The last time guitarist Brian Elmquist visited Lexington, he played to a packed Rupp Arena with his bandmates in the country-Americana trio The Lone Bellow on a March 2015 bill headlined by Eric Church.
It was a big room and a big crowd — the result of years of relentless touring and recording that garnered the Brooklyn-bred trio considerable commercial visibility and critical praise. When the band finally put on the brakes last year to focus on a new album, Elmquist found that giving up the touring life, even for a limited period, was a tough task.
“I was kind of in that phase, during the first six months of being off the road, that I needed to find something to do.”
If I’m left to my own devices, I usually wind up in a blues/rockabilly kind of state.
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As work on the Lone Bellow album (due out later this year) neared completion, Elmquist plotted a return to live performance. But instead of arenas and theaters, he would play clubs. Instead of being in a band, he would perform on his own. In place of a set list of proven hits, he might try out some new songs, unused songs, cover tunes and whatever, frankly, he favored on a given night. Hence we have Elmquist’s Lexington debut as a solo artist this week at The Burl.
“With The Lone Bellow, we tend to play bigger places now, so it’s going to be fun to play in a smaller setting and feel the room and see how the night goes,” he said. “It’s a lot more intimate when it’s just you. I might ask questions and have a conversation with the audience. I’m just excited about getting out there and doing this again. I’ve done it a couple of times, but it’s been a while. So it’s going to be fun just to be in that kind of setting again.”
The Sandersville, Ga.-born musician was a solo artist who cut recordings under his own name after a five-year stint in Nashville before The Lone Bellow formed. But what should audiences expect when he takes to The Burl stage Thursday?
“If I’m left to my own devices, I usually wind up in a blues/rockabilly kind of state. I’m going to be playing solo, so there won’t be a band with me. I’ll have an electric and an acoustic (guitar) and will be kind of feeding off the crowd and seeing how it’s going. I’ll maybe have a set list, but it’s going to be pretty open to trying some stuff out. Mainly, it’ll be a bunch of songs that made the records and didn’t make the records that I thought were really good. I want to try them out and see how people react to them. That’s the main reason for going out and playing the shows.”
Curiously, the trajectory of Elmquist’s offstage life landed him back in Nashville. He returned there last year, weary of the frenzied day-to-day existence of life in Brooklyn.
With the songs we’ve found in the last year and a half to two years, I’m definitely working toward getting a record out.
Brian Elmquist on The Lone Bellow’s next album
“It’s just hard to live in New York. Being in that grind kind of puts your back to the wall. There, I put my nose to the grindstone and really found a lot of people to collaborate with. It was fun in how naïve we were and how spontaneous everything was.”
Obligations to Lone Bellow bandmates Zach Williams (who also is touring on his own this spring) and Kanene Donehay Pipin will return once the trio’s new album is released. But Williams is looking ahead to possibly cutting his own recording around the band’s activities.
“The Lone Bellow is the bread and butter right now and does really well,” Elmquist said. “So it’s basically a matter of seeing where everything falls. But with the songs we’ve found in the last year and a half to two years, I’m definitely working toward getting a record out. I’ve got a couple of recordings I’m pretty excited about, so I’m trying to write some things that are a little different and a little different-sounding. It’s a fun little chase.”