STORY WRITTEN BY ROB NAGY
For Digital First Media
A thriving member of the vibrant Indie music scene, Brooklyn, New York’s The Lone Bellow has rapidly become a musical presence.
The trio, featuring Zach Williams (lead vocals), Kanene Pipkin (vocals and mandolin) and Brian Elmquist (vocals and guitar), garnered critical acclaim and commercial success from its inception.
Playing what they have labeled “Brooklyn Country Music,” The Lone Bellow’s tantalizing blend of soul, R&B, gospel and country found them signing with Descendant Records (Sony Music) in 2012.
After releasing their self-titled debut album in 2013, the band reached number 64 on Billboard’s 200 and was praised on many “Best of 2013” year-end lists. People ranked the album in the Top 10 for the year, and Entertainment Weekly recognized the album as, “one of the top reasons to love country music in 2013.”
Kanene Pipkin recalls the instantaneous connection and the magic of the vocal harmonies that set the tone for what was to come.
“It was really the first rehearsal, the first performance that we knew we had something,” said Pipkin, from her Brooklyn, New York home. “Zach always says that the first time we all sang together, he knew he wanted to leave whatever he was doing and invest everything in this.”
“From the very beginning, we were all pretty set on making this work,” said Pipkin. “When you’re really gonna put in all the effort to make something work, you really need to believe in it, and I think from the very beginning we believed in it.”
Following a serious accident that left Williams’ wife temporarily paralyzed, he started writing songs to help him deal with her recovery. The couple moved to Brooklyn in 2010 where Williams, who was working as a solo artist, started jamming with his old friend Brian Elmquist. Pipkin was added to the mix, and The Lone Bellow was born.
“I think the thing that was so special about singing with Zach and Brian,” said Pipkin, “was that we could all just sing like we’d be singing solos. With us, it just worked. I remember the first time it happened. I got chills everywhere and I was like, ‘Wow! This is an unbelievable sound. I’ve never been part of a sound like this before.’ It’s a very freeing feeling when you’re singing to just know that the other voices are going to go with yours. It’s very cathartic. When I was singing in choirs, this was something I always wanted to do, and I’m really grateful that I’m doing it now.”
“Each of us have committed and recommitted so many times to be there for each other and to try to be the best friends that we can be,” said Pipkin, “and to take care of all of our families. We’re just all into this life together. I don’t think we feel any sense of entitlement that it should be easy. It’s really hard at times.”
Lone Bellow’s 2015 release “Then Came the Morning,” featuring the title single, has been building momentum on AAA, WXPN and NPR radio outlets. Stand out tracks include “Marietta,” “Heaven Don’t Call Me Home,” “Cold As It Is,” “Call To War” and “Telluride,” making the record one of the best releases of the year.
“When we made our first record, we really just had to scramble and take time off work,” recalls Pipkin. “All of us had day jobs, so we were all working really hard to just put something together. This time around, it was wonderful to just have the freedom and the time to really carefully alternate the kind of sound and choose the direction that we wanted.”
“We have a lot of writers in the band,” Pipkin said. “I think that really helps in diversifying the kind of songs we’re writing and in getting different feels and different perspectives. We all like to help in the editing process. It’s fun to write for each other’s voices.”
“We had maybe thirty or forty songs that we’d written on the road and some from a while back that we were re-working,” said Pipkin. “We got to pick and choose the kind of story we wanted to tell. It felt like this was the record that we really wanted to make, and everything felt pretty intentional.”
“It was a wonderful creative experience for all of us,” Pipkin said. “I would rather have a slow burning career than a giant radio hit and then have a bunch of people at your show that want to hear the one song.”
The Lone Bellow joins an impressive line-up of artists at this year’s XPoNential Music Festival in Camden, New Jersey later this month.
“We’re grateful to XPN for being one of the first people who ever played our music,” says Pipkin. “I think it’s cool being part of the AAA radio scene, because you have a very invested listener base and they want to discover and champion new artists. They get excited when you are succeeding. We’ve had all of these people who have discovered us through AAA and NPR. We’ve just been blessed with these incredible fans that believe in us and love the music. It’s still unbelievable to me that we show up and there are a lot of people who know our music, and they don’t have to be there, but they choose to be there. I think it’s been pretty beautiful and expectation shattering — the fact that we even get to do this for a living.”
“We’re pretty humbled by how everything has gone,” said Pipkin. “We’re grateful this is what we get to do. We have high hopes and great expectations for the future. I think we’re all pretty excited to do what we’re doing.”
IF YOU GO: The Lone Bellow plays the Wiggins Park Stage Sunday, July 26. For tickets, dates and times of all performances, visit www.xpnfest.org.
To stay up to date with The Lone Bellow, visit www.thelonebellow.com.