15 Songs, 47 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

“I think that we were at a place in the band where we've kind of tried our best to go ahead and put to sleep the lies of what success is supposed to look like in this music industry,” says Zach Williams, lead singer/guitarist of The Lone Bellow, of the mentality his band brought to its multilayered fourth album. “We were just like, ‘Let's do whatever we want and have fun and not try to play by any subconscious rules or roles that we are supposed to play.’” The trio—rounded out by multi-instrumentalist Kanene Donehey Pipkin and guitarist Brian Elmquist, both of whom also sing and join Williams in songwriting—reunited with producer Aaron Dessner, one of the sonic architects of The National. “We went up and made the record in Aaron's studio in upstate New York, and it was the first time that we slept at a studio, just lived there for a few weeks,” notes Williams. The Lone Bellow had a reputation for earthy, full-voiced harmonizing, particularly on the rootsy albums they made with Nashville producers Charlie Peacock and Dave Cobb, but Dessner wanted to push the three singing partners out of their familiar patterns. The group also upended its recording process: Instead of starting with the solid foundation of rhythm parts, the creation of each track began with band members picking a key for a song and humming the melody. “We were just trying to figure all this stuff out,” says Williams. “It was really refreshing to us.” He describes the meaning and making of select tracks from the prismatic, openhearted set.

Intro
“My grandfather passed away and I went down to his funeral in Marietta and it was a beautiful service. The whole town showed up. He was a very celebrated dude. And my grandma's this feeble old lady. She hasn't played a tuned piano in years, decades even. But back in the day, she traveled around Florida and Georgia and North Carolina and she would play the piano before my great-grandpa would preach at revivals. So she has this banging Southern Gothic style of playing that I feel has always represented a sonic part of my upbringing. There's the paid guy playing the piano, and she just randomly during the funeral asks a couple of her sons to help her walk up, goes up to the piano, politely asks him to move, and slays this medley of these three songs. It was the last moment of my grandpa's funeral, and it was her ‘I love you’ thing. While we were up at the studio, I was telling everybody about it because it had just happened a few weeks before. And I said, ‘Oh my god, my dad actually recorded that.’ So what you hear [during ‘Intro,’ ‘Interlude,’ and ‘Finale’] is my grandma playing at the end of my grandpa's funeral.”

I Can Feel You Dancing
“Brian and I both had these grandfathers that lived wonderful lives, and they both passed away within a couple of months of each other. And part of that song is a letter to them: ‘I feel you two stepping on the ceiling, dancing in heaven’ kind of thing. And then another part of it is kind of a salute to those friends that want you to stay out later than you want to, but whenever you do, you just have the time of your life and you're reminded how much you feel alive. It was like we were writing a letter to these people that are in our lives now that maybe remind us of how we hoped our grandfathers were when they were young and then maybe how they are now that they're dead.”

Good Times
“It's a collection of old stories that I've heard. Most of them are from when I worked on this boat in the Caribbean for the Pulitzer family. I cleaned the boat and my wife was the nanny for the grandkids. But late at night everything chilled out. Mr. Pulitzer, who was 85 at the time, would tell me his stories—insane stories. So the majority of those stories are stories that he told me. And then there's a few others. I didn't think that song was going to make the record, because it has so many words. It has millions. But now I'm so excited about singing it live.”

Enemies
“Sometimes I try to write songs without changing any chords, which is really boring to most people, but I find it interesting. So I had written that song just sitting on the E chord the whole time. And it was a poem that I wrote several years ago. There's this tree in the woods back where I grew up, and when I was a kid I carved this girl's name into it I loved. And I have one of those weird situations where we ended up getting married 12 years later. And we went through times just like everybody does. We went through some horrendous times of, ‘Okay, so the person that loves you the most can actually hurt you the most.’ So that song, it's a love song, but it's talking about just that vulnerability that you give another human being in that context.”

Martingales
“A martingale is a thing that people that show horses put on the bridle of a horse and, unnaturally, it pulls his neck down close to his chest to make them look pretty. So, ‘Pink flamingos with martingales; you already are beautiful’ kind of thing. ‘If yesterday's too heavy, put it down.’ But we were worried about recording that one, because we don't want people to think that we're trying to be preachy. And then at the end of the day, we said, ‘We have to sing this to ourselves. Let's record this song.’”

