Good Morning Bedlam's Isaak Elker credits gratefulness as a grounding force
A new band lineup and a continually evolving sound. They are mutually inclusive statements for the Minneapolis-based quartet Good Morning Bedlam.
Founding members and principal songwriters of the "furious folk" group — the husband/wife team of Isaak and Tori Elker — are now working with two new members: Violinist and vocalist Katherine "Kat" Seeger and trumpeter/keyboard player Dawson J. Redenius.
Isaak Elker told WGLT ahead of the band's appearance at Illinois State University on Monday night that the new band dynamic is already paying dividends.
“Always finding new perspectives to bring in new ideas from musicians that you really trust can only make the songs better,” said Elker.
"All My Friends" is one of the new singles the group has released this year, and an example of the contribution the two new members are bringing to its evolving sound. He said he had written most of the song but was struggling to find a main instrumental motif that was super catchy.
“I just tossed that over to Dawson and Kat and they brought in a bunch of ideas,” said Elker. “Eventually, their ideas became that main instrumental idea … (singing) dah dah dah dah dah dah dah dah … the ideas back and forth between the violin and the trumpet at the end? That's all improv, every show. And it was improv in the studio as well. They recorded that section together in the studio. And they played off of one another dynamically and musically and melodically and it just brought so much life to what Tori, and I had set up as the structure of the song and the bones of the song there.”
It takes a lot of confidence to lean into the help of new band members to flesh out what longtime members had created. Elker said trust is everything.
“There were a couple of different things we really wanted to be careful about before bringing people to travel with us a lot of the time and work on new ideas,” he said. “It's not just that they're amazing musicians, amazing instrumentalists, but also that first and foremost that their priority in being on a song is to add to the song.”
Less confident or territorial players might feel threatened by that. Thinking how Glenn Frey and Don Henley froze out the rest of the band, how John Lennon and Paul McCartney kept George Harrison at a songwriting distance. Not wanting others to have fingers in the songwriting is not unusual. Elker said a lot of that is ego, something he conceded he has struggled with.
“But not on the songwriting side,” said Elker. “Because I came from a place of collaboration in high school, collaborating with different musicians to work on music, for plays, and for that sort of thing. Honestly, when I was in high school, I was in a group of musicians that compose music for plays, and I was never the best. I had to work really hard to develop those things and to collaborate with other people to grow myself artistically. I think there was something about never being the best player when I was learning to play music that really kept my ego in check in those ways, and that's been a huge blessing for me.”
When we last caught up with Good Morning Bedlam, the album “Lulu” had just been released. The group brought in an outside producer with the mantra that they were striving to have the band grow sonically. Elker said that ethic continues on a handful of singles the group released between late last summer through this month.
“One thing you'll notice off the track, ‘All My Friends’ or even our song we released last summer ‘Sticks and Stones,’ which will both be on an EP release this fall, the drums are getting bigger, the ideas are getting bigger,” said Elker, including splitting GMB into two pieces.
“A songwriter’s group, which would be me and Tori,” said Elker. “So, we can play certain shows that are intimate and small, where we strip the songs back to their main components, and we play off of each other. And then actually expanding the full band to not only be trumpet and violin, but to include drums as well.”
Good Morning Bedlam has come a long way since its first EP in 2015. You can hear it in the evolution of the recorded music, the increasingly engaging live show, and the willingness to take musical and personnel chances. It’s one thing to be young and excited to hit the road. It’s another to sustain that energy. Elker said one idea helps him personally keep a steady pace: Gratefulness.
“You're always looking to the next thing and you're always striving to get to the quote unquote next level, more ticket sales, and a better deal. Great record label … great new booking agents … you're always looking forward. I've learned in the last couple of years to take moments to be grateful that I get to do this at all. And that has brought so much joy to what we do. I think when you're first starting out in the arts, you're always serving the art, you're always like, ‘well, we have to do this for the band, we have to do that for the band.’ And we're starting to get to a place of, ‘what do we want?’ And how does doing this art full time serve our lives and fulfill our lives, and we're being able to make that switch into letting the art serve us as an outpouring of our feelings and our emotions and how we want to express things. Really making choices based on what's best for us and what's best for the music and what's best for the art and that's been hugely encouraging,” said Elker.
Good Morning Bedlam plays Illinois State University's Concerts on the Quad this Monday night. See the full concert series schedule.