MOUNTAIN MUSIC: Songbird sings a quirky tune
For the better part of a year and half, Dulci Ellenberger and her band, the wildly popular folk-trio Now You See Them, have worked steadily on their first full-length album. The folk songstress contributed several songs on the 11-track debut, based on the band’s experiences in the beautiful mountains of Asheville, N.C., and beyond. Sticking with the folk philosophy of writing what one knows, the everyday experiences come through in Ellenberger’s songs; personal and engaging, the melodies throughout this stunning release showcase a band with talent and determination. Ellenberger writes, plays guitar, melodica, and keyboards on many of the songs. In a live setting, she captivates all audiences and is the spark that can ignite fellow band members Shane Conerty and Jason Mercer to take it to the next level.
Born in Pennsylvania, Ellenberger immediately was immersed in music at the time she was born. “Both of my parents taught music in public schools and churches. I was brought up singing in choirs, and my mom says I could match pitch by the time I was two years old. She taught me about harmonies, because she was always singing along to the radio with her own part, and I loved how much prettier the songs sounded once she adder her part,” Ellenberger said. Following high school, Ellenberger went on to attend Baldwin-Wallace College to study voice and musical theater.With big hopes, she moved to New York City and slugged it out for five years before she formed Now You See Them with Conerty and Mercer. Ellenberger and crew moved to Asheville in 2008. It was this move that changed the band’s path as their star began its rise. “The community of Asheville welcomed me and my band with such warmth; it was a nice transition from hard city life of New York City. I think the people of Asheville are a huge part of what makes it so special here,” Ellenberger said.
The group converged on Omni Artists Studio in Weaverville, N.C., to begin recording “What We Want,” their first album in January 2011. With Eric Willson producing, the group enlisted the help of several bands to add to their overall sound, including regional favorites like Holy Ghost Tent Revival, Uncle Mountain, and For the Birds. The lyrics throughout the record, at times, are dark and considerate of the melodies as they bounce around in joyous indie-pop fashion.
“What We Want” charges off with the rousing, “We Will Never Be Young Again,” as the melodica riffs a funky intro, the song surely signifies the “time and place” phase of this recording. Growing older and becoming more secure with their craft, the band has developed a knack for quirky arrangements and chord changes, but it all flows wonderfully as the dramatics give way to the solemn moments without batting an eye. Ellenberger’s voice is like that of a songbird—not like the fluttering Jeff Buckley but more of a 21st century Joni Mitchell. Ellenberger and Now You See Them are capable of becoming an unforgettable band destined to move beyond Asheville, but hopefully always taking us with them.
Q&A with Dulci Ellenberger
SML: Who were some of your musical influences growing up? Who is your go-to songwriter when you want to hear a great song?
Ellenberger: I love Julie Andrews. “The Sound of Music” is still one of my favorite movies of all time. Her voice is so pleasing and soothing and classy all at once. As far as pop music influences, I used to love Amy Grant, Whitney Houston, The Mammas and The Pappas, Neil Diamond, and Karen Carpenter. Her voice is like smoky butter. Mostly, I grew up listening to what was on the radio and classic musicals. Nowadays, Regina Spektor never lets me down. Her lyrics are so concise, but her sensibilities remain in pop somehow. And Tallest Man on Earth—his songs can make me cry on my happiest days, and I think that’s great.
In your experience, are there any challenges or benefits to being an up-and-coming artist in WNC?
I’d say that the benefits outweigh the challenges, for sure. I love that there are so many local and regional artists I can not only look up to and learn from but actually play a show with!
What’s it like to be playing in a band with a bunch of dudes?
Smelly! Just kidding. For the most part, it's great. I grew up with two sisters, and even our dog was female, so there wasn’t a ton of “man energy” in my life, aside from my dad. I always had male friends, but living with two in really tight spaces was a whole different story. It took a little getting used to, but I’m tougher now as a result, and I get to learn a lot about how men think. It makes me feel safe and special, and I’m proud to say that Jason and Shane rarely ever smell bad.
Tell me about your songwriting process—is it a collective effort or do you write your own songs and present them to the band?
I write my own songs and present them to the band. Until Now You See Them formed, I was mainly performing other peoples’ songs, you know? I studied voice and musical theater in college, and I was trained as an entertainer. I had only gotten my first guitar and started writing my own songs a few months before we all got together. I’m still figuring out how to be open with my songs, how to get outside of my own perspective, and how to get over writing about really personal stuff when my boyfriend is in the band. Usually, a line or a thought will play over and over in my mind obsessively for a while, and I’ll try to write about it, but it almost always comes together in my sleep. True story. I’ll wake up and suddenly know what I want for a song … probably because I’ve been obsessing about it, even in my sleep, and my mind is like, “Enough! Write it down!”
Besides playing in Now You See Them, tell me about any side projects that you’re involved with.
I’m in a fabulous side project called For the Birds with Melissa Hyman (The Moon and You), Amanda Platt (The Honeycutters), and Amber Sims (great singer/professional massage therapist). We sing a lot of cover tunes from the 50’s and 60’s girl groups, like the Chiffons, The Shirelles, Diana Ross and the Supremes, along with our own original songs. It’s so fun to have three other voices to work with, and cello (Melissa), banjo (Amanda), percussion and melodica (Amber). We all really love singing and playing together, and maybe because it’s all girls, or maybe because it’s a side project for us, there seems to be a lot less ego involved, so we collaborate really well together. We have marathon practice/giggle sessions, and we’re currently putting together an album recorded by Dan Shearin (Uncle Mountain). He says we ought to have our own reality show.
The arrangements on “What We Want” are very rich and grand. Was that a hard task to tackle being a three-piece band? How will that transcend to your live shows?
It was surprisingly not hard to tackle. Our producer, Eric Willson has a great ear, and we highly value his input. All three of us had ideas of what we wanted to hear once the album was complete, and putting those ideas into play was made much easier by the many talented friends we have locally/regionally. We’re hoping that people will hear our album and realize our maximum potential. If they want to hear the same show live, we can do that. We’ll just have to ask for a little more money so we can get our super band on the road. Otherwise, when it’s just the three of us, we always put our whole heart into our shows, and I believe that translates to the audience—giving them a great show and a strong sense of connection to the message of our music.