Illegal Immigrant
“I remember when we were recording the piano for ‘Illegal Immigrant,’ Aaron asked me to come over to the upright piano. He opened the face of it and said, ‘I'm going to play these strings, and I want you to put your hands on the strings, and your hands are going to numb the strings, and this is going to be the sound we're going for.’ I was like, ‘Whoa, interesting. Okay.’ And then we did it and it ended up being the main hook on that song.”

Friends
“I wrote that poem when I moved away from New York and my three best friends stayed up there. It was terribly hard for us, for me and for our friendships. I think on an airplane one time, I just wrote out all those verses and sent it to them. It lived in my journal for a couple of years, and then I brought it to the table as a song. I had this real big chorus: ‘And I got some friends.’ And Aaron said, ‘Hey, are you being completely honest with yourself right now? Are you sure you didn't leave your friends behind and you're grieving?’ We wrestled really hard back and forth. I wanted it to be a big celebration chorus, and he just would not buy it. He just kept pushing and that chorus came out: ‘Oh, waking up to this. Just like I knew I would. I know the work is hard. I know the struggle is good.’ I was listening to this podcast and it reminded me of what I was feeling when we were working on that song. It just talked about how in our society right now, people don't say ‘I love you’ to each other anymore. I think loneliness obviously is a really important topic to touch on.”

Dust Settles
“‘Dust Settles’ is beautiful. Jason Pipkin, Kanene's husband, wrote that song right in the middle of a season in the band where logistics is the monster. We were trying to figure out who gets paid what. Is our friendship going to make it through this terrible thing that we never saw coming? We always just thought, ‘Being in a band's a utopia. You just travel around. It's like summer camp, but your whole life.’ And then reality hits and you’ve got to figure out the money. And basically, figuring out money almost killed all of our friendships and almost killed the art and took the fun out of it. So Jason wrote that song: ‘Here we are now, lonely together. Brothers, sisters, do we want something better? How am I going to find you when the dust settles?’ So it's just this beautiful letter to us as bandmates about wanting to make it through and make it on the other side.”

EDITORS’ NOTES

“I think that we were at a place in the band where we've kind of tried our best to go ahead and put to sleep the lies of what success is supposed to look like in this music industry,” says Zach Williams, lead singer/guitarist of The Lone Bellow, of the mentality his band brought to its multilayered fourth album. “We were just like, ‘Let's do whatever we want and have fun and not try to play by any subconscious rules or roles that we are supposed to play.’” The trio—rounded out by multi-instrumentalist Kanene Donehey Pipkin and guitarist Brian Elmquist, both of whom also sing and join Williams in songwriting—reunited with producer Aaron Dessner, one of the sonic architects of The National. “We went up and made the record in Aaron's studio in upstate New York, and it was the first time that we slept at a studio, just lived there for a few weeks,” notes Williams. The Lone Bellow had a reputation for earthy, full-voiced harmonizing, particularly on the rootsy albums they made with Nashville producers Charlie Peacock and Dave Cobb, but Dessner wanted to push the three singing partners out of their familiar patterns. The group also upended its recording process: Instead of starting with the solid foundation of rhythm parts, the creation of each track began with band members picking a key for a song and humming the melody. “We were just trying to figure all this stuff out,” says Williams. “It was really refreshing to us.” He describes the meaning and making of select tracks from the prismatic, openhearted set.

Intro
“My grandfather passed away and I went down to his funeral in Marietta and it was a beautiful service. The whole town showed up. He was a very celebrated dude. And my grandma's this feeble old lady. She hasn't played a tuned piano in years, decades even. But back in the day, she traveled around Florida and Georgia and North Carolina and she would play the piano before my great-grandpa would preach at revivals. So she has this banging Southern Gothic style of playing that I feel has always represented a sonic part of my upbringing. There's the paid guy playing the piano, and she just randomly during the funeral asks a couple of her sons to help her walk up, goes up to the piano, politely asks him to move, and slays this medley of these three songs. It was the last moment of my grandpa's funeral, and it was her ‘I love you’ thing. While we were up at the studio, I was telling everybody about it because it had just happened a few weeks before. And I said, ‘Oh my god, my dad actually recorded that.’ So what you hear [during ‘Intro,’ ‘Interlude,’ and ‘Finale’] is my grandma playing at the end of my grandpa's funeral.”

