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With (Appalachian) Strings Attached: Charlotte’s Elonzo Wesley Puts A Twist On Americana Music

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Photo courtesy of Elonzo Wesley.
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Charlotte-based progressive Americana group Elonzo Wesley (L to R: Taylor Winchester, Alicia Driver, Jeremy Davis, Dennis Contreras).

Since their first recorded steps as a band in November 2017, four-piece Americana outfit Elonzo Wesley have lulled Charlotte audiences into a beautifully poignant dance of Appalachian strings and soul.

"I was scared of getting on stage. I was scared of writing a song that people might think is ridiculous or terrible. The biggest lesson is if you face your fear... most likely you’re going to be fine and come out with a skill, or a song, or happiness."
– Elonzo Wesley lead singer Jeremy Davis

Interview Highlights:

On the band’s start:

Jeremy Davis (lead singer/guitarist): It started as a band just called Elonzo. I used to live in Atlanta, where I was miserable. I was starting to play music with my brother-in-law Dan Bordeau [Elonzo’s drummer], who’s married to my sister Maggie [Elonzo’s pianist/keyboard player]. When they were dating, I would travel down to Rock Hill because he was going to school there at Winthrop University, and we would work on the very early stages of what would become Elonzo. Eventually, I moved down in 2007, and after me basically dragging them down to open mic nights at the Evening Muse, we eventually started Elonzo.

On the significance of the band’s name:

Jeremy: I have to give Dan [Bordeau] credit for suggesting that we call the old band Elonzo. When he pitched that, I thought it was the perfect band name, not only because it’s unique, but also because Elonzo was my dad’s name. He passed away when I was 11. It’s just one of those things where when one person goes away, you don’t hear their name anymore and people don’t refer to them. It’s significant to me on a personal level because it keeps someone’s memory alive. He was a musician. He was a drummer. To me, it’s an ode to him.

On Elonzo’s rock’n folk sound turning into Elonzo Wesley’s Appalachian strings aesthetic:

Taylor Winchester (mandolin player): The thing that stays with Jeremy is his songwriting ability. With the string band, it’s not as “in your face” as a rock-and-roll act. We like to think we can rock out a little bit, but keep the songwriting in focus. Jeremy: The electric instruments and drums and things like that can sometimes be overwhelming. When you go to a small club and see a rock show, 90% of the time, if you’re the performer and you’re done with the set, someone from the audience will come up and say they couldn’t even hear what you’re singing. That was always a little troubling to me because I spent so much time crafting these songs and lyrics, and then people can’t even hear what you’re singing. On an aesthetic level, the string music pairs perfectly with what I want to do as a songwriter.

On the theme of travel in Elonzo Wesley’s 2017 release 'Spec':

Jeremy: At the time, I was traveling a lot with my trucking business, and I also had music and was traveling to promote that, too. Traveling was a constant thing in my life, and it’s one of the themes in the record because no matter whether you’re a musician, a salesperson, a trucker or anything else, traveling always puts a strain on your home life, but traveling is also beautiful. Traveling is one of the reasons I want to be a musician, to see the world while doing something I love. It’s that struggle of doing the things you love, seeing the things you want to see, and being with the people you love.

On the Charlotte music scene:

Jeremy: When I lived in Atlanta, I wasn’t playing music (even though I worked at a recording studio), and I wasn’t happy. Moving to Charlotte, I immediately started doing things to move towards being a musician: making records, writing songs, making friends with other musicians. At this point, all these years later, almost all of my friends are musicians, and that’s my life. It’s given me a home where I feel like I fit in and people accept me, regardless of what kind of music I make.

Taylor: A lot of people like to say that Charlotte doesn’t have a music scene or a community isn’t here. But the thing that brought us together in playing music was getting out and seeing and connecting and networking with other musicians. For me, growing up here, it’s really cool to see how the network functions to a degree and hopefully that will continue to grow with things happening in the city.

Jeremy: I play solo shows. I do solo touring. I spend a fair amount of time alone because I enjoy it. But life is always better with other people. Music is always better with other musicians. Connectedness and the feeling of belonging is so important in almost every part of life.

On Elonzo Wesley’s 2019 release 'Song to No One':

Jeremy: I tried to do everything different for this record. Generally speaking, I’ve written a lot of “sad boy songs,” and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I wanted to do something different this time around. One of the things that I’ve had a mental rule about is trying not to be funny in songs because it annoys me when I hear songs that are trying to be funny and silly. But I let that happen on this record because, at times, it can be good and interesting, particularly if it has a point… A serious message can be hidden in a joke, which to me, makes it worthwhile. Serious art can also be funny and fun.

Music featured in this #WFAEAmplifier chat:

Elonzo - “Cannon Fire Desire”
Elonzo Wesley - “This Ain’t No Country Song”
Elonzo Wesley - “Virginia”
Elonzo Wesley - “Traveling Song”
Elonzo Wesley - “Spec”
Elonzo Wesley - “Human Bean”
Elonzo Wesley - “Regular Guy”
Elonzo Wesley - “Rock and Roll”

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Joni Deutsch is happy to call Charlotte home as WFAE's manager for on-demand content and audience engagement, where she's led the first Charlotte Podcast Festival (named one of the “best podcast conferences” by Buzzsprout) and helped produce such podcasts as FAQ City, SouthBound, Inside Politics, Work It and the Apple Podcast chart-topping series She Says. In addition to being an NPR Music contributor, Joni is also the creator and host of WFAE’s Charlotte music podcast Amplifier, named “Best Podcast” by Charlotte Magazine and honored for excellence in arts and music podcasting by the local Edward R. Murrow Awards and The Webby Awards (called “The Internet’s Highest Honor” by The New York Times).