Artist: Ordinary Elephant
Hometown: Austin, Texas (Sort of. We are nomadic, living on the road full-time in our van/travel trailer set up with our dogs.)
Latest album: Honest
Personal nicknames (or rejected band names): Extraordinary Eggplant (given to us by a musician friend from San Antonio)
What is your favorite memory from being on stage?
It’s hard to pick one favorite, but there was a night in San Marcos, Texas, that particularly stands out. There is a little bakery/coffee shop that also hosts music. Rather than being background music in a noisy cafe though, it actually turns into a listening room environment with people gathering around the tiny wooden stage, you know, listening. Before we started, we met an adorable 70-something-year-old couple, both retired teachers, who were the type of folks that immediately make you feel like you’ve known them for years.
In the middle of a song during our first set I look over to see them sitting side-by-side on a bench seat, like mirror images, on the same side of a table whose width was intended for a single person, elbows on the table top and chins resting in their hands, with grandparent-proud smiles, creating a moment that made me smile with every part of myself and also close my eyes to keep from forgetting the words.
What rituals do you have, either in the studio or before a show?
Tea. Moroccan Mint or Ashwagandha for me (Crystal) and Pau D’Arco for Pete. Ideally in a ceramic mug rather than a paper cup (or glass). It’s not just having the tea, but the pouring of the water and the waiting for it to steep — the whole process. It’s grounding and calming. Once it’s done, it’s nice having something to hold. Having mug of tea also makes any conversations we have with new people feel more like… conversations.
If you had to write a mission statement for your career, what would it be?
Be true, to ourselves and the songs. Tell what needs to be told. Don’t compromise. Do what we do, and we will find our community.
Which elements of nature do you spend the most time with and how do those impact your work?
We are drawn to two opposite environments — areas full of trees, forests, and mossy dirt paths and the desert (particularly New Mexico and West Texas) — and the mountains they can both have. They are both quiet, but in different ways. Forests have the lack of road and city noise, but the desert is a whole other level. It’s like when the electricity goes out and every background hum stops, but turned up to 11. The quiet lets our brains breathe. I am often hypersensitive to noise and can feel overloaded in a sensory sense in loud situations, so these places let me recharge.
There is more than the quiet though. The life and color in a forest and how clean the air feels–there is just something about being tucked inside this and the trees that feels so comfortable and calming that it’s as if it were a home in a previous life. The sunsets and dark night skies in the desert feel sacred.
We have songs about some of these places (e.g. “Before I Go” and “Thank You” from our previous album, Before I Go), but I think nature most impacts our work by letting us do our work.
How often do you hide behind a character in a song or use “you” when it’s actually “me”?
I think we more often do the opposite. This is a transition from earlier writing though, which I think is probably common–start out writing what you know, your own stories, then expanding to tell others’ stories. We’ve learned to not be afraid of embodying a character that we are not, in order to tell a story how it wants to be told.
Photo credit: Olive and West Photography