The Lone Bellow are a trio from Brooklyn, New York who produce country and alt-rock music. They’re also a band that boasts no less than a former star footballer, a French culinary chef and a former member of a barbershop quartet in their ranks. This sounds like the set-up to an odd joke but we promise it isn’t.
The group previously released their eponymous debut record of country songs. It was recorded in their favourite music venue, the Rockwood Music Hall, with money raised through Kickstarter. In the intervening years they have managed to land guest spots on Jimmy Kimmel and other great touring slots.
Their follow-up record, Then Came The Morning was recorded with producer, Aaron Dessner of The National who also brought in his brother and band mate, Bryce to assist with the wind and string arrangements. Across 13 tracks the band chronicle their personal struggles and other aspects of their collective experiences through a range of musical styles including folk, country, gospel and rock.
Music Feeds sat down with singer and mandolin player, Kanene Pipkin to learn more about Southern gothic imagery, baking and more about this group of self-confessed, “strange people”.
Music Feeds: Then Came The Morning has been described as a mix of harmonies, folk sincerity, gospel fervor and even heavy metal thunder. Tell us about the writing process for the record. What music, art, books, etc. influenced this record?
Kanene Pipkin: We had been on the road almost non-stop from the release of our first record until we started recording Then Came The Morning. Touring life can be both exhausting and exhilarating, the highs and lows are so extreme. We’ve all been through some pretty difficult seasons since we started doing this full time, and we have learned a lot about each other; how to take care of one another while we’re away from our families, how to forgive each other, how to sing better together, really just how to be a better band.
I believe this record, the way it sounds and the songs we wrote and chose to include, has been most heavily influenced by our hard-earned trust in each other. We were able to take risks in writing new songs, dust off and finish older material, and really take our time to make it the best record we are capable of making in this stage of our band. As the songs began to take shape, we thought a lot about the sounds we wanted to capture, and listened to a lot of Vegas-era Elvis, Neil Young, Sam Cooke and Van Morrison for inspiration.
MF: On your website it says that Zach Williams first started writing a journal and then writing songs after his wife was recovering from a horse accident. What was the inspiration behind the lyrics on the album?
KP: This album draws more from our collective experiences, family lore, marriage, and personal struggles. There are also a few story songs thrown in for good measure.
MF: What was it like working with producer Aaron Dessner of The National? How did Aaron’s brother and band mate Bryce Dessner contribute to the record?
KP: Working with Aaron was a serious dream come true, and it was honestly just really fun. Aaron is one of the kindest people you will ever meet, and he knows how to get the best out of you. He is full of incredible sports analogies that he will whip out if you start to slack or get tired of trying something over and over, and it did the trick for us every time.
Bryce did all of the wind and string arrangements, and completely exceeded every expectation and hope we had. They’re both so incredibly gifted and meticulous, and put a lot of thought into every sound, every instrument, every part and player on the record.
MF: How did recording this album differ from your self-titled debut?
KP: Time is the biggest factor. For our first record, we hadn’t even been together for a year, and we just recorded our set list at the time, which was the first 12 or so songs we learned together as a band. We raised the money for it on Kickstarter, and we all had to beg for enough time off from our jobs to record it.
We did all the basic tracks in two and a half days by turning our favorite venue in the city, Rockwood Music Hall, into a studio. We then went to Nashville a few months later to overdub vocals and a few more instrumental tracks.
With this record, we didn’t have other jobs to worry about, but had the opportunity to focus all our energies on this one project. We had about forty songs to choose from, and had been a band for much longer and had played infinitely more shows together.
We were also in a real studio, Dreamland, near Woodstock, New York. The studio served as an actual instrument in the recording process; we put microphones all over the sanctuary and did all the vocals live, together in the room.
We also stayed together in a friend’s cabin near the studio in upstate New York, and would take the hour long drive down the mountain together each morning. The whole experience was all encompassing and rejuvenating. Aaron also lives near us in Brooklyn, and we were able to be at home and finish up instrumental overdubs and tweaks in his backyard studio.
MF: On your group’s Instagram there is a photo by Mackenzie Rollins which you say forms part of a larger photo essay for this record. Where did the inspiration come from for these photos? Do you have a favourite photo from the photo essay and why?
KP: The record deals a lot with what we see as Southern Gothic subject matter, so we wanted to capture some images from small towns near where we grew up, and tell the stories of people who don’t normally get their stories told.
My personal favorite is the one we chose for the cover, of the beautiful older woman sitting in a little diner in Georgia, drinking her morning coffee. It’s such a gorgeous photograph, and it fits the tone of this record perfectly. Because for me, the title of the record is meant to convey a sense of hope, a possibility for renewal, but it can risk sounding a little too grandiose.
I’ve found most of the time, hope doesn’t come instantaneously in epic wonderful phenomena, but it comes in small, mundane choices, like choosing to get up, get out, have a cup of coffee and face the day.
MF: Do you guys have any plans to tour Australia for this record?
KP: We would absolutely love to. It needs to happen.
MF: What was it like performing on Jimmy Kimmel Live? Are there any funny or interesting stories from the green room?
KP: The first time we played Kimmel we were all nervously sitting around our dressing room, waiting to rehearse, when Gary Busey walks in, with cake all over his face, and starts talking to Zach about what kind of underwear he prefers. Then he asked me to wink at the camera for him. It was an existential experience.
MF: I believe that one of your special talents is that you’re a French culinary chef. Does any member of the band have a “signature dish” they like to prepare whilst on the road?
KP: Ha! Yes, I moved to NYC from Beijing in order to become a pastry chef, then move back to Beijing and open a shop and teach, but then the band happened. I still bake any chance I get, and if I had a kitchen on the road, there would be no end to the delicious treat making!
When we get home, the first thing I usually make is some kind of pie or a big batch of chocolate chip cookies, just crisp on the edges and gooey in the middle, with some really class chocolate and Maldon on top.
MF: I believe that guitarist Brian Elmquist is a former star football player and member of a barbershop quartet. Has he ever considered incorporating barbershop music into The Lone Bellow’s sound? What do you think is the strangest musical genre you could incorporate into your music?
KP: Yes, Brian is a living, breathing paradox. He does think of some pretty wonderful and complicated harmonies, so maybe barbershop has already leaked into our music without us realising. I don’t think any genre of music is too strange for us to dabble in at least once, we’re kind of strange people.
Originally published on 20 January 2015 at the following website: http://musicfeeds.com.au/news/australian-premiere-stream-the-lone-bellows-new-album-then-came-the-morning/
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