As a part of the sixth annual Porch Stomp season, we're working with Beehive Productions, NYC Ferry and Blue Point Brewery to bring you a series of videos featuring artists spanning the gamut of NYC folk scene (and then some). Check out our blog every month for new videos and interviews with artists, and be sure to follow us on instagram: @porchstomp and Facebook: Porch Stomp
I was delighted to realize that I had met Elana Brody before as we made our late night yellow cab pilgrimage back to Brooklyn. Finding ourselves both stranded on the 4 train platform in Lower Manhattan, the normal musician-meets-musician trivialities about instrument cases and respective musical lives eventually revealed that we had run into each other two years prior at a City Stompers Hoedown in the basement of Jimmy’s No. 43 (funny enough, through the all-remembering record of Facebook chat, we happened to have nearly the exact same conversation at that time as well).
Ever since that fateful fall evening, I've had the good fortune of getting to know Elana not only as a writer and composer but as an artist at large.
Elana’s style is unique, no doubt; her West Virginia roots and strong Jewish heritage faintly tint a cacophony of influences ranging from jazz to folk and rock as well as the piano-driven singer songwriters of the 90’s and 2000’s. Her lyrical agility is undeniable, with colorful phrases thrown around like paint upon a musical canvas she evokes worlds using abstract, broad strokes and swathes full of texture and timbre. Unlike many artists that claim Elana’s background, however, her performances are theatrical with a style sometimes over-the-top but always entrancing. It was in this trance that I first understood her sense of artistry; both persona and craft in a constant state of redefinition, a shuffle through which old sounds feel new and distant sounds become enriched and enlivened.
Check out Elana Brody (joined by some of our favorite Porch Stomp regulars) performing her seasonally appropriate song “Stars Out Of My Eyes” live at The Lethe Lounge. Continue reading for an in depth Q&A about Elana’s background and music.
Tell us a little about your life before NYC and what ultimately brought you to the big apple.
I was raised on the mountain in rural western Virginia, about 60 miles from the nearest grocery store, and 2 miles from the nearest neighbor. My parents were back-to-the-land homesteaders, and chose to live far from civilization to be with good soil, clean air, and fresh water. Being so "far out" and secluded, our family kept ourselves entertained by playing and singing folk and theater music. My father was inspired by flat-picking greats like Norman Blake, and my mom inspired by folk songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Carole King. My sisters and I were singing and playing along at an early age. Growing up in a musical environment such as this, it was no surprise when I began writing songs on the piano as a pre-teen.
We moved off the mountain while I was in high school, and I began a more formal musical education at an Episcopalian school in Staunton, VA. It was there that Berklee College of Music came on my radar, and I was encouraged by my music teacher to apply. The following year, I went to Berklee to study composition and songwriting, and this little bird from the country flew far far from home. After a few years at Berklee, where I was exposed to jazz and world music for the first time, and learned of deep musical possibilities from many sophisticated teachers, I left to play music in the real world. I joined a band who was gigging and that brought me to NYC!
Let's just say! After 3 years in quiet Boston, NYC, as a city, was much more like the biodiversity of the forested mountain I grew up in! All kinds of people, ethnicities, personalities, musical styles, artists, and it was clear that the wildness inside me had found a home! I fell in love with the grind of going out to meet musicians, playing with all kinds of strangers, and I fell into a routine of busking out in the subways and on the streets. The raw realness and depth of exchange in NYC was constantly inspiring and feeding my writing as well, and I loved having so many opportunities to share my music and be heard. I did leave NYC for several years, and got a bit more earthy and grounded in places like a farm in the Berkshires, Boulder CO, Asheville NC, and Midcoast Maine, but I always knew I'd come back to NYC and join the party again!
What do you find are your strongest influences as an artist, and how would you say your rural roots shaped your identity?
