Elouise is a band with a rich and diverse musical history. The project is led by Elouise Walker (vocals, bandoneon, accordion), a visionnaire who pulls the band together to recount imagery of her sordid past using an unusual musical pallete creating a sound that is gnarled, beautiful and down-right unpredictable. Their debut album, Deep Water is produced by Elouise Walker and John Chamberlin (drums, acoustic and electric guitar, percussion, marxophone and 6-string banjo). A longtime musician, engineer and producer, Chamberlin calls upon his vast knowledge of film and television score when lending his talents. In addition to writing, playing and producing, he is currently a recording mixer for Orange is the New Black, Portlandia, Baskets, New Girl, and Dice, just to name a few. Rich Dembowski (vocals, six-string banjo, guitars, bass) was front man for the popular cosmic country band, Old Californio and spent many years playing bass with famed producer and musician, Ben Vaughn. Dembowski co-wrote on Deep Water and lends lead vocals and song writing prowess to “Oh Lord” and “I’ll Be Good To You”. In addition, Michelle Beauchesne (cello) has performed throughout the US with the Florida Philharmonic, Palm Beach Opera Company, Berkeley Symphony and the American Tour as principal cellist with the Bolshoi Ballet. William Bongiovanni (double-bass, electric bass, vocals) has recorded or played with Ann Magnuson, Rufus Wainwright, and the Santa Monica Symphony and now almost exclusively plays double bass.
Elouise is: Elouise Walker, John Chamberlin, Rich Dembowski, Michelle Beauchesne and William Bongiovanni. Guest musicians: Dave Aron (producer/mixer: Sublime, Snoop Dogg, U2) played clarinet, Sam Prevost, a kick ass up and coming trombone player (recently played with Tower of Power and The Sly Digs) and Colin Nairne, mandolin player and band leader of The High Bar Gang, a Juno nominated Bluegrass band and winners of Best Vocal Group of 2014 Canadian Folk Music Awards.
Meet – Elouise
1. For those unfamiliar with your music, can you can you give us a little of your back history?
I am a musical outsider who was inspired to create music because of the acquisition of a six string banjo from a second hand shop, an extremely sorted family history, the ‘combines’ of Robert Rauschenberg, the late great Warren Hellman, a bunch of talented musical collaborators, and a supernatural visitation by the ghost of Earl Scruggs. And no, I am not making this up. If you asked me 5 years ago if I would be involved in making a record, I would have said you were crazy. Real life is stranger than fiction.
Going into this project, I was musically untrained, never wrote a song or sang a note. I had no idea what my singing voice sounded like. I can’t do what other accomplished musicians do. But, I can do something else. I have visions of what music should sound like. I see it. I am the muse, musical visionaire and instrumental neophyte of this project. In my mind, song writing starts with visual pictures that are translated into sound. The musicians who worked on this project are incredibly trained and jumped off the deep end with me. Playing with exceptional skill and still keeping the foundation dusty, rickety and beautifully uncomfortable. The song structures were not based on any musical rules, bridges or hooks but more on soundscapes that embodied raw emotion and concept driven musical dynamics of the stories we were trying to tell.
In the beginning, we were experimenting with sound and had not written any songs of our own songs yet. We started out deconstructing historical standards and old Bluegrass tunes and putting them back together. Bluegrass is pretty peppy and happy sounding but if you actually look at the lyrics, the songs are really dark. We wanted to change the emotional intent of the song by a creating a sonic environment that was dark, ominous, supernatural and more directly connected to the meaning of the lyrics. Pretty soon stories of my own started to bubble up and I began writing original songs based on my own life experiences. I would write the lyrics and collaborators John Chamberlin and Rich Dembowski (both multi instrumentalists), would add the melodies based on my musical concepts for the song. Eventually, Rich wrote a couple originals and I began creating melodies too. We would sit on the couch once a week and bang out a song idea in 45 minutes. Pretty soon, we had about 30 rough ideas to work with. The band grew with Michelle Beauchesne, a highly skilled classical cellist and William Bongiovanni on double bass.
