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the modern folk music of america

"elkhorn is an instrumental guitar duo from new york. they blend american primitive style finger picking with psychedelic wailing and riffing. the interplay between acoustic and electric tones allows them to explore the psychedelic edges of traditional folk styles and melodies.  the music is genre-spanning, improvisational and exploratory. the jams are minimal but they have a huge rock'n'roll edge. 'conference of the birds' is a true mind-bender. their new self-titled album will be out soon in a limited run of cassettes."
"Coming out the end of this week on August 19 is the self-titled album by cosmic psychedelic folk duo Elkhorn. They combine 12-string acoustic (Jesse Sheppard) and electric guitar (Drew Gardner) in a John Fahey meets Earthless scenario of apocalyptic Americana. It’s a brilliantly simple idea may have been attempted previously, but not to the formidable brain expanding depth of this project. Immersive listening is like free-falling through a sonic dreamworld involving the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Cul de Sac and Guru Guru."

"While we’re zoning out to beautiful guitar playing, it’s a good time to check out Elkhorn. These guys are a guitar duo consisting of old friends Jesse Sheppard and Drew Gardner and their newly-released debut self-titled album out on Beyond Beyond Is Beyond has already made its impression on me. The music consists of traditional finger-picked 12-string that creates a lovely, hypnotic backdrop while an electric guitar curls and curves around in an assortment of psychedelic and dreamy melodies. Perfect music for some heavy thinking or not thinking at all. Enjoy!"

"When talking about psych music it may happen to be a bit confused about what can and about what can not be called psych. Lately we’ve witnessed a complete shift regarding the entire genre of psychedelia and its plural subgenres: from neo-psych to garage to psych noise and so on. We are sure that the word itself has been overused and made functional to define and make more appealing a lot of stuff that certainly is not psychedelic, to exploit the trend that psych music became these last couple years.
Things sure aren’t simpler when you come across any musical entity that tries to merge psychedelic guitar improvisation with a complex and various tradition such as folk music and traditional finger-picking in its entire form.
Musicians who want to face these two almost shapeless and indefinable genres should always know precisely why they think they’re part of these noble musical heritages, trying to experiment and understand few elements and few inspirations at a time. Long story short: the probabilities to fail and record a shitty album with reverb and delays are very high. Luckily, in this review we’re not talking about some newcomer or teenager that discovered wah-wah. Today we talk about Elkhorn.

Elkhorn is a psych-folk guitar duo formed by Jesse Sheppard on twelve-strings acoustic and Drew Gardner with my all time favorite electric guitar: Fender telecaster with which the guys try to deepen and explore folk and psych in almost all their forms.
In the homonym tape, as it’s written on the press kit, Elkhorn “interweaves the extended folk tradition with psychedelic improvisation” and again “They move freely between American Primitive to Psychedelic Rock, From Hindustani to Mauritanian, From Krautrock to Jazz; pulling from players as diverse as Robbie Basho, Sonny Sharrock, Ben Chasny, Buddy Guy and David Gilmour”. The guys surely know what they’re talking about. The cassette, composed by five long well curated and defined tracks that shows the total control and force of expression that the musicians developed over the years. In fact the biggest merit the work and the duo have is to bring everything in its right place at the right time, merging melodies and atmospheres that reminds the most diverse things.
The guys sure call things with their name. Of course, as they say, you can feel the full influences of Basho’s “Seal Of The Double Lotus” and “Visions Of The Country” (Seed) as well as “Dance Of Death And Other Plantation Favorites” by Fahey (Seven Arrows) and Sharrock’s “Ask the Ages” and definitively “Guitar” for their folkloric open chords and the harmonic choices but with a more focused attention you can also feel the presence of other musical ambiences. Stuff like Peter Walker’s Rainy Day Raga, OM for their liquid, desertic mood (Conference Of The Birds) but also a more relaxed version of heavier bands of the space, prog-rock and stoner-blues scene like Samsara Blues Experiment, Lunar Dunes, Liquid Sound Company and, of course, Stoned Jesus (Earthbound). Am i going to far?

