One of the great undeniable pleasures to emerge from the burgeoning roots rock/alternative country scene of the early/mid 2010s has been the Brooklyn based trio, The Lone Bellow
. Combining gospel harmonies, classic country melodies, and a folksy heart, their 2013 self-titled debut turned into one of the sleeper hits of the year. The band's excellent sophomore effort, Then Came the Morning
is out next week, and we had a chance to chat with the band. They layed it out for us: what it's meant to share their music with more and more fans, working with The National
's Aaron Dessner, and always letting the songs come before genre or expectations. Not surprisingly, that same uplifting heart that is present on their records shines through in the personalities of each member of the band.
How are you all dealing with expectations for Then Came the Morning after the success of your self-titled debut?
Zach Williams: I think we're just happy to make a second record and have the opportunity to do it and take our time. What do you think Brian?
Brian Elmquist: Our first record, we made six months after we'd become a band. It was our set list. We made it fast, we were doing the Kickstarter, and we still had day jobs, but we made it. Our time was limited by that. Being on the road for two years and coming back to Brooklyn — and we made a little bit of it upstate — we were able to take our time over a month in the summer. It was a beautiful experience. Expectations wise, I don't really know. I just want people to hear the record. I really think we accomplished what we set out to do, and I'm really proud of that.
Everything I've read makes it seem like you guys made some really interesting decisions during the production process for the new record including placing microphones up in the rafters of the church where you all recorded. What wasthe thought process for you and Aaron Dessner concerning the recording process of the new record.
ZW: I think it's all based around the way that he wanted to capture vocals. We did all the vocals. Have you ever heard of Dreamland? That studio?
ZW: It's just outside of Woodstock, New York. It's an old, dilapidated church that was turned into a studio back in the 60s. We did all the vocals in what used to be the sanctuary. It was a large space and a lot of mounts on the windows and the walls and the floor, and we were all able to stand facing each other. That's how we do the vocals. After that, it was a lot of time spent getting to know the space we were in. I feel like the studio itself was one of the instruments on the record and that's why we did things like put microphones way up in the ceiling of the sanctuary, and stuff like that. It has that natural bleed on the harmonies.
What do the conversations sound like when you guys are deciding who sings which portions of what song?
BE: I think that was in the writing process to begin with. Like, the chorus of the song "Diners," Kanene takes the lead because she is answering what the guy is saying during the verse; her vocals should be more predominant. It depends on what song is brought to the table. It's definitely more in the songwriting.
Americana and roots music are making this massive comeback at the same time that we've reached the peak of the boom in EDM music. What do you think is causing this sort of massive expansion right now in Americana music?
Kanene Donehey Pipkin: I don't know if it ever really went anywhere. I do think the major radio and commercial success of some bands with acoustic instruments and everything brought it into everyone's minds. You have people like Ryan Adams or Justin Townes Earle, and people that have been around for a long time playing what I would consider Americana, but it's kind of a catch-all for lots of types of music. There are people that respond to certain kinds of people playing instruments and telling stories, and I think it's just more readily available now. There are a lot of people pushing that format with different organizations and festivals and things.
ZW: You can't deny good songs.
As this fusion of Americana and roots music, you guys are centered out of one of the most urban areas in America, Brooklyn. What's it like trying to capture these folksy, rustic, rural sounds while also being based out of America's biggest city?
ZW: Just to back up a hair, the instrumentation for Then Came the Morning
each song had its own decision making process on what instrument should be on it and we didn't really have a genre in mind that it might fall in to. The melody gave way to the lyrics and the instrumentation gave way to the melody. And there's a lot of times where we would just be brainstorming what is this lonely song for? What is this song looking for? And, it would be like "Ah, French horn and a flute. This one maybe needs a pedal steel." No matter what, it's letting the instrumentation help the melody.
KDP: We come at it from more of a song by song basis. We have a song and we choose whatever we feel like makes the song strongest and what serves the song.
You can definitely hear that on the newer record cause it seems like there's a lot more variety of sounds on Then Came the Morning than on the self-titled [album].
KDP: We had a lot more time to play around with it and really be deliberate.
Who are some of your biggest influences as songwriters and vocalists, particularly as a band that is now playing around with a lot of newer sounds for your music?
ZW: There are people right now. I'm a huge Jim James fan.
KDP: Yeah. We all love him.
ZW: I love the song-writing of the latest Jason Isbell record, but old school stuff? I love the Bill Withers Carnegie Hall recording where you can hear the stories between all the songs. You can just feel the rhythm of how he speaks and how that definitely gives way to how he sings. I just love that kind of American music.
What's the touring experience been like for you over the last year or so? Considering as you've been supporting the self-titled and preparing for this new album?
ZW: It's been a beautiful thing. First of all, just being able to do this for work, and see the country through the windows of a van, and meet people that come out to our shows and totally dig with us, and help in creating whatever moment needs creating. To me that's such an incredible honor. You have a pretty clear understanding of your flaws and there's a lot of honesty in that that has to come into play to have a healthy dynamic within a creative group of people.
Are there any acts around right now that you guys would maybe hope to work with someday?
BE: Working with Aaron [Dessner] was amazing.
BE: We're huge fans of [The National] and the way that they run their ship. They are really behind the scenes in a lot of stuff. We had no clue. They're really pushing, in music and art, in the direction they're going. That was a beautiful experience.
ZW: There's this young lady named Odessa
that's going to be coming out with us, and I think it's going to be a really special tour. I really like her music. We've had several people that have come out with us that we really believe in: Kristen Diable, Robert Ellis. They're the sweetest people. We love working with them. There's all sorts of stuff that I'd love to work with.
There seems to be an even more explicitly emotional story being told throughout Then Came The Morning than on your first album. Was that an intentional decision or something that occurred naturally through the process of writing the album?
ZW: I think it was something that occurred naturally. We had been writing the whole time that we were touring the past two years so we had quite a few songs that we brought to the table to record. We ended up being drawn towards the songs that meant the most to us, and those are songs that are usually very personal. I think that was a natural kind of thing that happened.
After you guys release this new record and your fans have a chance to listen to it, and then you've had a chance to tour in support of it, where do you hope to go next? What are some of your unmet goals as The Lone Bellow?
KDP: Not to be in a bus.
BE: Pay the rent.
ZW: We'd love to get in the situation where our families can come out on the road with us a little bit. I'd also love to get in the situation where we continue to curate a really great night where we start bringing more and more bands out that we really care about and love their music. I would love the opportunity to do that more and more, the way that we were cared for.
KDP: We'd love to be in the position to help other bands that are starting out.
Be sure to check out the band's newest record when it drops January 27. Pre-order your copy here
, and tune in below to watch us go busking with The Lone Bellow in Washington Square Park: