Fueled by a sordid real-life backdrop of good old fashioned suicides, murders, and alcoholic depravity followed by church on Sunday, Elouise is an eccentric collaboration of Los Angeles-based musicians who came together to create an ominous, raw and cinematic genre of music they identify as Blackgrass. It is the sound of sin and salvation mixed in a dark cocktail with a taste of Bluegrass, a black symphonic sound and weary emotional vocals that tell original tales of struggle and re-imagine songs from our collective Americana consciousness.
Using a mix of Classical and Bluegrass instrumentation combined with an array of eclectic instruments including the marxophone, six-string banjo, bandoneon and harmonium, Elouise layers their sound with dark and beautifully dramatic European strings like the cello and double bass. This idea of low end drone and virtuosic strings combined with sounds from traditional Bluegrass instrumentation is the signature sound of Elouise and Blackgrass. Add in world-weary and guttural vocals paired with instruments like the bandoneon (which produces one of the saddest sounds imaginable) and you get a musical experience that captures a distinctly original, emotionally fraught and unforgettable sound.
Elouise deconstructs and re-imagines classic songs like Amazing Grace, I’ll Fly Away and the sweaty revival tent of Fire and Brimstone (which sounds like an old Alan Lomax field recording) shaking these old chestnuts to their bones, revealing an underbelly of the darkness of Americana standards and turning them into a booze-sodden cry from America’s trailer park soul. Shadow of the Pines pays homage to Bluegrass royals, The Carter Family, with a slower tempo and a musically re-envisioned version of the original, mixing traditional Bluegrass instrumentation with the lonely and weary vocals of Elouise Walker, creating a desperate and beautiful love song reminiscent of early Bluegrass anthologies. Silent Night, a single that debuted around the holidays, is an age-old standard transformed into Elouise’s Blackgrass rendition with swirling strings, menacing vocal and six-string banjo topped off with a culmination of wailing hallelujahs that earned the praise of Blurt, Folk Radio U.K. and 50Thirdand3rd. The songs and recitations in Deep Water are haunting and beautiful, deviant and desperate sonic explorations that stretch the boundaries of Americana Music.
Not afraid to get a little dirt under their fingernails, Elouise digs deep into a murky past filled with struggle and real life escapades to create original songs: the funereal Dixie-land march to the nearest Sazerac in Saturn Bar, a journey to the other side, one filled with brushes with salvation, sin and intergalactic travel to the seedy watering hole in the 9th Ward in New Orleans before the flood. The dark gypsy-cello and double bass slow burn of Evil that casts a heavy old world cinematic spell over the record and the vengeful chant of the world’s most disturbed ex-lover fueled by lost love, blind obsession and an immanent storm of swirling guitars and thundering drums in Hurricane. The aching title track Deep Water, a fragile suicide ballad, featuring the woodsy sounds of cello and harmonium, have Elouise proclaiming “Kiss me goodnight forgive me my sins. I’m goin’ to the bottom, not comin up again.” and becomes an honest and brazen tale of loneliness and sinking despair that chronicles her impending demise.
In stark contrast to the achingly gritty vocalizations of Elouise Walker, I’ll Be Good to You, a misogynistic love story told by sly crooner and romantic villain Rich Dembowski, is accompanied only by his lonely rhythm guitar and a backdrop of haunting pedal steel played by guest musician Woody Aplanalp. Rich Dembowski (former front man for cosmic country band Old Californio), also toys with sin and salvation with the beautifully imperfect sound of weathered piano, electric guitar, delicate cello, electric bass and drums creating a rocking backdrop to a man’s desperate plea with the Almighty to give a little to get a little in Oh Lord.
Deep Water: A Collection of Songs and Recitations, creates an eccentric musical junket through alternate realities, sonically blurring the lines between what we know as Americana standards and original stories that feel like they are somehow part of a historical musical archive. Elouise kicks up dust in Black Horses, a story recounting her Father’s battle with terminal illness, and a Blackgrass homage to an era of the Wild West cinema where Elouise attempts to outrun death and disaster through a cruel and unforgiving landscape filled with firey and weary vocals and the sounds of marxophone, guitar, cello, double bass and drums. East Jesus, a song penned by Elouise after a long journey to Salvation Mountain (the artistic obsession built by Leonard Knight) was captured and recorded live, with a 6-string banjo, marxophone, double bass, cello, accordion, drums and a megaphone vocal and reveals a dark vaudevillian journey on the outer edges of society. The music on Deep Water is a mash up of old and new, polished and broken, built on a rickety musical foundation piled high with old, dusty and ill mannered instruments, refined virtuosic strings, weathered vocals, and re-envisioned songs of lost love, peril and impropriety.
The album, Deep Water, began with a vision by Elouise Walker, of a raw, dark and dusty soundscape. “We started out with the idea of deconstructing traditional Bluegrass songs and old hymns, abandoning familiar song structure and re-translating the meaning and emotions of each song to fit the content of the lyrics. Some of the traditional songs are pretty dark if you just read the lyrics but were often paired with a peppy or pretty, sing-a-long melody. We were experimenting with a darker sound and delivery. The first song we re-interpreted was I’ll Fly Away. That ended up becoming the seed for the rest of the album. When friend and composer John Philip Shenale (Janes Addiction, Tori Amos, The Forest Rangers) added a string arrangement, it brought it to another level of sophistication. Along the way we began writing and composing our own songs. Mixing unconventional vocals with unexpected instrumentation--from high end Classical strings to broken old accordions and weathered pianos. Keeping flaws created by age and disrepair was part of the sound. If the instrument had an amazing sound but only had two incredible notes left in it, then that’s what we used. We were playing in a dark sandbox with instruments we were trained in but also picking up instruments we had never touched before. It wasn’t Bluegrass anymore. The music and soundscape became much darker and slower and cinematic. It was Blackgrass.”
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. (Please see album package for complete listing of additional musicians).