Mar 13 • ARTSY SMARTSY
Nowadays it feels like we’re in a constant state of waiting for the other shoe to drop: another breaking-news cycle made up of a sea of bullets. When it comes to mass shootings, it’s no longer a matter of if it will happen again, but when and where the next one will be.
FOLKSTER: Elonzo Wesley band, including lead singer Jeremy Davis, performs two shows this week at Wrightsville Beach and downtown Wilmington. Courtesy photo.
A school? A concert? A church?
The Elonzo Wesley band’s “Emanuel” is a pretty self-explanatory song reflecting upon one of the most infamous mass shootings in recent U.S. history. Frontman Jeremy Davis (guitar, vocals) penned the ballad right after 21-year-old white supremacist Dylann Roof left nine people dead in 2015 at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. Davis was on the road at the time, staying in a Tennessee Motel 6 when he woke up to hear the news.
“I grew up right outside of Charleston, so that event hit home for me and a lot of folks from the area,” Davis recalls. “It made me really angry that, even in modern times, old ideas and hatred still exist, and sometimes people use that to do horrible things. Being from the South is such a blessing, but a curse in that way, too. I think it is why I wrote that song—because I don’t know how to talk about some of these things as a Southerner, but I think it’s so important.”
Davis sat on “Emanuel” until the time of its release because of his mixed feelings and potential public perception. He didn’t want it to look like he was attempting a career move out of a tragedy.
“I eventually realized, with the help of the rest of the band, I should release it,” he continues. “It’s important to talk about these things and to remind ourselves of our own mistakes as a culture, and that art is supposed to deal with these things.”
Nevertheless, Davis—with Dennis Contreras (string bass, vocals), Alicia Driver (violin, vocals) and Taylor Winchester (mandolin, vocals)—felt they would be remiss to simply put it on their 2017 “Spec” album. So they released it as a single for charity on their Bandcamp page (elonzowesley.bandcamp.com) as well. It will remain there indefinitely and all proceeds will continue to go directly to Emanuel AME.
“Hopefully, we can raise some money for a good cause, and keep reminding folks of what happened and continue the conversation,” Davis adds.
It’s been a few months since the release of “Spec” in November 2017; while Elonzo Wesley played the songs live throughout the year leading up to and throughout recording them, Davis insists the band continues to find new and interesting ways to tap into the “perfect arc for the listener.” Davis and his troupe will bring their set of poignant songs and folk nuances to Jimmy’s at Red Dogs in Wrightsville Beach and Edward Teach Brewing in downtown this week.
While Elonzo Wesley has evolved over the years, with new members and evolution in sound, the band’s moniker has remained the same for a reason. Named for his late father who passed away when Davis was 11, he describes Elonzo Wesley as a hardcore blue-collar guy, a farmer and an amateur musician.
“I think it’s just my weird way of remembering and staying in touch,” Davis muses. “I think he’d like the music I make. [Plus,] I chose the name because good band names are hard to come up with, and ‘Elonzo Wesley’ is such a cool name. It’s even spelled in an unusual way—which is perfect for an indie band (laughs).”
The first version of Davis’ band, simply dubbed “Elonzo,” was more of a rock project he started with his sister and her husband. Now as Elonzo Wesley, which he started as a solo act after Elonzo dispersed, new players and folk-string sounds accompany his songwriting.
“I was still writing songs and performing,” Davis details. “I always wanted to have an acoustic band because I felt the music would fit the songs I write really well. I didn’t know if it would work.”
Without drums or electric instruments, Elonzo Wesley may be a far cry from rock, but certainly it is not without a groove. “It’s more earthy,” Davis offers. “We like to really explore parts of songs and let them take us where they want to go.”
“Spec” is an appropriate title track for the album because it’s about the underlying connection of all people, things and ideas. Though the songs do not share a specific theme, Davis says they share an underlying worldview. “Plastic Memories” is a complicated song about a character living in a dark place, asking, “What are we doing here?”
“At its core it’s about trying to make a relationship work,” Davis says. “For two people to stay together, it’s a lot of work, and sometimes I think it (the relationship) can be more about keeping something going and trying to honor your commitment to someone, [rather] than [being] about actual love or happiness. I think you can be so obsessed with those things that sometimes you can actually miss the other person and forget to see them for who they are.”
“Dreams (Re: Texas)” sounds like Davis might not particularly enjoy his travels or being on the road: “Don’t wanna go to Texas/riding with the wind/Don’t wanna go to Detroit/rebuild it from within …”
“Traveling and touring is hard on your home life, and home life is hard on your traveling/tour life,” he says. “So I think this song is about the give and take, and the insanity it creates for the person or people caught in the middle.”