Despite growing up in Texas, I’ve never really been a fan of anything that could fall under the umbrella of “country”. The genres of bluegrass and folk were no exception, but upon moving to DC, I became nostalgic for the music of my home state and began to dip my toes in the acoustic waters. Elephant Revival was one of the first groups I fell in love with – intimate and laid-back, their sound is a mix of traditional folk techniques and unique instrumentation. They utilize everything from pedal steel to washboard as the backdrop to their delicate, yet powerful, vocal performances. I was lucky enough to snag an interview with Dan Rodriguez, who plays acoustic guitar and electric banjo and guitar for the group.
Your music has been described by many as “transcendental folk”. Do you feel that label fits you? How would you describe your genre?
Transcendental folk is a label a journalist put on us, and for one reason or another, it kind of stuck. He called us that because some of our lyrics lend themselves to that transcendental writing period, but I don’t know – we’ve been called “folk rock with a progressive edge” … I’d say, call us what you want. Just don’t call me too early in the morning.
So “transcendental folk” is more about the lyrics than the sound as a whole?
I think you’re right – the sound as a whole has subtle undertones of the transcendental mood, that seeps in and takes you to another place.
“Elephant Revival” – where did that come from?
From a story from the Chicago zoo. There were two elephants that were held in captivity there for fifteen or twenty years, and one day, the Salt Lake City zoo called up and asked for one of the elephants. The Chicago zoo decided to separate them, but as it was being transported, the elephant on its way to Salt Lake City died and then, for unexplained reasons, the one in Chicago died a few days later. The separation broke their hearts and they died. It’s a sad story, but we took the name of our band from it because for us, it was all about getting us together to play music – we all knew each other and had played together, but we were separated in different parts of the country.
You guys got together in Colorado – how did you know each other before the band began?
Bonnie and I met first. I was living in Connecticut and she was in Oklahoma, but we had a mutual friend, and I was running an open mic night that she sang at. Just immediately, I was really drawn to her. We played music until the sun came up on the roof of the club, and then shortly after that, I followed her out west, where we got together with Bridget, Dango, Charlie, Sage, and everybody else.
So have you always wanted to play music? or how did you get involved in the industry?
I think it was around college. I had gone to college for a couple of years, and music just kept coming into my life – in between classes, I would be messing around with a four-track recorder, playing on my guitar, and I was really leaning more towards music than towards the academic, 9-5 world. So I just started seeking out more scenarios that catered more towards what I was interested in.
What has your band’s progression been since you formed? How has your style changed?
Musically and socially we’ve just melded a lot more. We know how to listen a little deeper in, cater to some songs a little more than we used to, be more courageous with the sounds – get out of our comfort zone more than we might have done earlier on. Charlie brings a whole boatload of different tones that we’ve never had before, like pedal steel … well, that’s about it. Pedal steel. And it’s just totally different from anything we’ve done before.
Do you have any advice for local artists, or anyone just getting started?
Always follow your heart, and always make sure you’re having fun. Once you stop having fun, you have to question your intentions and your motivations. So always have fun.
Awesome – anything else you’d like to say to your fans?
Thanks for listening – check out our new album Petals coming out April 1st.
Elephant Revival will be playing a sold-out show with Josh Ritter tomorrow, 2/23, at the 9:30 Club. But don’t worry – tickets for the 2/24 show are still on sale here.