The Lone Bellow, a folk and soul-influenced trio from Brooklyn, N.Y., take their name from the sound of a peaceful country pasture. After almost three years of hard work in one of the world’s least-rural regions, they’ve gained a following on the strength of personal lyrics and powerful harmonies.
“We’ve found a safety in one another singing those big notes together,” says lead singer and primary songwriter Zach Williams. “I mean, I’ve never been able to sing that hard.”
Following a life-changing injury to Williams’ wife that brought the family and their friends to New York, the singer reunited with boyhood pal and melody expert Brian Elmquist. Later on, they recruited sister-of-a-friend and singer Kanene Pipkin, solidifying the band’s core lineup.
Performing in and around New York City while holding down day jobs (some of their earliest shows took place in the Manhattan diner where Elmquist worked), the band attracted the attention of famed roots musician and Civil Wars producer Charlie Peacock. They recorded their debut album in the tiny Rockwood Music Hall and released it to positive notices in January.
CMT Edge caught up with Williams before the group’s first show in Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium. He explained how his band seemingly came out of nowhere but has designs to go far.
CMT: There was an accident in Florida that eventually led to the formation of this band. Can you explain what those circumstances were?
Williams: I went to school down in Florida with my wife. We got married real young. Like, a year in, she had this accident on my parent’s farm where she fell off a horse and broke her neck and was diagnosed a quadriplegic. Luckily, I had friends that stayed with me in the waiting room for, like, weeks at a time. And at the time, I could play the guitar, but I couldn’t sing.
I was going through the stages of shock, and you go through that cycle over and over and over. One of them is just like completely numb, like, “This isn’t even really happening.” And I think while I was going through that stage one of the times, I realized that I was numb, and it really worried me. My buddy was like, “You should journal. You should just write, and whatever’s inside will come out.” So I did that, and I started writing in rhyme, and it was really therapeutic to me. At night, I would read my journal entries, and my friends were like, “These are songs. You should learn how to play guitar and sing at the same time and go play the open mics.” So that’s where I started, but that was like nine years ago.
The doctors said your wife might never walk again, but she got better. What happened after that?
There were, like, 15 of us that all stayed at the hospital for a long time. And it was like, “Man, if Stacey ever gets better by some miracle, let’s all move to New York City together and just pursue whatever. Just do life together. Let’s raise our kids together and find some neighborhood up there where we can walk to each other’s houses.”
I mean, it really jolted all of us. So when Stacey got better, we all moved up there, and I was kind of the musician out of the group. We all still live real close to each other, and I’ve got a couple of little ones now. I wouldn’t be able to tour if it wasn’t for that group of friends, ‘cause they are literally helping me raise my kids along the way.
You’ve called the band’s sound Brooklyn country music. What do you mean by that?
We were just goofing off, and it stuck. We thought it was so ridiculous to say that, but now if I really think about it, living in that small town setting of our neighborhood in Brooklyn, it’s just really simple. I mean, you run into the same people every morning. New York City is just a collection of hundreds of little bitty neighborhoods. There are some people in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, that have never been to Manhattan and are 80 years old. ‘Cause there’s no reason for it. They’ve got their grocery, they’ve got their school and wherever they worship.
Can you tell me about the genesis of “You Never Need Nobody”?
Brian actually had that baby. He was at a dinner party, and this girl that was a friend of ours just said to her brother, “You don’t love me like you used to.” And Brian was like, “That’s a song.” Our very first show was opening for the Civil Wars. After that, we drove to another show in Pittsburgh, and we wrote that song in the van together. I think Kanene pulled some stories from her family, and that’s a very collaborative song where all three of us wrote it together.
“Teach Me to Know” is more immediate feeling than most of your other songs. How did you decide to put it on the record?
Ten out of the 12 songs [on the record] were the first ones we ever worked on together. It’s not like we had 60 songs to pick from. So by the time we were writing “Teach Me to Know,” that was late in the game. We actually finished that song in the studio. There’s a video on YouTube of the moment we recorded it. And that’s what we wanted — just to capture the moment we were in.
Do you have any sense of where you’ll go from here?
We just started our very first tour two weeks ago, so we’re excited about playing live shows in cities. We weren’t stuck before, but we couldn’t really leave New York ‘cause we all had jobs and stuff. We just played New York over and over for the past two and a-half years, so we’re just taking in all that. We’re about to do our first headline run soon.