The Lone Bellow

The Lone Bellow

Then Came the Morning, the second album by the Southern-born, Brooklyn-based indie-folk trio the Lone Bellow, opens with a crest of churchly piano, a patter of drums, and a fanfare of voices harmonizing like a sunrise. It’s a powerful introduction, enormous and overwhelming, as Zach Williams, Brian Elmquist, and Kanene Pipkin testify mightily to life’s great struggles and joys, heralding the morning that dispels the dark night: “Then came the morning! It was bright, like the light that you kept from your smile!” Working with producer Aaron Dessner of the National, the Lone Bellow has created a sound that mixes folk sincerity, gospel fervor, even heavy metal thunder, but the heart of the band is harmony: three voices united in a lone bellow.

"The feeling I get singing with Zach and Brian is completely natural and wholly electrifying,” says Kanene. “Our voices feel like they were made to sing together."

Long before they combined their voices, the three members of the Lone Bellow were singing on their own. Brian had been writing and recording as a solo artist for more than a decade, with three albums under his own name. Kanene and her husband Jason were living in Beijing, China, hosting open mic nights, playing at local clubs and teaching music lessons. Zach began writing songs in the wake of a family tragedy: After his wife was thrown from a horse, he spent days in the hospital at her bedside, bracing for the worst news. The journal he kept during this period would eventually become his first batch of songs as a solo artist. Happily, his wife made a full recovery.

When Kanene’s brother asked her and Zach to sing “O Happy Day” together at his wedding, they discovered their voices fit together beautifully, but starting a band together seemed impossible when they lived on opposite sides of the world. Brian soon relocated to New York and Kanene moved there to attend culinary school a couple years later. The three got together in their new hometown to work on a few songs of Zach’s, he’d been chipping away at the scene as a solo artist for awhile by then. After hitting those first harmonies did they decide to abandon all other pursuits. Soon the trio was playing all over the city, although they considered Rockwood Music Hall on the Lower East Side to be their home. They opened for the Civil Wars, Dwight Yokam, Brandi Carlile and the Avett Brothers, and their self-titled debut, produced by Nashville’s Charlie Peacock (the Civil Wars, Holly Williams) and released in January 2013, established them as one of the boldest new acts in the Americana movement.

After two hard years of constant touring, the band was exhausted but excited. By 2014, they had written nearly 40 songs on the road and were eager to get them down on tape. After putting together a list of dream producers, they reached out to their first choice, the National guitarist Aaron Dessner, who has helmed albums by the L.A. indie-rock group Local Natives and New York singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten.

“It occurred to me that it would be fun to get together and make music with them,” says Aaron. “My main interest in producing records is community and friendship more than making money. I already do a lot of traveling and working with the National, so when I have to time to work with other artists, it should be fun and meaningful.”

“Aaron is just so kind,” Zach says. “And he has surrounded himself with all these incredibly talented people, like Jonathan Low, the engineer. His brother Bryce [Dessner, also a guitarist for the National] wrote these amazing brass and string arrangements, and he got some of his friends to play with us.”

Dessner and the Lone Bellow spent two weeks recording at Dreamland in upstate New York, a nineteenth-century church that had been converted into a homey studio. The singers found the space to inspire the emotional gravity necessary for the material and the acoustics they were looking for. (For Kanene, Dreamland had one other bonus: “I’m a big Muppets fan, and it looks exactly like the church where Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem lived.”)

Aaron set them up in a circle in what had once been the sanctuary, with microphones hanging in the rafters to capture the sound of their voices bleeding together. Most of the vocals were recorded in single takes, a tactic that adds urgency to songs like “Heaven Don’t Call Me Home” and “If You Don’t Love Me.” “There were a couple of times when somebody sang the wrong word or hit a bad note, and we just had to keep going,” says Zach, who says that recording “Marietta” in particular was daunting—especially the moment near the end when he hits an anguished high note, bends it even higher, and holds it for an impossibly long time. It’s a startling display of vocal range, but it’s also almost unbearably raw in its emotional honesty.

“‘Marietta’ is probably the darkest song on the whole record,” Zach explains, “and it’s based on something that happened between my wife and me. The band was getting ready to record that song when all of a sudden my wife showed up with our youngest baby. It was a great surprise, a beautiful moment. So I was able to go out and sing that song, knowing she was there to help me carry the moment.”

“These are true stories,” says Brian. “These aren’t things we made up. We tried to write some songs that had nothing to do with our personal stories, but we just didn’t respond to them. But we’re best buds, so we know each others’ personal stuff and trust each other to figure out what needs to be said and how to say it.” Case in point: Brian wrote “Call to War” about his own struggles during his twenties, but gave the song to Kanene to sing. “The content is painful and brutal,” she says, “but the imagery, the vocals, they build something delicate and ethereal. That kind of contrast illuminates the true beauty and power of a song.”

Says Brian, “We do this one thing together, and we carry each other. Hopefully that makes the listener want to be a part of it. It becomes a communal thing, which means that there’s never a sad song to sing. It’s more a celebration of the light and the dark.”


