Having a baby. Buying a house. For most bands on the rise, those life milestones would be good reasons to slow down and take a breather. For Elenowen, they mostly add fuel to the fire, inspiring the roots-pop songwriting and swooning harmonies that fill the duo’s second album, For the Taking. (Listen to an exclusive premiere of the entire album below.)
“It feels like a condensed version of the journey we’ve been taking for the past four years,” says Josh Johnson, who shares the group’s vocal duties with his wife Nicole. “A lot of the songs are about feeling stuck — about trying to navigate the struggle of being a married couple and wanting to be parents and wanting to get out of our basement apartment, but also figuring out how that’s gonna work with our career. On the flip side, you have to take those risks and walk to the beat of your own drum in order to get anywhere. If we hadn’t taken those risks, we’d still be in that basement.”
Back in the basement days, Elenowen made an appearance on the first season of The Voice, where the newly-married Josh and Nicole performed the Swell Season’s “Falling Slowly” and earned a spot on the team of Blake Shelton. After leaving the show during the spring of 2011, they returned to Tennessee with a wider audience and a bit of an identity crisis. Who were they? Were they a harmony duo like the Civil Wars? A country-leaning vocal act like Lady Antebellum? A rootsy rock act?
The answers arrived during a string of tour dates and writing sessions that stretched over the course of nearly half a decade. Elenowen began gravitating toward a simple, classic sound that bridged the gap between Fleetwood Mac’s heyday and the 21st century’s Americana movement. It was a sound rooted in sweeping harmonies, pop hooks and biographical lyrics that examined both sides — the struggle and the sunshine — of a new marriage. Looking for likeminded musicians to help bring that new sound to life, the two turned to Trent Dabbs (co-writer of Ingrid Michaelson’s Top 40 hit “Girls Chase Boys”) and Jeremy Bose, who co-produced For the Taking during a series of live tracking sessions.
“The only overdubs we did for that record were for background vocals and strings,” says Nicole, who became pregnant with the couple’s baby boy during the beginning of the recording process. “We wanted something that sounded relevant to what’s going on today, but we also wanted to stick with the simplicity of getting musicians in a room and just playing through the songs as a band. The players were great. They could take a song we’d done a thousand times on the road and give it this new, Seventies throwback style. They added a raw, roots rock & roll vibe that we didn’t have as a duo. They expanded us.”
Released next week, For the Taking feels like a battle cry from two musicians who aren’t afraid to tear their sound down to its foundations and reintroduce themselves as modern-day torchbearers of Seventies folk-rock. It’s an album about growing up and pushing forward.
“We spent so many years dreaming about having kids, about finally buying a house together,” says Nicole. “Josh and I have been married for almost six years, and we’ve been talking about starting a family for a while. At one point, it was like, ‘Why are we waiting? Because we’re broke? Because we don’t know what’s around the corner? If we continue living our lives this way, we’re not gonna live our life.’ That’s where the title of the record comes in. At the end of the day, it’s your life, and it’s right there for the taking.”