From their last release (Colonial Park), the duo seems to have developed a much mature sound and style forgetting almost totally the modern folk shape of their songs and their emotional drift to go back remarkably to the roots of a blackened and distant folk past, venturing deeper and deeper into the woods with a good balance between dynamics (who said that psych has to be that slow?) and improvisative impasse. Of course people who are not really into this very recognizable and specific sound or that aren’t big fans of Gilmour’s bluesish psychedelic guitar could still say that the work it’s a bit mannerist or nothing really new but with no doubt the duo has a sound with a history and a strong consciousness of this specific and long path. For me that’s enough to say that this it’s a good album for all lovers of the genre.

The tape is released by Beyond Beyond is Beyond: great Brooklyn based label involved in all sorts of american/english influenced psychedelic and garagey pop and rock that already gave us amazing releases by Kikagaku Moyo, Myrrors, JJUUJJUU, Our Solar System and Ancient Ocean. With this tape the label shows that has no intention to go in something different that pure psychedelic stonerish vibes.

After all this, sit back, relax and enjoy this long vintage liquid trip."

"smoky extended electric guitar solos anchored to acoustic rhythm backbones, kinda makes me think SANDY BULL meets LIGHTNIN HOPKINS but with more heavy 70s oomph, like a sky high collaboration between BEN CHASNY and JUSTIN WRIGHT takin turns on lead and rhythm, or maybe like WOODEN SHJIPS frontman RIPLEY JOHNSON on a serious HENDRIX kick backed by STEVEN R. SMITH at his bluesiest fusing stripped down acoustic SPACEMEN 3 guitar mantra with FUNKADELIC's MAGGOT BRAIN mind blowing title track, meandering some of the same territory as JENKS MILLER & ROSE CROSS NC which might as well be my back yard"

Weed Temple

"I tell you what: I don’t get why this particular brand of folk with extensive fingerpicking techniques mastered in the 1960’s by Robbie Basho or Sandy Bull is called American Primitivsm. Because in my opinion to pull this kind of acoustic guitar trickery you have to be anything but primitive. But hey, there are stranger music genre names out there, so who am I to judge? Anyway, every once and then I return to this guitar goodness and the genre is very well alive, as exemplified by the New York duo Elkhorn. The dynamic duo of Jesse Sheppard and Drew Gardner on twelve-string acoustic guitar and electric guitar (respectively) draws “several different traditions; from American Primitive to Psychedelic Rock, from Hindustani to Mauritanian, from Krautrock to Jazz; pulling from players as diverse as Robbie Basho, Sonny Sharrock, Ben Chasny, and David Gilmour“. The result is simple, yet complex; clean, yet trippy; relaxing yet totally enveloping. An amazing listen, the intricate guitar soloing puts the listener in a state of constantly heightened awareness, being totally satisfied and begging for more at the same time. Highly recommended!"

"Unfortunately sold out on cassette but still available as a download, Elkhorn is a folk/psych-rock guitar duo featuring Jesse Sheppard on twelve-string acoustic and Drew Gardner on electric guitar. Over five long pieces the album is a mix of folk guitar and space rock soloing that reminds of the Dead or Quicksilver, primitive American styles mixing with the sounds of Kraut Rock, touches of Jazz and more experimental passages be it the drifting space explorations of “Seed” or the epic blues jamming of “Dogfish Blues” a track that sparkles from the speaker displaying the dexterity of both players, earthy and really fucking sweet. Elsewhere, “Earthbound” is a psychedelic delight, both guitars singing sweetly in a divine cloud of bliss, whilst “Conference of the Birds” is a gentler, Eastern sounding piece that reminds me of Kaleidoscope the U.S. Version, late night music to ease your mind and leave you with visions of beauty and stillness."

