We chat with Brooklyn-based trio The Lone Bellow about their eclectic musical inspirations and much more.
The Lone Bellow: Brian Elmquist, Zach Williams, and Kanene Pipkin
This summer, southern-born, Brooklyn-based trio The Lone Bellow performed a one-night-only private showcase at the Renaissance Dupont Circle Hotel, as part of Renaissance Hotels’ partnership series, The Navigator Live, with AEG and Billboard. The multi-platform music program invites guests to explore different cities through the eyes of touring musicians, or “the ultimate modern business traveler.”
With compelling folk-meets-gospel-meets-harmony sound, the Lone Bellow—Zach Williams, Brian Elmquist, and Kanene Pipkin—played a mix of old favorites and new tunes from their latest album, Then Came Morning. As their current single, “Take My Love,” climbs the charts, The Lone Bellow is now on tour and has another DC appearance on the docket: the trio will perform a Saturday show at the two-day Landmark Music Festival on September 26 and 27.
To celebrate their Renaissance stop and their upcoming performance, Capitol File caught up with the group—whose chemistry is palpable and whose laidback vibe makes everyone around them feel a little easier—to chat about their sound, their beginnings, and their day in DC.
You’ve been playing together for five years, but Kanene’s from Fredericksburg, Virginia and Zach and Brian from Georgia. Tell me how you all met.
Zach Williams: Brian and I meet when we were 18. We went to college together, and he was singing “I’ll Be” at an open mic night. He had a broken foot, his guitar broke, and then he sang the whole thing a capella, and I was like, “That’s insane, I’ve got to meet that guy.” Years later I met Kanene’s older brother and we became really close friends. When he got married, he asked me to sing at his wedding with Kanene. So I really met Kanene when we sang “Oh Happy Day” together at her brother’s wedding.
Your style is so eclectic. How would you describe it?
Brian Elmquist: If country music could give birth to buffalos…
Kanene Pipkin: … that were raised by Boyz II Men…
BE: …and then rode on a lake, like on a wake board…
KP: …and the speedboat was driven by…
ZW: …a rainbow…
KP: …and Bruce Springsteen…
ZW: …was the gold at the end of the rainbow…
BE: No, we’re based on a three-part harmony. That’s where we start and we really want to write stories, tell stories of the people we love around us. Our own stories. And just stories about the human condition.
KP: I grew up going to a gospel music singing church that was in the attic of a bluegrass music shop, and Zach listened to exclusively oldies and country music until he bought The Bodyguard soundtrack when he was 12.
ZW: It was a nice choice.
KP: And Brian is like the Kris Kristofferson guy, who also loves show tunes. So we’re an eclectic bunch.
Where do you get your inspiration? Zach, you started keeping a journal, which became lyrics.
ZW: That’s where song writing started for me personally like 11 years ago, but I think we are all songwriters individually.
You share the song writing?
BE: I’ve always been the weird guy, sitting by himself humming on a guitar.
KP: Case in point, we really hold each other up and try to write songs that matter. I just lost a friend to depression and suicide a couple months ago, and I was writing a song about it and didn’t want to finish it because it was too hard. Brian was like, “No. We are going to dig in right now,” and made me finish. Everyone was around, throwing out ideas, and it was able to lift me out of my personal feelings, and I think we got a great song that I think will help people. I think that’s the best thing about creating music in a community of friends, is that you can really write things that aren’t just sad and aren’t just self-indulgent because you have three people contributing, three people singing. You’re not alone.
BE: And everybody has these stories.
KP: We are not special in our suffering.
Do any of you have a favorite song that you have written together?
KP: I think right now “Watch Over Us” is my favorite song, just because people have really made it their own. We sang it with The Blind Boys of Alabama at Eaux Claires, which is Justin Vernon’s new festival […] it was one of the most powerful moments we have ever had on stage. Everyone was crying; it was just beautiful. It’s cool that Brian had a song that could translate across generations and cultures.
As part of your experience in The Navigator Live series, you went on a little DC tour today. Where did you go?
KP: Today we went to Marvin, which is a Thievery Corporation—not quite a studio more of a practice space, a creative environment, that was really awesome. Yesterday we went to the Lincoln Memorial and the reflecting pool. We sang a song right in front of the Washington Monument. We went to Thai X-ing, we went to Maketto and had amazing coffee and pastries.
I haven’t been to Maketto yet.
KP: It’s so good—it’s awesome. We went to Dram & Grain, which was incredible. We actually went there during the day and went back at night.
You’re playing the Landmark Festival. Are you excited?
ZW: Yeah, we love DC. Playing on the mall—that’s insane.