The band draws inspiration from the love they feel from fans on their new self-titled album
The Lone Bellow emerged in 2013 with their self-titled debut album, and have been steadily touring, writing and recording new music since. Now, Brian Elmquist (guitar and vocals), Zach Williams (lead vocals and guitar), and Kanene Pipkin (mandolin), have released their follow-up record, Then Came The Morning, that seamlessly combine their folk-rock twang with gospel-infused melodies.
These Southern-born but Brooklyn-based musicians worked with The National’s Aaron and Bryce Dessner, allowing the album to feature interlaced melancholic moments between the electric guitar riffs and soulful vocal harmonies. The Concordian caught up with Brian Elmquist and Zach Williams to discuss the latest release, tour life and band dynamic, before their stop here in Montreal at Petit Campus on Feb. 26.
The Concordian: Let’s start off a bit more generally. What prompted you to take up music and to form The Lone Bellow?
Brian Elmquist: I’ve always loved music since I was a kid. I bought my first guitar with money I made mowing lawns around the neighborhood I grew up in. I had been doing my own thing in Nashville and then New York. Zach and I were working through some songs and we sang a song from the first record called you can be all kinds of emotional. Kanene [Pipkin] was there at the first practice. It was so powerful that we all decided to go all in. We were in the studio for our first record six months.
Zach Williams: I grew up around music in my family, but I didn’t start writing and singing until I was in my 20s. It started out as just a cathartic thing. I’d go to the open mics close to where I lived. I had my own thing for several years, and moved to New York City to pursue music about 10 years ago. We formed The Lone Bellow about four years ago and started out as eight friends getting together to play music. We started singing the first song at the first rehearsal which was called “You Can Be All Kinds Of Emotional.” Singing it together was something else.
C: You are Southern-born musicians, but a Brooklyn-based band. How have both these cities influenced your style?
BE:Well we all grew up with incredible story tellers all around us, so that’s an important part of the way we write. I think being based in Brooklyn with a tight artist community just feeds the need to tell these stories as extraordinary or mundane as they might come.
ZW: Growing up in the south has probably influenced us a lot more than we are even aware of. We’ve gotten to know each other’s extended families over the past few years of touring and I love meeting the people who helped raise my friends. Living in NYC has a small town feel to it after you’ve invested a few years into a particular hood. We’ve all lived a couple blocks from each other for years and had the chance to get to know our neighbours well, so living in the city has that small town feel. But, obviously, there is still that beautiful overwhelming sense of mystery that NYC has always given me. And knowing that so much good work is being created around you has a way of pushing you to work on your craft.
C: Your sound has been described as a mix between multiple genres including southern gothic, blues-rock and folk rock. How would you describe the sound and overall atmosphere of this album?
BE: Well it starts with the song. If you can’t sing it on an acoustic it’s probably not worth recording. We don’t approach the music we make from a genre we’re trying to wall around us. We’d rather serve the song in the best way possible. I feel like because we made this record in an abandoned-church-turned-studio, the room led us to a more gospel-infused rock record. I feel like the space on the record is the most powerful thing. It allows us to be as quiet as the music can be and find these big moments throughout.
ZW:We tried to be sensitive to whatever we felt like the song needed. Sometimes the answer was a French horn. Sometimes it was a strange electric guitar sound going through an old school projector. We didn’t really have genres in mind while we were creating the music.
C: Where did you guys draw inspiration for your follow-up album?
BE: Our fans. We meet them every night after we play and take their feedback and stories were our songs have leaked in someway very seriously. It sounds cliche, you can find all the inspiration you need listening to your fans. And… They’re the ones paying our bills anyway.
ZW: I feel that there were a few different things going on. Some of the inspiration is from personal situations, others are from family lore, and others are from having this grand opportunity to be able to play music in all these beautiful cities and towns and meet all these wonderful souls. Hearing stories of folks who took our songs and made it their own. We definitely had that in mind as well.
C: You worked with Bryce and Aaron Dessner from The National who have previously worked with other groups like Local Natives. How did his presence influence the sound on Then Came The Morning?
BE: I personally am a little too big of a fan of The National. Aaron also a very unique guitar player so I learned so much during the process. As a whole I think Aaron took a band member roll to this record. And we were all in. We had all these songs and ideas about sounds, but needed someone to filter it down so to speak. I think they both also want to serve songs more than just going for a particular sound. So in the end especially with their help they could get what was ambiguous in out head and there’s recorded. So it was a beautiful process.
ZW: They showed us an entire new form of creating. Twins who have been in a band making honest music they are proud of for 20 years is a special thing. The work ethic and ability to cut through the ideas was beautiful to be a part of. They have strong convictions towards creating fresh sounds and beauty.
C: You guys have toured pretty extensively in the last few years. What is tour life like? Any particular stand-out moments or memories?
BE: A sprinter van and 6 friends with lots of emotions. It’s a blast and we have to take good care of eachother. We have families and friends at home. It gets tough being away from them and we couldn’t do it without their support. One time I tried to climb a 15-foot fence in L.A. to swim in a reservoir. There might have been whiskey. I fell and ripped my only jeans somethin’ terrible. I had to duct tape them back together to play Jay Leno the next day.
ZW: It’s beautiful and terrible all at once. On one side I get to be with my best friends in a van and play music for a living. I get to run through cities and forest that I would never have had the chance to run through. On the other side I have to be away from my wife and children.
C: What are you listening to nowadays?
BE: Little Feat, The Band, Linda Ronstadt, Shakey Graves, Tallest Man on Earth.
ZW: I love the Blake Mills’ new record. Also, the new Father John Misty, Sharon van Etton, and D’Angelo.
C: What feeling/idea do you want listeners to take away from this album?
BE: All the feelings. It’s a beautiful life that we all get to live. It’s hard and wonderful. It’s heartbreaking and inspiring. If everyone’s in it together, no one’s alone.
ZW: I think my highest hope would that it would be a part of all the other expressions of art. It helps a person stop. Just pause for a moment and take in something.
The Lone Bellow play Petit Campus on Feb. 26.