Since the Irish pub O’Daly’s made a lonely stretch of Dauphin Street a little greener five years ago, it has gathered such a crowd of regulars it spawned two sister bars next door, Draft Picks and Dauphin St. Blues Company. They’ve also incorporated national touring bands into their festive event schedule, opening their backyard at times for larger productions. On Feb. 6, they are bringing the whole family together for an epic five-year anniversary celebration, featuring Nashville-based, progressive indie band Moon Taxi as the headliner. Warming up the crowd will be the lesser-known, but equally talented ELEL.
ELEL is an eight-piece collective also from the Music City. Founded in 2013, they have caused a stir with the success of their first single “40 Watt,” a track featured on their upcoming debut full-length “Geode,” which will be released this summer. “40 Watt” has been receiving tons of airplay on Sirius XM’s Alt. Nation, which has steadily earned them new fans nationwide. Vocalist/instrumentalist Ben Elkins sat down with Lagniappe to discuss his band’s rise.
SC: ELEL is eight members strong. How did it grow into the musical monster it is? Have there always been eight members?
BE: Not at all, that was not the intention. What sane person would want eight members in their band? It kinda just happened. I did a lot of the music I recorded on my own, and then I got people to join in toward the end. It’s really layered. It’s not necessarily full all the time, but it’s very layered. There are lots of textures and stuff.
A lot of bands these days will play with background tracks and pre-recorded tracks, and I really wanted to avoid that if possible. Once I kind of stumbled into using horns on a few of the songs, it kind of blew it up from a regular five-piece band to an eight-piece band.
Often times, like when we play in Mobile, there are only seven of us. We do sometimes play with two drummers, like these last two shows this weekend, including the ones in Nashville. It’s just easier to get everybody out and coordinated.
Initially, I knew there had to be a trumpet involved, so I met this guy named Frederick (Weathersby) and started hanging out with him. He started coming to practices. I think he was hanging out with his friend Stefan (Forbus), who plays saxophone. He brought him along to practice. I didn’t want to waste Stefan’s time, so I was like, ‘Hey, you’re here. Do you wanna join in on these songs?’ Now, he’s an integral part of the band. Once he and Fredrick started playing percussion on these songs, it just became this thing we can’t live without.
It just works. I know it’s not very practical in a lot of senses, but the live show works so well with everybody. It just resonates with the crowd and ourselves onstage while we’re doing it.
SC: You’ve got members who come from places ranging from Mississippi to New York. What effect if any does it have on your sound?
BE: It’s kind of a sound that can’t really be pinpointed to any region. I feel like Nashville music is soul music at its core. It’s not necessarily the soul genre, but soul comes from deep within yourself. Nashville has always been a place like that. It’s mostly been country music, but those are some of the best soul-filled songs we can all sing along with about the joy and hurt of life. In that sense, I think it does fit well in Nashville, and we’ve all ended up here from all these different places.
In another sense, it does not sound very defined. For instance, JoJo (Jackson) is from Brooklyn and mostly played in punk bands. So, her bass playing has this driving edginess to it I might not have known was going to be a bass vibe of the group. She brings that in, and we make it fit.
It’s interesting how our work ethic is very unique with so many personalities from so many places. It’s challenging for me as a leader to steer the ship when we’re practicing or when we’re stopping in a town. Everybody has their own way of living. There’s so many positives to it.
A lot of the bands around Nashville I like tend to have four guys who grew up together and are sometimes family. One of the things I’ve enjoyed about being in this band is everybody is so different. We’re constantly learning about each other, and I guess the way it comes out musically is that we do learn about each other and get past the challenges. It ends up coming out in the live show, because we’re thrilled. We get over the hump of the distance between each other
SC: “40 Watt” is the first single from “Geode,” and it has been doing quite well. How does it feel to have your first shot be such a hit?
BE: Man, it’s a real thrill. It’s very unexpected too. That song has been around for a while in our world. It’s the oldest song we play. It always resonated with us, and we’ve always loved it. To see we can have this broader audience has been very exciting. It’s definitely opening a lot of doors for us. Everything that’s happened with this band outside of Nashville has happened because of that one song. But we’re excited about the possibilities of the two or three other singles we haven’t put out there yet I like even more than “40 Watt.” I can’t wait to put one out called “Kiss Kiss.”
SC: What can we expect from the rest of the tracks on “Geode?”
BE: There’s a lot of grooviness to the music with a lot of percussion and vocals like “40 Watt.” However, the next single we’re releasing is a little more on the softer side. It’s still danceable. Like “Rock With You” by Michael Jackson, you can’t not dance to it. All the performances on the recording are really soft. The drums are softly played. That’s the vibe for one or two of the other songs. It’s more subtle and calmer. “40 Watt” is the biggest, most bombastic song on the album. There’s also a song we usually end the show with. It’s almost Tom Petty-esque. It’s a huge anthemic, driving song with lots of vocal harmonies. I think if people enjoyed “40 Watt,” then they’ll enjoy the rest of it, even though the songs aren’t the same.
SC: ELEL did Bonnaroo last summer. What’s your plans for this summer?
BE: Bonnaroo times two (laughing). I don’t know. We haven’t heard anything about specific festivals. We haven’t even booked anything past April. Everything is growing really quickly. I’m hoping for some festivals and touring a lot this summer, because that’s when the album will be coming out. We’re definitely a festival kind of band. A festival setting outdoors in the evening on a big stage works the best for us.
O’Daly’s 5th Anniversary featuring Moon Taxi, ELEL
Date: Friday, Feb. 6 with doors at 7:30 p.m.
Venue: O’Daly’s Irish Pub, 564 Dauphin St., www.odalysirishpub.com
Tickets: $15 in advance/$20 day-of through Ticketfly