Videos by American Songwriter
When I first heard The Lone Bellow, I was nestled under a down duvet, hidden from winter’s first ambush.
It was 10:30 p.m. on a Wednesday night, and my toes were finally warm when I heard my phone buzz on the nightstand. I pulled a single arm out of my cocoon, grabbed the phone and read the text: “Sorry if this is super late but there’s a secret show tonight. Text me back if you are able to come.” I tapped back quickly, wanting my cold fingers back under the covers, “We’re lame and in bed. What’s the show?” Her reply came quickly: “The Lone Bellow.”
Leaving the comfort of a snug bed has never been so rewarding.
Crowded within a Nashville home, this Brooklyn-based country band who’ve teamed up with producer Charlie Peacock (of the The Civil Wars), belted out melancholic melodies and skin-chilling lyrics with vulnerability and skill. The sound, which they call “Brooklyn Country Music,” weaves together cascading three-part harmonies, exuberant rhythms, and unaffected lyrics—a recipe for the emotional, yet joyful music influenced by the band’s southern roots.
They formed in 2010 when Zach Williams, the band’s lead singer and principal songwriter, called an impromptu jam-session at a Brooklyn diner where his long-time friend and guitarist Brian Elmquist worked. “I just didn’t want to do another project on my own,” says Williams, who’d been pursuing a solo career. “I wanted to be a part of something bigger. And several minutes in, I knew this was what I should put my heart into.”
That day in the diner was just the start of many magical moments over the past two years that have prepared The Lone Bellow to release their first self-titled album on January 15th.
“I’m looking forward to that moment that I hope happens, where we’re playing in a city that we don’t live in, and people sing along,” says Williams who is gearing up to leave his 550-sq.ft. apartment in Brooklyn for a 2013 tour that includes an appearance January 22nd on Conan O’Brien. The band, which also includes mandolin player Kanene Pipkin, say they’ll feel relieved when the music is out of their hands.
“It’s hard for an artist to sit on art that they’ve made for so long,” says Elmquist. “We’ve felt like we’re in limbo. It’s exciting for us to take our hands off of it, and let other people listen to it and let it become part of their story.”
And the story is a long one. It reaches back eight years, when Williams’ first songs were birthed out of near tragedy. In 2005, while still living in his home state of Georgia, Williams’ wife was catastrophically injured in a horseback riding accident. Though her doctors originally predicted she would leave the hospital a paraplegic, months of rehab in Atlanta’s Shepherd Center helped her regain the ability to walk. And while she made her miraculous recovery, Williams poured his anger, sadness, and emotion out on paper. When he shared his writing with his friends, one pointed out that they weren’t just words—they were songs.
It explains why The Lone Bellow’s first album ranges from the tragic to the utterly hopeful and redemptive. Together, the trio belt a heart-wrenching bridge on “You Can Be All Kinds of Emotional,” singing, “Take my ache and take my blood, wish I was gone, wish I was dust.”
This sense of introspection echoes through the other ten tracks, all of which were recorded at the Rockwood in Brooklyn over three days. While recording one night, the entire band went swirling, dancing, and stomping out in the rain before returning inside to record “Teach me to Know” soaking wet. It’s moments like that which solidified the band’s commitment to one another—and what kept them patient through two long years of waiting.
And now that the music can finally be out of their hands and into the world, there’s only two things left to do. “I just want to play rock shows,” Williams laughs, “and write.”