I am very inspired by female artists, primarily, and I'm happy I get to be one! I think it's obvious in my writing that Joni Mitchell is a primary influence. Her way of painting lyrical images, while singing with full depth of emotion and storytelling prowess, has been a huge teacher for me. The next artist I did a deep dive into was Ani Difranco. I also was inspired by Jewel and Sarah McLachlan as a young person. All of these artists, with the exception of Ani, were introduced to me by my music-loving Mom. I also fell into wonder at the musicality of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, the Irish-American band Solas, the rock and roll freedom of Led Zeppelin, and indie-rock like the Shins and Death Cab for Cutie. At some point, Kate Bush showed up, then My Brightest Diamond, then Regina Spektor, then The Decemberists and Of Montreal. Being a pianist, of course, I had to touch into Fiona and Tori too. And being from the south, I also was moved by the beautiful melodies and voices of newgrass and pop country artists, like Nickel Creek, Mindy Smith, and the Dixie Chicks.
As for my being raised in Appalachia, I was exposed to roots music styles like bluegrass and the blues from an early age. For several summers, my Mom took my sisters and I with her to Augusta Heritage Festival in Elkins, WV to hang out with blues and swing musicians. And my father, who's interest was in bluegrass and old-time, took us to Clifftop and to old-time music camps. In fact, the fiddle was my first instrument, but it was so squeaky in my ear I couldn't handle it!
Being in NYC, these days, I find myself needing to enter into the folk scene, even though I don't play a string instrument (well!), because it feeds my country soul! I am now writing songs that have a bit more twang in them, because it just makes me feel good. The music helps me to recall my roots, and the beautiful energy of the land, flora and fauna, and maple sweetness of where I am from. Much like the way you would turn a radio on when you are down south and right away, hear folk and country music, I am turning on my own folk radio station, you might say, while walking down the street in NYC. And creating a bit of a nature-bubble around me, as I write. It's fun to show up to Porch Stomp or to a jam and sing songs that I grew up playing with my Dad. I am happy paying homage to him, as I wouldn't be a musician if it weren't for him showing me his pure love of playing, for the sake of play - not acclaim or attention or competition - but simply to create a more joyful and lively life.
Speaking of--- tell us about your first Porch Stomp!
Weirdly enough, I've been living on the very corner in Brooklyn where Porch Stomp has one of its biannual events [Flatfoot Flatbush], but I'm always in some other neighborhood during that time and have never been to a damn one! This year’s festival on Governor's Island was my first and it was the most glorious day of the year yet! I can't imagine not being at another one. I'm so happy and proud that Nick and Theo are able to put together something SO grassroots and that it is blossoming into such a big event, that makes artists and spectators alike feel good. Roots music everywhere on an idyllic island, somehow unbothered by, whilst being a part of NYC, is a dreamy dream too good to be true!!
Finally, what advice would you give to a singer songwriter looking to get their feet wet in the NYC music scene?
Oy! This is hard! New York City requires a WHOLE LOT of consistent showing up, and CONFIDENCE in yourself. If you are a songwriter, who plays and writes mostly solo, and want to meet musicians to play with you, you HAVE to go out and meet people at jam sessions and check out other artists' shows. I have found that it's super hard to get together with other musicians, if you are purely interested in them on a musical level. This can be tempting because NYC is filled with such good technical players and most likely your ego wants to be playing with these top dogs. But, at the end of the day, you just have to create or commit to a community, and play with people you genuinely connect with, and who respect you, on a personal level. It's probably like any other town in that way. That being said! What's amazing about NYC is that there's always room for growth, and when you're playing with all kinds of musicians, your quality will get better and better! Play out as much as you can, say yes to pretty much EVERYTHING in the beginning, and never lose sight of your deepest artistic dreams, even if they take FOREVER to take off, and stay humble. There will be many ups and downs, dramatic failures, and flops, but don't despair, you are just questing on your mythic journey. I have so much to say about this, but that's all for now.
Feel free to check out more of Elana’s music here (facebook).
Special thanks to Jeff, Sue and Redia of Beehive Productions as well as Mark Ettinger for use of The Lethe Lounge.