Elephant Revival is a band hailing from Colorado that covers a wide range of musical genres, with strong folk, bluegrass and indie rock influences in their music. They released their new album “Petals” in April, and the band plays the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro on Oct. 5. The Chronicle sat down with vocalist Bonnie Paine—who also plays (deep breath) the cello, djembe, washboard, stompboard, guitar and musical saw—to discuss the band’s music and the touring lifestyle. The following conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
The Chronicle: Elephant Revival has such a wide variety of instrumentation, and the members have a ton of experience playing with different bands, including Little Feat, Nickel Creek, the String Cheese Incident and Parliament-Funkadelic. How did you guys come together and coalesce as a group?
Bonnie Paine: I first met the guitar player Daniel Rodriguez in Connecticut
, at a club he was running an open mic at. I ended up singing there and we ended up playing on the rooftop until the sun came up. That was May of 2002, and later on the next fall, I went to a bluegrass festival where I met Bridget, Dango and Charlie.
TC: How does the songwriting in a band with so many instrumentation options work?
BP: It’s really just listening and staying open—when a song is first being born I try to stay really open so that I can hear what tonalities would work with the song. Usually it’s pretty obvious
, whether or not I would play washboard or [musical] saw or the djembe or the cello, and there’s really only one or two songs out of our 80 song repertoire where I could play two instruments. A lot of times, the songs I sing I’ll write a capella and then I’ll find the chords on guitar or cello and teach them to the guitar player.
TC: What made you pick up the cello for this new album?
BP: I’ve always loved the cello. It’s one of my favorite instruments in the world. I had a voice teacher tell me once that it’s the closest instrument to the human voice, and I was really shy and I wanted to sing with somebody and I could do that with a cello. It felt like I was harmonizing with someone. I love its depth—it can sing and lull you, and it can be percussive and have a bite, and it’s got so many dimensions. I’ll never master all of them, but I’m excited about the adventure of the cello for now.
TC: Beyond you picking up the cello, how has Elephant Revival’s instrumentation changed over the years?
BP: It’s definitely grown more and more, every time. When we started, I just played washboard, Dan played guitar, Bridget played fiddle, Dango played bass and Sage played banjo. As things morphed, we started adding instruments. I was playing saw every once in a while in the beginning, and got my djembe and the stompbox. Charlie Rose has been playing with us, and he plays the pedal steel [guitar], so that’s been really cool. The pedal steel and different amp tonalities with the banjo let it sound like an electric guitar sometimes.
TC: What was playing at Red Rocks this past spring like?
BP: It was beautiful, honestly. You never know how something you work yourself up about is going to be, especially when you have 40 family members come up from Oklahoma. It was cool to have our own show there—we had acrobats and aerialists, and a giant dreamcatcher behind us. The wind blew at all the right times.
TC: Last time you were in North Carolina, your bus caught fire and you lost some instruments—hopefully this time it doesn’t go the same way.
BP: To North Carolina’s credit, [Hickory] was the nicest community we could have broken down in. It’s hard to watch your stuff and your traveling home burn up in front of you, but it was heartwarming how kind people were there. I found a washboard at an antique store and we borrowed the rest of the instruments from the opening band and still played the show. The audience was amazing in the sense of pulling through and togetherness.
Elephant Revival plays at the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro on Oct. 5.
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