We have had tremendous support from fellow musicians including composer John Philip Shenale (Tori Amos, SOA, The Forrest Rangers). Horn section: Dave Aron (Snoop, U2, Sublime), Robert Aul, Lee Toft, Dwight Banks, Sam Prevost and horn arranger David Stout. Pedal and Lap steel players: Dan Ames, Woody Aplanalp. Mandolin: Colin Nairne (The High Bar Gang).
We are pretty reclusive and made the record in the living room of our 1926 ramshackle hacienda located at the base of the foothills in Los Angeles. John and I produced the record.
2. Who would you list as your musical influence?
The Anthology of American Folk Music
3. What’s the coolest thing that’s happened to you since you started up?
When we started experimenting with sound and music, we never intended to make a record so it was pretty satisfying to see it all come together for Deep Water.
We were asked to submit original music for an HBO pilot about Salem witches. The show never came out but the music we made was dark, ominous and really interesting. In Salem, music was forbidden so the tracks were more emotional and situational than period pieces.
We have had some incredible musical collaborators and are currently working with the composer César Dávila-Irizarry who wrote the theme song for American Horror Story. He has done a few remixes of our songs and we have recorded some of his original pieces. By remixes, I mean we are deconstructing, dissecting and creating an alternate universe of sound. He brings an industrialized edge to Blackgrass. It is pretty fucking cool. He just asked us to send him some songs and what came back was other worldly. Some are nothing like the original. We are still figuring out what to do with them. We will probably release them in the Summer.
4) What are your hopes and dreams as a musician for the next few years?
We would love to score a film, make more records and be able to pay our bills.
5) What are some of your favorite albums from the past few years?
I am currently listening to old Hank Williams, Gene Autry, Tom Waits, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash, Peggy Lee, The Carter Family, Blanche, X, Nick Cave, Bobbie Gentry, Waylon Payne, Lucinda Williams, PJ Harvey, and Lead Belly. I am all over the place right now.
6) Do you see any real use for social media, or is it all just a pain in the ass to keep with?
Being sort of a recluse, I had nothing to do with social media before the release of this record. Someone told me I had to do it. Most of our band is not on social media. Two of our members will not read any of our reviews. We are all kind of introverts. I personally think it is pretty great. You get to converse with the world in your underwear. How cool is that?
7) Do you pay attention to reviews or comments from people about your music or do you just turn that noise off?
We really had no idea if anyone was going to get what we were trying to do with this record. We called it Blackgrass because after making the record, we couldn’t figure out what genre it should be in. In our opinion, it was a dark sub genre of Bluegrass. That could of killed us right there. We could not find a similar record to compare it to. We didn’t care honestly. We did what we did and we liked it. We did not shop the record because we did not want anyone to change it. Some of our songwriter friends told us to add bridges and hooks and told us they were not real songs. We, of course, ignored them. I guess the plus side of releasing it yourself is that you can do whatever you want. It’s your dime.
Our first album review was from Frank Gutch Jr.of No Depression. It was spot on. He hated us. He loved us. He loved us more because we made him hate us. He figured it out. It was a journey. It was ugly and beautiful at the same time. We want people to hear the record and because we are funding it ourselves, blogs, reviews, social media and comments are an incredible resource. It allows people to share outside the corporate PR machine. When people comment, it means people are listening.
Review of ‘Deep Water’ – No Depression
8) If you could tour anywhere in the world, where would you want to go?
Man, that’s a tough one. Any old outpost where the lights are dim, the sound is good, the people are real and the liquor flows. Some place in the world where camera phones don’t exist. I wouldn’t mind playing the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival because Warren Hellman and the artists playing the festival were a real inspiration to us. It would kind of be full circle.
9) Can music save the mortal soul or is just a good back beat to your life?
Listening to a lot of historical music and penning my own stories, has been my own form of poor man’s therapy. I think sharing personal stories of happiness, sadness and the struggles of this life, past and present, are important forms of cultural identity and musical history. To answer your question, I think it does not save my soul but cuts it wide, puts it on a plate and opens it up for all to see.
10) Any last thoughts for your fans?
The back roads are always more interesting than the interstate.
– Elouise Walker