I Can Feel You Dancing
“Brian and I both had these grandfathers that lived wonderful lives, and they both passed away within a couple of months of each other. And part of that song is a letter to them: ‘I feel you two stepping on the ceiling, dancing in heaven’ kind of thing. And then another part of it is kind of a salute to those friends that want you to stay out later than you want to, but whenever you do, you just have the time of your life and you're reminded how much you feel alive. It was like we were writing a letter to these people that are in our lives now that maybe remind us of how we hoped our grandfathers were when they were young and then maybe how they are now that they're dead.”

Good Times
“It's a collection of old stories that I've heard. Most of them are from when I worked on this boat in the Caribbean for the Pulitzer family. I cleaned the boat and my wife was the nanny for the grandkids. But late at night everything chilled out. Mr. Pulitzer, who was 85 at the time, would tell me his stories—insane stories. So the majority of those stories are stories that he told me. And then there's a few others. I didn't think that song was going to make the record, because it has so many words. It has millions. But now I'm so excited about singing it live.”

Enemies
“Sometimes I try to write songs without changing any chords, which is really boring to most people, but I find it interesting. So I had written that song just sitting on the E chord the whole time. And it was a poem that I wrote several years ago. There's this tree in the woods back where I grew up, and when I was a kid I carved this girl's name into it I loved. And I have one of those weird situations where we ended up getting married 12 years later. And we went through times just like everybody does. We went through some horrendous times of, ‘Okay, so the person that loves you the most can actually hurt you the most.’ So that song, it's a love song, but it's talking about just that vulnerability that you give another human being in that context.”

Martingales
“A martingale is a thing that people that show horses put on the bridle of a horse and, unnaturally, it pulls his neck down close to his chest to make them look pretty. So, ‘Pink flamingos with martingales; you already are beautiful’ kind of thing. ‘If yesterday's too heavy, put it down.’ But we were worried about recording that one, because we don't want people to think that we're trying to be preachy. And then at the end of the day, we said, ‘We have to sing this to ourselves. Let's record this song.’”

Illegal Immigrant
“I remember when we were recording the piano for ‘Illegal Immigrant,’ Aaron asked me to come over to the upright piano. He opened the face of it and said, ‘I'm going to play these strings, and I want you to put your hands on the strings, and your hands are going to numb the strings, and this is going to be the sound we're going for.’ I was like, ‘Whoa, interesting. Okay.’ And then we did it and it ended up being the main hook on that song.”

Friends
“I wrote that poem when I moved away from New York and my three best friends stayed up there. It was terribly hard for us, for me and for our friendships. I think on an airplane one time, I just wrote out all those verses and sent it to them. It lived in my journal for a couple of years, and then I brought it to the table as a song. I had this real big chorus: ‘And I got some friends.’ And Aaron said, ‘Hey, are you being completely honest with yourself right now? Are you sure you didn't leave your friends behind and you're grieving?’ We wrestled really hard back and forth. I wanted it to be a big celebration chorus, and he just would not buy it. He just kept pushing and that chorus came out: ‘Oh, waking up to this. Just like I knew I would. I know the work is hard. I know the struggle is good.’ I was listening to this podcast and it reminded me of what I was feeling when we were working on that song. It just talked about how in our society right now, people don't say ‘I love you’ to each other anymore. I think loneliness obviously is a really important topic to touch on.”

Dust Settles
“‘Dust Settles’ is beautiful. Jason Pipkin, Kanene's husband, wrote that song right in the middle of a season in the band where logistics is the monster. We were trying to figure out who gets paid what. Is our friendship going to make it through this terrible thing that we never saw coming? We always just thought, ‘Being in a band's a utopia. You just travel around. It's like summer camp, but your whole life.’ And then reality hits and you’ve got to figure out the money. And basically, figuring out money almost killed all of our friendships and almost killed the art and took the fun out of it. So Jason wrote that song: ‘Here we are now, lonely together. Brothers, sisters, do we want something better? How am I going to find you when the dust settles?’ So it's just this beautiful letter to us as bandmates about wanting to make it through and make it on the other side.”

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