On the Record with Ellis Ashbrook

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Last Wednesday night I saw Brooklyn-based Ellis Ashbrook perform at The Bowery Electric. If I had to sum the show up in one word it would have to be fun. For the first time in a long time I saw a crowd truly enjoying themselves. From start to finish the audience was dancing and singing along without having to be encouraged by the band. It was a great sight to see.

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Ellis Ashbrook plays The Bowery Electric 9.14.11

After their set, I interviewed the exploratory rockers. Here’s what Ellis Ashbrook had to say about their music, recording, and performing.

Describe your sound.

John Barber: Psychedelic, progressive.

Natalie Lowe: Exploratory rock & roll.

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Nathalie Lowe, Ellis Ashbrook vocalist and keyboardist

How did you guys all get into music?

Alex Major: Just from an early age, being exposed to different bands. John and I grew up together so we would constantly trade cassette tapes of bands we liked.

Natalie: We all individually fell in love with performing music in our own ways and happened to be lucky enough to find each other.

Jonathan Granoff: My father was a musician so he got me involved early on in my life.

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Jonathan Granoff, Ellis Ashbrook bassist

The music that you guys grew up listening to, how did that affect the music you’re making now?

Natalie: It makes all the difference really. What you are exposed to, no matter when it happened, whether you were small or now or yesterday, as musicians it seeps in and we’re sponges for what we hear so it all makes a difference.

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John Barber, Ellis Ashbrook vocalist and lead guitarist

John: A lot of the early 90’s rock that was coming out when I was starting to become a conscious young person, I was feeling the vibe coming from bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, the Chili Peppers and all that, and it just felt more exciting and more alive than your normal day-to-day run-ins with reality.

Jonathan: I would like to say that the stuff that we heard early on influenced us now in a way that we’ve improved on what we heard. Like the things that we enjoyed the most about the bands back in the 90’s we take now and sort of put our own thing into it. So in a way we’ve never really like forgotten that stuff, we’ve just sort of reinvented it in our own way.

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Alex Major, Ellis Ashbrook drummer

Which do you guys rather, recording or performing?

Natalie: No competition. No contest.

Alex: They’re both exciting for different reasons. Recording we get to nitpick every little detail, and the live experience is just free and flowing. You know, whatever comes out, comes out. Those are sort of opposite ends of the spectrum, and we enjoy both of them.

Jonathan: I agree.

John: Someone once said that recording an album is like building a bottle on a ship and playing live is like being on a boat in the ocean.

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Which comes first when you’re recording, music or lyrics?

Natalie: It’s all simultaneous really. We haven’t gone in to record anything that we don’t have completely finished and tested live for a long time, so we haven’t had to run into making that choice. But definitely, lryics are obviously extremely important, but the music puts you in the atmosphere where the lyrics belong and give you a story so it’s all so important.

Alex: And it also depends on the song. Each song is a different writing process, so it’s not formulaic. It’s like we might have these lyrics and we’ll put them in with a part that we came up with years ago and they somehow work together. But yeah, it depends on the song. Each song is different so you can’t really narrow it down to lyrics come first, or whatever.

Jonathan: It’s a very democratic thing to say, but for me personally I don’t really write a lot of lyrics and the music comes first usually, and then I bring it to the lyricists, these guys.

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Check out Ellis Ashbrook’s upcoming shows in Rhode Island, Boston, and Brooklyn. Visit ellisashbrook.com for dates.

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Natalie singing “Hard 2 B EZ”

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