Reporting Annie Reuter
The first time The Lone Bellow heard themselves on the radio, singer and guitar player Brian Elmquist literally face-planted into the snow.
“We were just on a week-long radio tour and we were driving in the snow into Chicago, and all of a sudden this minute-long commercial that featured five or six of our songs came on talking about a show we were playing,” bandmate Kanene Pipkin told Radio.com.
They pulled the van over, started screaming and did what every buzzy Brooklyn band does in such moments: They busted out a sled they had in the back and promptly started playing in the snow.
Pipkin likened the moment to the memorable “we’re on the radio!” scene in the 1996 film That Thing You Do! but it doesn’t stop there. The folk-tinged trio may have just dropped its self-titled debut in January, but they’ve already had several memorable experiences with TV appearances and opening slots for the likes of The Civil Wars and Brandi Carlile. They’ve been compared to bands like Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers, playing what they themselves characterize as “country soul.”
The Lone Bellow have come a long way from their inception. Old friends, singer Zach Williams said Elmquist was the first person who encouraged him to sing in front of an audience after dealing with a near tragedy years ago.
“My wife had this accident and fell off a horse and was diagnosed a quadriplegic,” Williams explained. “In my journal entries I would write in rhyme to help me process information.”
Williams lived in the hospital waiting for his wife to recover, and it was during this time that Pipkin’s brother urged him to turn his pain into music.
“Her older brother and some other good friends were like, ‘Man, you should learn how to play the guitar and sing at the same time and turn these into songs. Play the open mic to process the emotion,’” Williams said. “I started doing that and that’s where I stepped into the music world.”
He and a group of friends living in the hospital decided that when his wife recovered, they would all move to New York together.
“Miraculously, my wife was healed,” he said. “Two years later we all move up to New York City together. That was seven years ago.”
While many of the stories within their songs tend to be more melancholy (as you’d expect they would be, having sparked from Williams’ lowest moment), their harmonies manage to lighten the mood.
“There’s something cathartic about singing really sad songs, but singing them in three-part harmony because it’s not as isolating as one guy crying into his microphone: ‘I’m so lonely.’ You can only be so lonely when there are two people singing harmony around you,” Pipkin said. “It’s a way to hide that really sad sentiment into something that almost tricks you. ‘Oh, this is a fun song’ and then it lets you ease into what the song is about instead of beating it over someone’s head, ‘These are my feelings!’”
Current single “You Never Need Nobody” is already in rotation on radio stations throughout the country, including Chicago’s XRT. Marty Lennartz, a DJ and Creative Assistant to Programming at the station, said their song is in regular rotation and with good reason.
“They’re an up-and-coming band that has a lot of potential,” Lennartz explained. “They fit in really well in the genre of music that right now seems to be connecting with tons of people. When you look back on 2012/2013, that folk approach and playing organic instruments and songwriting is going to be the music of the time.”
A band of friends, each member – Zach Williams, Kanene Pipkin and Brian Elmquist – takes part in both the songwriting and vocal duties. Songs like “Two Sides of Lonely” are difficult for the band to play, but they get through it together.
“Sometimes voices come along that for some reason match yours perfectly. It’s rare,” Pipkin added. “We’re friends first so there is that level of honesty and trust to where we can say things are good or say things need to be changed.”
As excited as they were to hear their songs on the radio, The Lone Bellow said nothing can top going to a concert and having their lyrics sung back to them.
“We went to Chicago, played our first show there and they had been playing our song on the radio [XRT],” Elmquist said. “The whole crowd was carrying our chorus the first ever time we played in Chicago. That was one of the coolest things.”