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Elephant Revival to speak at Bottleneck through musical sounds of the natural world

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Contributed Photo: Elephant Revival will play at Bottleneck this Saturday, returning to Lawrence, a favorite of city of theirs in the Midwest. Bonnie Paine says, "It’s the oasis of Kansas. I love finding where art flourishes in a state and it seems like there’s a lot of appreciation for the arts in Lawrence."

Contributed Photo: Elephant Revival will play at Bottleneck this Saturday, returning to Lawrence, a favorite of city of theirs in the Midwest. Bonnie Paine says, "It’s the oasis of Kansas. I love finding where art flourishes in a state and it seems like there’s a lot of appreciation for the arts in Lawrence." by Nadia Imafidon

There’s a reason the gypsy folk music of Elephant Revival pours the moving elements of nature into our hearts.

“I get my inspiration mostly from the still moments when we happen to be traveling,” says frontwoman and vocalist Bonnie Paine. “I'll get out of the bus or out of the van and go down to the river or wherever. Behind a library or an alley. Somewhere where I can be alone and just kind of listen.”

The natural world feeds her songwriting hunger, offering fodder for new music as long as she takes the time to absorb the possibilities.

“Sometimes if there’s a constant hum, like a car makes?” Paine continues. “That can be something to work off too because eventually a melody will play around that. Or a river. Rivers have a bubbly noise and there will be a pattern after a while if you listen. And that can be a lot like the melody that I just need to write words to. That’s one way I like to write.”

The five-piece band from Nederland, Colo., are now touring to support latest album “These Changing Skies,” a collection of 12 songs recorded in Bear Creek (near Seattle) over the span of a focused four weeks. They will be at Bottleneck this Saturday, April 5, at 8 p.m. with Olassa opening for them. Tickets are $11-13.

The record showcases the band’s gypsy tendencies from extensive and diverse travels in sounds inspired by Ireland and West Africa, particularly in stripped down djembe-driven “Rogue River.” It also makes you wonder how these five individuals work together to write such harmonious, spiritual music.

Paine says the collaborative process is more about asking what each song needs, and not what each person needs.

“It takes a lot of listening and checking in with yourself,” she says. “Everybody is pretty sweet about putting their egos aside so the song can come through rather than the people. There are certain things that just come with the song, it seems like. And if you can just make room for that, songs need a lot of space sometimes. ”

Their arrangements are so powerful they seem to have been born from a special bond. Having met the majority of the band at Winfield Bluegrass Festival, Paine says, the idea for the band was born after bass player Dango Rose busked in front of the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago in front of the elephant cage where two elephants had been together for 16 years. A zoo in Salt Lake City bought one of them, and on transport it died of unexplained reasons. Within a day or two, the other one died.

“They’re tribal creatures like we are, so he saw that as a sign that we should all come together and play music because we were all scattered across the country at the time,” Paine says. “I got a text that had a list of dates and venues and ‘Elephant Revival?’ and that was my invitation into the band pretty much.”

Soothingly soulful sounds are produced by five multi-instrumentalists who infuse experimental, Americana and Celtic elements into folk/bluegrass with various stringed instruments, and at the heart of its innovative percussive force is the enchanting Paine. Armed with musical saw, washboard, djembe and stompbox, she stands center of the band with hauntingly beautiful vocals fueling a style they've now coined at “transcendental folk.”

Paine was mentored by incredible Oklahoma-born fiddle player Randy Crouch, starting at age 10 when he lived in a Greyhound bus in her front yard (long story, she says). She and her sisters later played in a band with Crouch, her first experience playing in a band.

“He’s an incredible songwriter,” she says. “People have called him Jimi Hendrix on the fiddle. He’s a very interesting character who has written hundreds of songs and is very humble.”

Paine started training with Crouch on electric guitar and later, hand percussion. Her dad encouraged her to try out the washboard at a festival, which she ended up playing until the sun came up the next morning, invited onto different stages throughout the night. And she fell in love with the musical saw when an old man offered to let her try it out at Winfield, and later when her bandmate James Townsend (in former band My-Tea Kind) gave her his for her birthday.

“He has the sister saw to it,” Paine says. “They were both made in Germany 60 or 70 years ago by the same maker.

“I love the versatility in it. I’ve barely tapped into the potential. You can make melodies out of it. It’s like a voice. It feels more like an extension of myself.”

Paine equates the experience with speaking through notes. Perhaps that’s why Elephant Revival is known for this mentality: Where words fail...music speaks.

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