The Lone Bellow Show We’re Not Alone
By Gianna Hughes, Photo by Eric Ryan Anderson on March 13, 2013
A lone bellow will be expelled during a moment of utter desperation. The single, primal cry is a symbolic, vocal declaration of the need for change and can either be derived from a moment of exasperation—likely caused by the inability to help, or be with, someone we care for—or it can also mark a moment of definitive courage. No matter where the chilling sound comes from, it marks a moment of change: a moment when one can no longer head in the direction they were initially traveling.
This imagery is carefully woven throughout the songs of the band of the same name, which features members Zach Williams, Kanene Pipkin and Brian Elmquist. The Lone Bellow is an evocative name for a poignant band whose songs provide vignettes of the human experience.
The songs of The Lone Bellow were born after Williams and his wife were first married—back when his wife was in a horseback riding accident that nearly left her paralyzed. Feeling disabled himself, Williams turned to songwriting as an outlet for the overwhelming emotions and thoughts that were filling him. These songs provided a living, breathing catharsis for Williams; they provided a direction forward. During this time, Williams explained, he and his friends “made a promise that if she got better, we would all move to New York together and try to pursue whatever arts we were trying to pursue at the time.” And after this period of perseverance through trial and tragedy, the Southern transplants still reside in Brooklyn today.
“We all have a strong value to live close to one another. That vibe of being able to walk to each other’s houses has made our love of Americana storytelling even more natural,” said Williams, in regard to being drawn to Brooklyn specifically.
“There are so many languages spoken in [Brooklyn]; it’s the most populated borough in New York City. There are people who live in Brooklyn who have never been to Manhattan. You’ve got your school, your church, your grocery store and your doctor, so there’s no reason for it,” continues Williams. “It has a small-town scene that has been protected over the years.” And in that sense, although it is densely populated, Brooklyn is the ideal medium between small town and metropolis.
And The Lone Bellow thus married their Southern roots with their new home in the north, a theme that lives throughout the story they are currently writing. For example, when working on their debut self-titled album, which was released in January via Descendant Records, the band brought in Nashville-based producer Charlie Peacock to hone in on their sound of Brooklyn folk music.
“He helps people project moments while they’re recording,” said Williams.
Peacock was an integral part of the magic of their debut album. He helped capture the special moments that draw people to The Lone Bellow’s live shows—those moments that catch you off guard; the moments that leave you feeling emotions or reliving memories you thought would never resurface.
Peacock also wanted to help the band honor the place where they grew into their own: Rockwood Music Hall. Although the finishing touches of the album were done at Peacock’s Nashville studio, the majority of the album was recorded at the venue, thus capturing the sound they had fostered there while also commemorating the community that surrounds the venue.
“We wanted to try to capture the moments that had happened there live on the record,” said Williams. “And Ken Rockwood has been a musical godfather to me for the past seven years and to us for the past two-and-a-half years.” So they infused this legacy into the record. When listening closely, you can hear that “the room is another one of the instruments on the record,” said Williams.
When considering the move to New York, this makes the lyrics “our wide-eyed ways may look like a wreck where we’re from,” from “Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold,” all the more poignant. If you’re inclined to pursue arts, you’ve experienced this firsthand. Surely, you’ve felt as though your artistic inclinations have caused those in your hometown to turn their heads and wonder why you cannot follow the same path they have chosen. But you understand that this inclination to head left rather than right is mostly inexplicable. It is this road you travel down that ultimately fulfills you. This urge to create looms over all else.
And, in a sense, one who creates also creates his own story. This is something The Lone Bellow understands: although life may have unforeseen obstacles and turns, we still pave our own roads. We are protagonists in our individual stories. While some things are out of our hands, we should determine what we are able to. In “Looking for You,” Williams sings, “I’m not letting you go again; I’m not letting this story end.” Above all else, The Lone Bellow understands that we must carry each other; we must share the burden of life together. Relationships—and love—take work. Love, whether romantic or fraternal, is like a fine-tuned instrument that needs to be delicately cared for if you want it to perform to its best potential.
However, one would assume that sharing these stories of tragedy, trial and triumph, night after night, may be trying, but Williams argues, “We don’t want to separate ourselves from [the songs.]”
“Singing these songs over and over reminds us of the pain where they’re from and the road where they’re from,” continues Williams. “And it helps us relive it over and over and over. It’s a heavy thing for the listeners to carry and for us to carry, but I feel like if we carry it at the same time, it becomes worthwhile.”
This is something The Lone Bellow genuinely lives. Whether creating videos with their friends, traveling with their spouses on tour, or recording at Rockwood Music Hall, the Lone Bellow are not alone, and they want to remind others of the same truth.
However, the burden of carrying this weight can also be an agent of catharsis. While written from a personal place, sharing these stories night after night eventually allows them to grow into something that is larger than the songwriter. They are bigger than the songwriter and bigger than the listener because they are innately who we are. F