The faint whiff of cruel irony wasn’t lost on Elephant Revival’s bassist Dango Rose; merely 10 days after the band members released their new CD These Changing Skies, the skies above their own home turf turned hellish and hammered their neighborhood with the kind of flood people will be talking about for a century.
Like a lot of his musician peers at the time, Rose and the band were out of town.
“Yeah,” he told us by phone recently from the Moab Folk Festival, “it kind of began while we were in Chicago, and we were tuning into social media pretty heavily, especially Facebook posts from our friends David Tiller and Enion Pelta-Tiller, from [the band] Taarka. Pictures of their home, with the waters rising, and then pictures of the water getting up to the rooftops. … Bonnie [Paine] and Dan’s [Rodriguez] home served as sort of a refugee center for people in the lowlands, ’cause they were up high. … You really feel helpless, you just want to send out love to everyone back home.
“And so we dedicated our whole tour to it. We’re going to hope to raise some funds for the Lyons Musicians Relief Fund at our shows this weekend in Denver and Boulder, and get some people to help out with that. … We got back from our first leg of the tour in the Northeast, and every one of us came down and pitched in a little to help Taarka dig out from the six feet of mud.”
Bittersweet way to kick off a tour, indeed. The band is just following up on its fourth long player, recorded with producer Ryan Hadlock at his Bear Creek Studios in Washington state. Hadlock has been on something of a Midas-touch hot streak lately, with successful projects for The Lumineers and Brandi Carlile. While Elephant Revival’s back-porch Americana still glows as warmly as ever, due in no small part to their uncanny vocal harmonies, most critics recognize both a steady arc of maturity and a band cohesion emerging through this recording, and Hadlock’s hand in the recording process may be one component.
From the quiet throb of the opener “Birds and Stars,” the poised Celtic fiddle waltz “The Rakers” and Bonnie Paine’s desperately cool a capella, Baptist revival/Appalachia field holler mash-up “Rogue River,” a tune that’s been drifting through their sets for a few years now, the Elephants sound like they have found the perfect venue to channel their airborne talents into a truly integrated sonic fabric, without compromise or chart-success cheapness.
Rose says that the hookup with Hadlock was a fated thing.
“It was pretty synchronistic, really,” Rose says. “Bonnie had just been in touch with Brandi Carlile in some way and had been informed about this great studio called Bear Creek, right outside of Seattle. And, like, that same day, we were at Mulberry Mountain in Arkansas, and our manager John Joy flew in and said, ‘Hey, I just reached out to Ryan Hadlock, who has a studio in Washington called Bear Creek.’ And the thing is, we’d been trying to find a studio and a producer for months actually, without having gotten much clarity on it.
“And then, you know, within one or two days, it all clicked.”
Elephant Revival recently recorded at Bear Creek Studios in Washington. | Photo by Anne Stavely
Rose says that much of the material was already pretty solid when they went in, with a couple of tracks that were completely new: “Birds and Stars” and the mando/fiddle-driven instrumental slow burner “The Pasture.” But as far as how the thing was supposed to sound, Rose says that just kind of happened.
Evidently it happens to everyone who cuts tracks at this place.
“There is a ‘Bear Creek’ kind of sound, which we began to realize once we were there. You can hear if you listen back to The Lumineers’ stuff, Brandi Carlile’s stuff. And, we also allowed more openness in the process, with Ryan and his assistant Jerry Streeter, who was a big, big help with the creation of this album.
“And also, we had so much time. We had three weeks solid where we woke up — we lived there, we lived in the barn — and it was just music, from 10 a.m. till 2 a.m. every day. It really allowed us the time to delve deeper into the songs, what they were asking for, what Ryan’s ideas were about a part, and it really allowed us to have a back and forth about the songs. And to be sure everyone’s voice was heard, and that the arrangements were allowed to take on new lives of their own.”
There is always a little peril in turning a delicately balanced creation like Elephant Revival’s unique Americana over to an outsider, but Rose says that the time they afforded themselves made the project successful.
“That was the coolest thing about it,” Rose said. “We had the time to figure each other out and get to know each other, within the context of the music. And being up in the Pacific Northwest was cool. It’s definitely a magical place.”
Elephant Revival plays the Boulder Theater Saturday, Nov. 9. Doors at 7:30 p.m. Taarka and Aofie OŽDonavan open. Tickets are $22 in advance, $25 day of show.