all the people who have come into his life, and told him that cigarettes were bad, none of them have even made him think twice about it until he talked to this sweet religious woman.

Ultimately, “Feathered Indians” is a song about longing, as based on the third verse we can see that things did not work out between Tyler and the woman in this story.

Well my heart is sweating bullets
From the circles it has raced
Like a little feathered indian
Callin’ out the clouds for rain
I’d go runnin’ through the thicket
I’d go careless through the thorns
Just to hold her for a minute
Though it’d leave me wanting more

Lyrics from “Feathered Indians” by Tyler Childers

All of this is sung through Tyler’s coarse, raspy voice that makes you believe everything he says. His vocal delivery is so honest that you might find yourself wanting to tell him about the person in your life who “Feathered Indians” reminds you of, the one who you’d run across the river just to hold tonight.

Watch a live video of Tyler Childers performing “Feathered Indians” live in 2017 below.

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