Since 2013, The Lone Bellow has been issuing dramatic roots music flavored with Southern gospel and emotional rock, curating an ebb and flow of ambiance, power, and harmony. Georgia natives, guitarist Brian Elmquist and Zach Williams met as teenagers in college, and years later would fatefully reconnect in Brooklyn, NY, where they would also join forces with another transplant, Virginian Kanene Donehey Pipkin. The trio’s balance of intimate songwriting and evocative styles carried across a quartet of full-lengths with the now Nashville-based outfit’s latest effort, Half Moon Light, landing in February of 2020. Produced by longtime friend and producer, The National’s Aaron Dessner, HML added new layers to the band’s identity with an intense prescience that would take greater form in the coming months. The Lone Bellow are planning to release a new album this fall, but before that, they’ll be thrilling from the stage of the Lost Art Music Festival in Douglasville, GA, where fans have an opportunity to join the band for a special BBQ and beer pairing before a performance on Saturday, June 18th. In anticipation, Bellow guitarist, songwriter, and vocalist Brian Elmquist took a few moments to chat and ruminate on the band’s direction and his love for Gretsch guitars.
AI- I didn’t realize this– you’re from Sandersville! Right up the road! Did you grow up there?
BE- Yeah, I grew up there. I left when I was 18!
You and Zach knew each other around that time– how did you two meet?
I met him my first year of college, and we’ve been friends ever since! We celebrated our 20th year of friendship last year! It’s kinda crazy!
Congratulations on that! I wanna talk just a little bit about this last Lone Bellow record. Half Moon Light came out right before the shutdown. That had to be surreal! But there’s been a fair amount of commentary about the softness of that album. What did you think about that?
I guess every record reflects the moment you’re in and the time you’re in. It was funny that we were writin’ a lot of songs like that because people ended up livin’ with those songs through the pandemic, which was really awesome. It was awesome and heartbreaking at the same time ’cause we couldn’t go tour it. But songs like “Martingales” seemed like songs that were written for that moment in the middle of it. In the moment we were writin’ it, we were just trying to find a different form of what Lone Bellow sounds like.
I love the concept you brought up of that time– the shutdown when we were all home– that people had an opportunity to spend time with music, and for some, in a brand new way. It wasn’t on the move, it wasn’t on the go, it wasn’t to enhance some other experience– people were legitimately sitting down and listening to albums in their entirety. It’s unfortunate, but I think the pandemic has done more for the concept of an album than anything else in the last few decades. What did you find yourself spending time with during the downtime?
Well, at first, making sure we weren’t gonna go broke (laughs)! As always, our fans carried us through that! It’s been a partnership from the beginning. We’ll show up as long as you guys keep showin’ up, and it always happens that way! We were doin’ ZOOM shows from our basement a couple times a week for people. I had been in the motion of Lone Bellow for 10 years, so the stop actually let me focus on more production stuff, which I wanted to do anyway. For me, it kinda worked out nicely. I don’t like to say that out loud all the time just because a lot of people had such a hard time. And I hope a lotta people got to do this. It’s not all the time you can actually stop the motion of life you’re in, and I think a lot of people did that. A lot of people aren’t really happy about what jobs they have and they’re tryin’ to do different things and figure out somethin’ different for themselves. I think that was somethin’ everybody could take from the time because when you get stuck in the motion, you don’t take as many risks.
I like that sentiment– you don’t take as many risks. Tell me about gettin’ back out on the road once it was a possibility. ‘Cause you got to play these songs a little bit before everything shut down, but was there a particular frenzy once you got on stage that you had to fight because of the quieter songs?
To me, it’s not quiet, it’s a vibe. There were some big songs on the last record– we made a point of it! And live, we’ve always been like this weird Pentecostal (laughs) revival thing where you think we’re gonna pass around plates and take advantage! It’s always been supposed to be this kind of frenzied thing anyway on the live part, so it wasn’t hard to translate those songs into what we do normally.
If you wanna talk about frenzy, it was a feeding frenzy once we actually got back out there! Good Lord, that’s one thing we did learn– people need to be around each other! They need to see each other! It was amazing! We didn’t get to play all the shows ’cause we just couldn’t, and then we had to focus on our next record.
I did want to bring up that you are a Gretsch guy. I have a friend, Hot Rod Walt Richards, who is also endorsed by Gretsch– I mean, he eats, sleeps, lives, and breathes Gretsch guitars! And I believe you do too! The Falcon, in particular! Tell me, what is it about that guitar?
(Laughs) If I’m totally honest, coming from Sandersville, Georgia, it’s like the gaudiest guitar you can have! It sounds great, it’s a rock n’ roll machine, but Conway Twitty to all the stuff you grew up with, it’s like, “I’m here now!” The guitar itself is legendary. It’s little boy from a little town makes it to the big time city, you know what I mean? It’s that vibe for me, and I actually really dig it. I’m not that kinda guy, I don’t care about a lotta that stuff, but it’s a funny little way that I put a pinkie ring on or whatever (laughs)! Like a rapper would put on a grill!