On occasion, you're lucky enough to find a band that defies description. That luck can turn out to be a blessing and a curse at times, however. On one hand, it's wonderful to happen upon something so fresh and unique that words don't seem to fit. On the other hand, it can make it hard to explain to friends what's you're so excited about. After all, when you hear about a new band, what's the first think you ask? "What do they sound like?" Ummm... yeah.
Perhaps not so ironically, then, my discussion of Elephant Revival with vocalist and multi-instrumentalist (washboard, djembe, stompbox, musical saw) Bonnie Paine turned very early towards trying to describe the band. To my ears, there are elements of indie rock, bluegrass, country and Appalachian folk, yet what the band plays doesn't fit under any particular category or genre.
"There are some Celtic influences in there, too," Paine added. "Our fiddler (Bridget Law) studied in Ireland, so that's kind of predominant as well.
"Our music kind of has a gypsy folk feel to it at times,' she added. "Mostly, though, it seems that people call it really 'rootsy', more than anything else."
Rootsy, organic, natural -- all apply to the music coming from a band incorporating instruments traditionally associated with folk and bluegrass, yet creating something that tips its hat to those genres while moving in another direction.
That dichotomy is just as apparent to the band as its fans. When mentioning the bluegrass elements to Paine, she agreed, sort of.
"But if you asked a bluegrass band, they would be quick to tell you we definitely aren't bluegrass," she said.
Regardless of genre (or a lack thereof), Elephant Revival has continued to evolve and grow since forming just shy of seven years ago. During that time, the band has developed its own identity and grown into venues of all different sizes, sharing the stage with a wide variety of nationally recognized artists like Avett Brothers, Trampled by Turtles, Michael Franti, and George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic.
If that trajectory seems too good to be true, it just might be. When discussing the group's origins with Paine, her recollection reads like it came out of a storybook.
"I met our guitarist, Daniel (Rodriguez) in Connecticut," she shared. "I drove from Connecticut to Virginia to visit a friend, and I met Daniel that night. We just immediately hit it off and sat on the roof and played music until sunrise."
Elephant Revival was officially spawned in October 2006, with the group growing a small, loyal following that promises to explode with the release of the band's latest CD, These Changing Skies, on September 3.
That new album is one that the band totally immersed itself in as it recorded the project at Bear Creek Studio in Woodinville, Wash. with Ryan Hadlock (who has produced The Lumineers and The Walkmen, among others).
"We recorded at this old barn that was turned into a studio," Paine explained. "We just kind of moved in and lived there for a month.
"It was kind of funny," Paine said, "because one of the assistants seemed kind of amazed and mentioned 'You guys are playing music constantly.' We kind of did, though. The producer liked to start at 10am, which was kind of early for us, but we'd get up and start then and record until midnight, and after we were done, we'd stay up late playing because there was this big room with all of these great instruments in it, so why not?"
That sense of community flowed throughout the creative process for the band.
"I think we kind of overwhelmed the producer at one point because we would work things out, jamming at night and we came in one morning and said 'We have another song we want to record,'" Paine said.
Working with Hadlock was a new experience for the band, as it was its first experience working with someone who was not already a friend.
"I think it was an interesting learning experience for both of us, because we were both stretched to be receptive to the other's input," Paine said.
"There are five writers in the band, and we all have a really strong vision to our songs," she explained. "As a producer, I don't think Ryan was used to working with a band that really knows what they want and already has its parts all worked out."
Even so, Hadlock had a strong hand in helping the band shape the record as the group arrived with seventeen songs and recorded twelve for the album's final track listing.
As Paine explained it, the first day in the studio, the band worked on its first song, then sat in circle and made scratch recordings of all of songs it had on hand, which Hadlock then used to help them decide which to use for the album.
With the new album finished, Elephant Revival has set out on a tour that will take the group across the US before heading to Europe in January. When asked about the audiences, Paine admitted that growing into new venues has proven a challenge as the group finds a balancing point to allow younger fans to dance, while accommodating a growing older audience, but it's something that the group is taking in stride.
"What's really rad is that we started out with a younger audience, but my favorite thing to hear now is people saying 'I brought my grandmother to the show -- she loves Elephant Revival'," Paine explained. "I think that's what society is lacking right now: Something that's cross-generational and brings everyone together, so it's been really cool to see our audience grow like that."
Tulsa gets a chance to experience Elephant Revival again, when the current tour brings the group to The Vanguard this Friday night, August 23. This one will prove to be a unique show as Paine revealed that "Our fiddler will not be able to make it, because of a previous family engagement." Law's spot will be filled by a member one of Paine's side musical projects with her sister and Allison Olassa.
If you're looking for something that's fresh and hard to describe, that not only crosses genre boundaries, but also generations, you'll want to experience Elephant Revival for yourself. Tickets are only $10 in advance or $12 at the door, and the concert starts at 8pm.
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