The part-indie rock, part-power pop group has been making rounds in Boston for a while, but it’s been a long climb until then. Elephants formed back in Western Mass when singer-guitarist Loren Ipsum and Ryan Young were in college. They began playing acoustic shows in 2011. After trying their hand at going electric in 2012, things began to pick up. The two credit it to putting in the effort. Since then, they’ve done what most small DIY groups would hope to: record an EP, do a small tour, record an album, move to Boston, do an East Coast tour, record some more, play basements, play proper venues, meet bands they admire, press songs to vinyl. While there’ve been some downs along the way—the biggest of which is roster changes, though there are no complaints, especially about their current lineup with Chris Gaudette and Andrea Neuenfeldt—Elephants have not only found a way to survive as independent musicians, but they’ve found a way to grow.
Their songs flit between charming downers to uplifting reminders, where the group flies through melodies with ease. Their most recent record, 2016’s Endless Arcade, proved them to be at the top of their game. There’s passion in all that they do. Yet despite that, Elephants never sounds like it’s nose is in the air. The band is grateful to everyone who helped it along the way—Sleep Crimes, the Young Leaves, Halfsour, Quiet Giant—and wants to keep that going. So we caught up with Ipsum and Young to talk about how they’ve grown over the years and what other musicians can learn from their mistakes.
REVISE YOUR GOALS
“The original goals were to play loud rock music, specifically the kind from the ’90s because we both liked a lot of the same bands. That’s partially where the name Elephants came from: the idea of something that’s massive but nice, playing off the origin of Swans’ name,” says Young. “Now, our goals haven’t changed, but we’ve had a sharper vision. Fortune or fame are pretty nebulous at this point. I just want to keep making songs and build a community through that art. You just want to get better. We want to keep playing loud rock, but are trying to make it.”
GUSH OVER EMAIL
“Making band friends is hard, so reach out to people you like. Early on, within the first few years of us being a band, there was a duo that I really liked called Radio Control. They were a two-piece guitar and drums garage rock band. They were so good. I loved their band, but I didn’t know them. So one day I decided to email them. I remember being really nervous, typing them a message, and sent it, not expecting them to respond. But they did! And they were one of the first bands that we clicked with,” says Ipsum. “They wound up being so helpful. They moved to the West Coast a couple years ago, but every now and then keep in touch.”
NOT ALL FIGHTS ARE BAD FIGHTS
“We’re at a point where we get in fights now, and I’m worried people overhear us and think it’s the bad kind,” laughs Young. “We come up with the basic song parts together and then bring it to Andrea and Chris so they can write their parts. We change stuff around based on feedback. We’ve been writing songs for years, so we’re not incompatible, but we have different things we like in songs. I tend to be a maximalist. I want a verse, a chorus, a post-chorus, a bridge, and a crazy dueling guitar solo. Then Loren says she wants to repeat the verse and chorus and then let’s stop it. There are great simple songs, but I don’t think I can write them. I hide my nervousness about songwriting by throwing complexity at it. There’s a song like that called ‘King of Pajama Mountain’ where I wanted to throw the Wedding Present and Built to Spill together in a blender.”
DON’T FEAR FLUIDITY
“The first album that we ever recorded was us finding what we wanted to be doing. We don’t play many songs from it. You listen and hear it’s all over the place, influences on our sleeves,” says Young. “Our last EP was a conscious effort to write shorter power pop. We’re still in the act of becoming. That sounds so hippy, but I mean it. Does a caterpillar know it’s going to become a butterfly or does it just crawl into a cocoon and wonder what the fuck is happening? It’s okay to not know what your process is, and it’s okay to keep altering it as you go.”
BEFRIEND YOUR NEIGHBORS
“The Western Mass scene feels tighter knit, but still diverse. Boston has more scenes, but they’re spread out, so each one has its own circle. That’s a function of being in a bigger pool, of course,” says Ipsum. “People need to help one another play out of town more. You have to step up sometimes, too. That’s important. I think some bands in Boston have a hard time getting out of the city because they don’t know anyone there, but it’s cool to do that. Having grown that community outside of Boston, or vice versa, it’s important to find like-minded bands in other geographic locations. That can only help you. It can be intimidating to meet people you don’t know, but ask friends if they have friends out there. Just send a note saying hi. You’d be surprised.”
ELEPHANTS, JOEY SPRINKLES, SPELLING, PSYCHIC LIFE COACH, IDLING. SAT 1.13. O’BRIEN’S PUB, 3 HARVARD AVE., ALLSTON. 8PM/18+/$8. OBRIENSPUBBOSTON.COM