The sun was setting over Indio, Calif., as Zach Williams, Brian Elmquist and Kanene Pipkin played the final day of the Stagecoach Festival, the country, folk and Americana-themed companion to the insufferably hip Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, when someone in the front row caught Williams' eye.
It was actor Ashton Kutcher. He had come out to see the Brooklyn trio, The Lone Bellow, perform at their first-ever musical festival.
"It was such a beautiful sight from the stage," recalled Williams, the group's lead singer and principal songwriter. "I'd never been in the desert and I was just taking it all in and I look down, and the guy from 'That 70s Show' is staring through me."
Kutcher tweeted a picture of the band before proclaiming to his more than 14 millions followers that The Lone Bellow was "the next thing in country music."
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Such buzz is becoming increasingly common for the folksy, soulful trio who have already been the subject of a profile in The New York Times, appeared on "Conan" and whose sound has been praised by critics who favorably compare the band to everyone from Lady Antebellum to Mumford & Sons to The Lumineers.
Though such comparisons are flattering, the band isn't particularly interested in genre.
"We have been embraced as an Americana band, I guess, but we're not really getting caught up in all the comparisons," Williams said. "We're just going to live in this for a while and enjoy playing these songs and getting to meet new people and play in cities we've never played in before. We're just blown away by how the record and our songs have resonated with perfect strangers. It's a really beautiful thing."
The band will perform May 11 at the ninth annual Artisphere festival in downtown Greenville.
Williams discusses harmonies, the inner-workings of The Lone Bellow and Brooklyn barbershops.
Question: What was the recording process on this album like?
Answer: We actually sat on these songs for about two and a half years, trying to put the right team together. We want to find the right label and the right management team, and that took a long time. Once we felt comfortable with who we were working with, we rented out this place called Rockwood Music Hall here in Brooklyn and got an eight-piece band together.
Q. Do you have a favorite song on the album?
A. That's a difficult question because, for me, each song has a different value. When I look at the set lists, there are songs that are just hard to play for personal reasons and there are others that just remind me that I'm alive, and our sets have that kind of ebb and flow. I know what the hardest song to sing is ... "Bleeding Out." It's physically taxing because it's kind of poorly written and just tough.
Q. That is actually one of my favorite songs on the record. What is it about?
A. It is really about the way that people dedicate their lives to really simple but good things. I'm sitting outside my barbershop right now and, when I think about it, my barber is a barber because he likes people and being a barber is his way to connect with his neighborhood.
Q. Nearly all of the songs, including "Bleeding Out," feature some pretty staggering harmonies, how much time did you guys spend developing those harmonies?
A. We already knew each other really well, so I think those harmonies are a reflection of our friendship and how well we work together. We don't really work on harmonies. Brian and Kanene are ... both really talented and can harmonize with just about anyone. It just works.
Q. Do you guys spend a lot of time together when you're not on the road?
Yeah, we all live within walking distance of one another in (the Park Slope area of Brooklyn) and we're always hanging out together. Brian and I actually live in the same brownstone. I live on one floor, our landlord lives on another and then Brian lives on the next floor. We really are the best of friends. I was playing the New York music scene for about five or six years before we got together, and it was lonely, man. You'd find these hired guns, you'd play a set, everyone would get paid and then go home. I didn't want that anymore. I wanted to be a part of something, and then I met Brian and Kanene.
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