“Everything in my life has brought me to what I’m doing now,” says Odessa. “Putting out this record that I’ve lived to make for so long is going to feel like the best thing in the world.”

It has been quite the journey for Odessa, a road well traveled that has led at last to her debut EP as a solo artist. A gifted violinist/vocalist/multi-instrumentalist with a CV that includes stints with such diverse outfits as Old Crow Medicine Show and Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, Odessa has now lit out on her own and crafted a rich and human sound that defies easy classification, born of folk and pop, blues and psychedelia. Produced by Jacquire King (Of Monsters and Men, Norah Jones, Dawes), songs like “Hummed Low” and “I Will Be There” – famously featured in Subaru’s 2014 “Flat Tire” ad campaign – are melancholy, evocative, and strikingly original, fueled by Odessa’s instrumental prowess, passionate vocals, and utterly unique perspective.

“My dad would always tell me, Write your own songs,” she says. “At the end of the day, if your music isn’t your own, you don’t really have anything. I’ve always held that in the back of my mind.”

The Santa Rosa native was immersed in music from her very start, toddling among her musician father’s surf band rehearsals before beginning classical training on the violin at the tender age of 4. The next 10 years saw Odessa performing with chamber ensembles and symphonies, even making her debut on the legendary stage of New York’s Carnegie Hall. She traveled to Japan for a brief stint as a high fashion model but soon returned to Santa Rosa where she plugged in her violin and joined a local rock outfit.

“I just decided then and there that this was the kind of music I wanted to play,” Odessa says. “It was the first time I wasn’t reading music, I wasn’t following a chart of any kind – it was my own expression and it was so exciting.”

Odessa learned her way around the studio and the stage, schooling herself in the canons of classic rock and Americana. Inspired, she made early attempts at songwriting, composing her first song on her dad’s acoustic – an instrument she plays to this very day. She spent time in Denver and Europe before settling in Nashville where she rewired her skill set to include fiddle and lead vocals. Odessa was soon fronting a hard touring Nashville bluegrass group, spending considerable time on the road in the US and Europe. From there she traveled north – far north – and spent still another year touring and recording with a popular Alaskan folk group.

“That was all I was doing,” she says. “I was with one band for a while, I’d get home and someone would call asking if I wanted to play with them. I went from tour to tour, I was never home for more than a week at a time. It was really fun, but it wasn’t satiating me. I think it was at that point that I started thinking along the lines of recording my own music.”

Sadly her father passed in 2007 and Odessa resolved to focus on her own songs. With her dad’s beloved Yamaha 16 track recorder in tow, she headed to Asheville, North Carolina where she spent the next six months writing and recording on her very own, experimenting with layered vocals, unusual guitar tunings, and other outré ideas far outside her comfort zone.

“I was writing twenty four hours a day,” she says. “Really, around the clock. I was having so many thoughts about my own music, about building my own songs and making my own record. I had a vision for my songs. I wanted to make my own music, I had to make my own music.”

Despite this non-stop creative awakening, Odessa accepted an offer to join another band, this time as both lead singer and contributing songwriter. Stepping up to the front of the stage proved exciting and energizing, but ultimately just added fuel to her own individual goals. Odessa eventually landed back in Nashville where she finally tracked her first real deal studio demos.

By now her prodigious talents had gained widespread attention from such Music City based acts as Old Crow Medicine Show, whom she accompanied on 2011’s now legendary Railroad Revival Tour with Mumford and Sons and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros (captured for posterity on the GRAMMY® Award-winning documentary, Big Easy Express). Upon tour’s end, Odessa proved busier than ever, playing violin and vocalizing with Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros and Old Crow Medicine Show’s Gil Landry, and criss-crossing the country in a ’69 Plymouth Valiant with Nashville singer/songwriter Rayland Baxter as both fiddle player and solo support act.

Determined to concentrate on her own music, Odessa began teaming up with producer Jacquire King for sessions at engineer Brad Bivens’ fully equipped home studio in East Nashville. Bivens especially proved an important collaborator, guiding Odessa through the complexities of recording while also engaging her ambitious creativity.

Alas, a near fatal bicycle accident put a hard stop to the proceedings. Time stood stillas Odessa healed from her injuries and she was thankfully much improved when the call came to join Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros as full time violinist and backing vocalist. The next two years were spent touring the world as a Magnetic Zero, not to mention contributing strings to Edward Sharpe leader Alex Ebert’s Golden Globe Award-winning score to director J.C. Chandor’s acclaimed 2013 film, All Is Lost.

Now based in Los Angeles, Odessa is at long last poised to devote herself fully to her own songs, even putting together a backing band of her very own to help tour the “ODESSA” EP and its even more diverse full-length follow-up.

“I’m in such a different physical and mental place from where I was when I began all this,” Odessa says. “I’m drawing inspiration from different places in myself now. Everything is connected, nothing is separate from each other – it’s not like I have my life and then I have my music. It’s just existence and it takes you down all these exciting and unknown and terrifying paths. Sometimes creation happens along the way and that is the most beautiful gift.”

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