Brian Elmquist of The Lone Bellow: Another Small-Town Georgia Musician Making a Big Impact On Stage and In the Studio
You just never know when that “Aha Moment” will occur in a musician’s life.
For example, guitar virtuoso Joe Robinson was jumping on a trampoline in the back yard of his rural Australian home when he heard “Layla” by Derek and the Dominos blasting from his dad’s stereo. The ten-year-old had a “trampoline moment” and decided to stop the piano lessons and start learning how to play the guitar.
Half a world away in another small town (Sandersville, Georgia; population 5,472), a 13-year-old Brian Elmquist sat mesmerized watching Slash soloing on an electric guitar while standing on Axl Rose’s grand piano in Guns ‘N Roses’ “November Rain” music video. Brian knew that’s what he wanted to do and asked his dad to help restring the guitar that was collecting dust up in the attic.
Fast forward to today and the Gretsch-endorsed Elmquist is now one-third of the popular, critically-acclaimed Americana/Indie-Folk band, The Lone Bellow. In addition to lead guitar duties, Elmquist is also a contributing songwriter and a key voice to the band’s smooth, soulful, three-part harmony.
The other two-thirds of The Lone Bellow include guitarist and lead singer Zack Williams (another Georgia native who has been Brian’s best friend since they were teenagers) and Kanene Donehey Pipkin, a multi-instrumentalist who can play mandolin, keyboards, and bass guitar and handles the upper register vocal duties. And like Brian, both bandmates are strong, expressive singers as well as gifted songwriters.
When The Lone Bellow formed, the three friends happened to be living in Brooklyn, the old stomping grounds of the Gretsch family and location of the famous Gretsch Factory on 60 Broadway. Buzz built rather quickly for the band thanks to bloggers and local music magazines, and the band signed with Descendant Records in 2012.
On January 22, 2013, their debut self-title album, The Lone Bellow, was released and the band made its first-ever TV appearance on Conan. Following that big day, the three friends decided it was time to quit their day jobs and focus on their new band which they compare to a “musical marriage.”
The Lone Bellow has since released three additional studio albums: Then Came The Morning in 2015 with producer Aaron Dessner of The National, and after relocating from Brooklyn to Nashville in 2016, the trio recorded at the legendary RCA Studio A in Nashville with producer Dave Cobb (Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell) for 2017’s Walk Into A Storm.
2018 saw the band go in a different direction by releasing a self-produced EP, The Restless, and starting to tour and perform as an acoustic trio with no backing band. Called the TRIIIO Tour, the show is an extension of the popular acoustic portion of their live shows where Elmquist, Williams, and Pipkin perform around one microphone. With their three distinctive voices, well-blended harmonies, and superb musicianship, the TRIIIO “One Mic Tour” has been captivating audiences around the U.S. Several UK shows are scheduled for 2020 as well.
With an eclectic blend of original songs ranging from foot-stomping rock to hushed, intimate acoustic music performed around a single microphone, Elmquist uses a number of guitars in the studio and onstage.
On the electric side, Elmquist favors what he considers the coolest guitar ever made: the dazzling Gretsch White Falcon. He also admits being influenced by several Gretsch legends including Chet Atkins, Brian Setzer, and especially Neil Young. In a Gretsch video, Elmquist shared, “I saw a video of Neil Young playing a White Falcon and it’s such a beautiful instrument. And I play a lot like Neil Young. I’ve never been one to play a bunch of notes, I’d rather play a melody; something you’d be humming.”
Video: Brian Elmquist, White Falcon in hand, performing “May You Be Well” from The Lone Bellow’s Walk Into A Storm album.
Main feature photo by Izzy Faith.