Elephant Revival is a band that blends folk music with bluegrass, celtic music, psychedelic country, indie rock, and occasionally, even reggae and hip hop. Even with so many different sounds in their songs, they retain a style that is distinctly their own—mostly because of their wonderful vocals and environmentally conscious themes. Since 2006, they’ve been building a solid fan base around the country, and are about to embark on a Midwest tour. On September 28th, they’ll be playing at the Majestic Theatre in Madison, just a skip away from Murfie HQ—so we thought the time was perfect to learn a bit more about them! Here’s a Q&A I had with Dan Rodriguez (acoustic guitar, electric banjo/guitar, vocals). We talked via phone from his friend’s studio in Boulder, Colorado:
K: I see you guys are from Nederland, Colorado!
D: Yeah. We started there, and we all lived there for a handful of years. Just recently Sage moved back to Kansas to the family farm. So we’re not all living in Nederland now, but we still consider ourselves a Nederland band.
K: I actually visited that place for the first time last year for Nedfest—have you gone to that?
D: I’ve gone to it many times, and performed there a few times too. It’s a hometown fest!
K: Nederland is a funky little town, there’s mountains and taverns and flannel—I love it. And the people are really nice. One thing I like about your band is it’s a co-ed band, a mix of guys and girls. Have you found that it brings a certain energy to the band?
D: I certainly couldn’t imagine it any differently. The men and the women—the kind of alchemy that happens—it’s just been such an integral part of everything. It’s just a big part of our sound and part of the vibe.
K: So you all are coming to Madison on September 28th —do you have shows in between then?
D: Yeah, we do. We have one in Minneapolis, at the Cedar Cultural Center, and then we play Boats and Bluegrass Festival in Winona, Minnesota, then we play Ames, Iowa, and then we’re in Madison.
K: Have you had some good luck touring in the past? Do you like to travel around for shows?
D: Yeah, we’ve been touring since even before we put a record out. We’ve been touring since 2006, and that’s really the best way to really get the music out there nowadays.
K: From the videos I’ve seen and my friends who have seen you play before, you definitely bring a certain kind of energy to your live shows that the crowd really enjoys. And you’ve got interesting instrument combinations too, beyond the classic stuff like guitar and banjo. I see Bonnie plays a washboard with a pair of gloves—what kind of gloves does she use?
D: She inherited a box of leather driving gloves from her grandmother, and she sews metal banjo picks with tooth floss right on to them.
K: I didn’t realize they were handmade. That’s pretty awesome! Elephant Revival seems to sing a lot about environmentally conscious themes. I know you guys are an eco-friendly band, and you like to raise awareness for humanitarian causes. Where did that begin? Do you all have that in you, or is any one particular person in the band really passionate about it?
D: We all have our own particular passions, but I think if people aren’t becoming more ecologically conscious in general, or environmentally conscious, then you’re just sort of ignoring life. And it seems like we’re at the 11th hour here with ignoring that part of life. It just makes sense to inherit those things that are already supposed to be integral. I encourage everybody to think about the food they’re eating, the fuel they’re using, and things like that. Aside from the music, I think it’s hugely important.
K: Definitely, and music spreads a message. No matter what kind of music it is, even if it doesn’t have lyrics—I feel it spreads a message, and spreads a vibe. One thing I get from your music is having an awareness and a sense of place and time. Like the fact that we are connected to everything. Your lyrics are calling everyone to keep that in mind—so I applaud you guys for that! And I know that the name Elephant Revival has a special meaning. Could you explain the meaning behind your band name?
D: The name Elephant Revival comes from an experience that our bass and mandolin player Dango Rose had at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, where there were two elephants in captivity. They had been in the same area in captivity for about 15 years together, so they had a lot of bonding. Then one day the Salt Lake City Zoo started calling different zoos looking for an elephant, ‘cause they were in need of one. They ended up contacting Lincoln Park, and they said “Sure we have two, we can spare one.” So they ended up separating them after 15 years. In transport, in Wyoming, that one elephant died. And a couple days later the one in Chicago died as well. So the separation kind of drove them to the netherworlds. We were all living in different places at the time, but we knew each other, and it was kind of a story that brought us all together. So we named the band after it.
K: That’s a very powerful story—it definitely points out the strong connection between people, and that all animals have between each other. Another thing I was wondering about is your experience sharing the stage with different people. I mean, you guys have an awesome list of people who you’ve played with and opened for. So out of all the people you’ve seen perform close-up because you’ve shared the stage, who has been really fun to watch?
D: Oh wow, it’d be tough to narrow it down. I think one of my favorites is a fellow by the name of Bill Bourne. He’s a Canadian folk singer who kind of harnesses a sort of a shamanic thing, even if he doesn’t mean to. He kind of holds this face when he sings and plays that’s pretty amazing. Nathan Moore from Virginia is amazing. And Ani DiFranco, we had the opportunity to play with her—she’s just a whiz on the guitar, and her rhythmic abilities are phenomenal. It’s tough to narrow it down, but those are a few.
K: I was wondering if there is anyone who you personally look up to musically, whether you’ve been looking up to them since you were a kid, or after you became a musician. Someone you’ve looked up to, and everything they’ve done.
D: It’s interesting because, you know—you have a person’s body of work, and if we were just focusing on a person’s body of work I would say that I’ve paid most of my attention to Bob Dylan and his songwriting. I’ve kind of studied it and listened to it, more so probably than anyone else. As far as holistic observation of their career, and their personality, that’s a whole ‘nother story. Maybe back to Bill Bourne.
K: Definitely a lot of folk. You guys definitely are a folk-y band, but you blend other genres, and even incorporate a kind of a celtic sound to your stuff.
D: Yeah, Bridget on the violin—you know, you can bring the violin a few different places, and she certainly has a lot of celtic influence. I think she even has some genetics from the Scotland area too, so I think it just comes out of her.
K: I’m excited to see the whole band perform in Madison. Is this going to be your first time at the Majestic Theatre?
D: Yeah, it will be the first time at the Majestic for us. In the past we’ve played at an outdoor venue. But on the 28th, doors are at 7, show starts at 8, and The Lowest Pair will be playing with us as well.
K: One more thing I was wondering, since it’s starting to be the end of the summer. Throughout summer, there’s a lot of music festivals. And over the past few years, music festivals have really become more and more popular for people to go see music, and for bands to get involved in a lineup. Have you seen the rise of music festivals change anything about how people see music?
D: I think one of the best parts of music festivals is that whole families can come. So it’s not completely a debaucherous musical party—it can be a community effort where kids and parents can come and share the experience. And for me, I think one of the greatest parts is that I get to finally see all of the bands that I like, and see friends that I haven’t seen in a long time. So it certainly gives me that opportunity. There’s a shadow side to the festivals too, but I won’t get into that.
K: Yeah, definitely. It’s interesting. I’m interested to see what happens over the next few years because it just seems like festivals are the thing now. And they’re certainly a lot of fun, I must say that! Well, it’s been cool picking your brain a bit about the band—and like I said, I’ve heard good things about your performance, so we’re excited to have you here in Madison and see what you’re all about. So thanks so much for talking to me today.
D: Thank you Kayla!
You can learn more about Elephant Revival at elephantrevival.com. Be sure to check out their albums on Murfie! If you’re in the Madison area, you can catch them at the Majestic on Sunday September 28th.
Albums by Elephant Revival
Kayla manages social media and customer support at Murfie. You can hear her on the radio hosting U DUB, the reggae show, Wednesdays on WSUM. She enjoys hosting the Murfie podcast, cooking, traveling, going to concerts, and snuggling with kittycats.