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We had the pleasure of interviewing Eliot Bronson over Zoom video!
Over the course of five albums, indie folksinger Eliot Bronson has created his own brand of acclaimed Americana. He’s an award winner. A road warrior. An internationally-renowned musician with a voice that swoons and sweeps, making fans out of everyone from his hometown newspaper, The Baltimore Sun — who championed Bronson from the very start, hailing him as “a folk singing wunderkind” back when he was still playing local coffeeshops — to Grammy-winning producer Dave Cobb, whose work on 2014’s Eliot Bronson and 2017’s James placed Bronson on the same client roster as Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, and other heartfelt songwriters.
Bronson turns a new page with Empty Spaces. Written during a period of tumult — including the breakup of a 10-year relationship, the end of an engagement, and a move from his adopted home of Atlanta to his current headquarters in Nashville — it’s an album about loss, redemption, the places we leave, and the homes we make for ourselves. More importantly, it’s an album about starting again. Like the soundtrack to a rainy day whose skies steadily give way to sunshine, the music itself is gorgeous and moodily atmospheric, splashed with watercolor streaks of electric guitar, vocal harmonies, strings, Mellotron, and Bronson’s sharpest songwriting to date.
Ever since his teenage years in working-class Baltimore, music has been a source of therapy for Bronson. Back then, he felt like a prisoner in his own home — a home filled with volatility and unpredictability, overseen by parents whose identities were equally (and, perhaps, paradoxically) informed by the Church and 1960s counterculture. Outside the front door loomed the Pentecostal Church where his father and grandfather once preached to congregants who spoke in tongues. It was an odd refuge for a child, and Bronson found his own sort of escape in his father’s record collection, drawn to LPs by Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, and the trailblazing blues duo of Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry. Inspired, he began writing his own music as a teenager, eventually those songwriting skills into a career — and, with it, a ticket out of town.
Relocating to Atlanta, he found a regional audience as a member of popular folk-rock duo The Brilliant Inventions and became a regular performer at Eddie’s Attic, where acts like John Mayer and the Indigo Girls once honed their own craft. His subsequent solo career attracted even more attention, not to mention high-profile awards like a first-place finish in the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest. When a longtime relationship with his fiancé came to a halt, though, Bronson found himself leaning upon songwriting once again — not only for a living, but also for personal stability.
“I began writing the kind of songs I needed to hear,” he explains. “Empty Spaces was the best healing work I could’ve ever done. I had a weird, challenging childhood, and I originally turned to music because I didn’t have anywhere else to go in the house, physically. I made my own little world that made me feel safe and understood. This time, I really needed to find that space again and come full-circle. I made this record for the same reason that I wrote my first song. It wasn’t for anybody else; it was for me. Hearing the right words at the right moment can be the most magical elixir you can possibly take. It can heal you.”
To fully heal, though, Bronson needed to make some changes. He left Atlanta and moved to Nashville. He made the conscious decision to escape the shadow of his influences, too, writing a new batch of songs that sounded not like Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, or Tom Waits, but like Eliot Bronson. He sank more time into his daily meditation practice, allowing creativity to enter his life in waves. And after recording his two previous albums with renowned producer Dave Cobb, he also decided to co-produce the new record with longtime bandmate Will Robertson, setting up in Robertson’s basement studio and tracking Empty Spaces’ 10 songs in a series of live, full-band performances. The result? An album that’s emotive, pensive, melancholy, and wholly moving. This isn’t just a record about empty spaces, after all. It’s a record about the new discoveries that can fill that emptiness.
Bronson stacks his voice into layers of harmony on the breezy, beautiful “Good For You,” a song that pines for a distant lover who’s moved across the country. Songs like the Lyle Lovett-worthy “She Loves the Mountains” and “Montana” address that physical divide, too, with Bronson — who calls the latter track “a ‘Jolene’ song, directed at a state rather than a person” — both scolding and singing the praises of a place whose beauty has stolen his partner’s affection. During the album’s opener, “Visitor,” his melodies melt into a woozy landscape of acoustic guitar and pedal steel, while the anthemic “With Somebody” finds him mixing his folk roots with epic bursts of heartland pop/rock.
Perhaps nowhere is Empty Space’s unique punch better delivered than on the title track, where Bronson sings about coming to terms with the void left by his ex’s departure. It’s a breakup song for realists — a song that neither wallows in its own misery nor celebrates a sense of newfound freedom. Instead, Bronson sings about the complicated feelings that exist somewhere between those two polarities, painting his song not with black-and-white extremes, but with greyscale colors that are far more relatable.
“I can’t tell if it’s a sad song or if it’s a hopeful song,” he admits. “I really like it that way, because that’s life — we rarely have simple, unmixed feelings about anything. Being able to find those weird places where those emotions mix together, and express them, is exciting to me. It gives language to things that are universal. We don’t have a word for that color or that emotion, but it exists, and by pointing it out, it gives you permission to feel it.”
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