The Lone Bellow
Back in the early ’70s, Arlo Guthrie put out a wonderful country-style album with the autobiographical title Last of the Brooklyn Cowboys. History has shown us Guthrie was wrong. The borough of Brooklyn continues to be the home for many musical acts that work in an assortment of genres, including country and western. One of the best and most recent incarnations of this would be the Lone Bellow.
The group began when Zach Williams and his wife Kanene Doheney Pipkin moved to New York City, and Williams ran into his old friend Brian Elmquist. The three former Southerners noticed that their singing voices blended well.
“Brooklyn is where this band was formed and the music was created and shaped,” Williams said. “The city and the people there carry a huge weight of the reason why we do what we do.” As far as whether their music is country, he doesn’t really say: “Music has been an amazing way to connect with people first and foremost. We’re happy to leave the discussion of genre to others.”
And others have, including Entertainment Weekly, which said the band is “one of the top reasons to love country music.” Much of the reason for that has to do with the trio’s vocal harmonies. They didn’t create the sound with a particular reason. “Honestly, it’s something that happened quite naturally for us when we first started playing together,” according to Williams. He said the three of them didn’t pattern themselves on other bands (the Lone Bellow also includes the rhythm section of Jason Pipkin and Justin Glasco), but cites diverse performers as Boyz II Men, the Highwaymen, and Fleetwood Mac as influences.
The quintet will appear at the Englert Theatre in Iowa City on March 29. They have played there before as the warm-up for Brandi Carlile and as the main act. Williams remarked on the difference. “To have the opportunity to open for anyone is an act of hospitality on their part. We’re grateful for people like Brandi and others that have welcomed us to their stage. . . .”
However, he continued, “When you’re the headline act, it’s a different opportunity altogether. The night is on you to convey to the people who have bought tickets that you’re inviting them into something. And hopefully, they’re left with the feeling that something special happened between the band and the audience that wouldn’t be possible without one another.”
The fact that the Lone Bellow are appearing at the same venue for the third time attests to the power of their performances.
Besides performing with Carlile, the band has been on bills with such sundry acts as the Zombies, Dwight Yoakam, and Robert Plant. They have also traveled the world and currently are on a tour of Europe. Williams responded to questions over the Internet from Copenhagen. He said the biggest difference between playing in America and outside the U.S. is a matter of distance.
“The U.S. is massive,” he said. “It takes 12 hours just to drive across Texas. You spend the better part of your day getting from place to place.” In contrast, he noted, “In Europe, you can drive two hours and be in another country.”
The Lone Bellow might seem like a distinctive name, but others have confusedly called them “the Low Below” and other monikers. Williams had this to say about the origin of the band’s name: “When we first started working on these songs, I was thinking a lot about the summers of my childhood, because my grandparents listened to a lot of the music that inspires the Lone Bellow songwriting and sound. I tried to remember the most potent memory during that time, and my mind went back to this one night. My grandfather had a bull on his land, and to hear a bull bellowing in the night is a lonely and terrifying feeling when you think it’s a ghost in the woods.”
The topics of their songs have a deep spiritual and intellectual basis. When describing his most recent material, Williams puts it like this: “The journey into the human soul is a mysterious thing. These are stories from our own lives and the lives of those around us. Everyday life can be rather monotonous day in and day out; however, there’s a certain depth and beauty in a person’s life, especially when the cards are stacked against you. You do what you got to do to get by, and make sure those that you care for have what they need in this world.”
Amen to that. Life is hard. Music by artists like the Lone Bellow helps lighten that load.