"For this week’s Bandcamp Monday, I”m checking out Elkhorn’s terrific self-titled debut. Consisting of Jesse Shepard on the acoustic 12-string and Drew Gardner on electric, the duo covers a wide a range of territory on the five lengthy tracks here, with Takoma School fingerpicking bumping up against trance-y West African modes, psychedelic drones drifting into earthy blues. Great jams that highlight Shepard and Gardner’s considerable improvisatory skills and deeply locked in headspace. And hey, if you’re looking for more, there’s a recent live gig (this one with drummer Ian McColm joining in on the fun) up for the download as well."

The Black River

"I’ve been laying down my idiotic thoughts on music for the past five years or so, and the micro scenes and niche genres that spring up continues to amaze. When it comes to the extensive American Primitive scene, I will not feign expertise and lecture on how this album we’re premiering connects the dots between Fahey’s early Takoma output and Bachman’s post-millenium drones or whatever. All I can say with certainty is that Elkhorn, the New York City/Philadelphia duo of Jesse Sheppard (12 String Acoustic) and Drew Gardner (Electric Guitar), cooked up an incredible, hypnotic slow burn LP, and I’m excited to share it with the TMT world. The Black River (out today via Debacle) is the duo’s debut LP, with a sold out tape on Beyond Beyond is Beyond that came out in 2016. The whole of The Black River is centered on the textured interplay between acoustic and electric guitar, and while I love the gorgeous melodies of the former, when the latter breaks down into some scorched shredding (see “Sugar Hill Raaga”), I can’t help but be won over by every minute.

A free-roaming fusion of American-primitive, psych, drone, jazz, and loads of other influences, The Black River just might force even the most jaded of hipsters out there to admit that they “don’t hate guitars” after all."

"I grew up in a logging town. When I was young, the mills ran 24 hours a day and there were enough in Sweet Home, Oregon to blanket the town in ambient noise. People who moved to the town sometimes complained (much like people around airports, I assume) but to me it was background music to life. I was fascinated by the acoustic thumps and loud bangs from the stacking of the lumber which overlaid the screams of the blades as they milled the lumber and the whining of the forklifts as they picked up and carried the lumber from conveyor belts to the yard. Occasionally the whistle would blow signifying lunch or shift changes and there were constant beeps and school bell noises when a line was stopped for one reason or another.  

It is the first thing I thought upon hearing the opening track of Elkhorn's new album The Black River. The twelve-string of Jesse Sheppard laying down bedrock (the acoustic life beat of the mills), the electric and electronic sawblade of Drew Gardner slicing through it. It was music and lifeblood for the little town, along with the sound of power (chain) saws and the falling of large trees, for they were still large then, and the later beeps of the whistlepunkts as they oversaw the extraction of the logs to landings to be loaded onto trailers hauled by trucks made specifically for hauling them to the mills. I didn't know it then but, my God, logging and milling were an economic symphony! And Sheppard and Gardner, without realizing it, put it to music.

Some might call the songs on this album New Age but I don't. I look upon them as symphonic vignettes, musical poetry. No words because words would get in the way. The only percussion that of the plucking and strumming of strings. Pictures more than anything, laid out in musical form. Music that speaks to you.

I would be lying if I said I didn't hear cinematic background music in the tunes. “The Black River” shrieks documentary and if I didn't know this was brand spanking new I would swear that it had been used in one of the many that I have seen. Any of the songs could be. More than one scene has passed before my closed eyes while listening to the album. It is both masterful and beautiful in its construction and automatically adaptable to film. And if I make it sound like the music is analogous to ambient sounds, put that out of your head. That belongs in mine. And I thank Elkhorn for it.

A side note: Debacle Records has decided to market this, as far as I can tell, only on vinyl and digital. The vinyl LP's release date is April 14th. Two weeks later, it will be released digitally with one track added. In other words, vinyl = six tracks, digital = seven. For further information or queries, contact Debacle direct."

Offbeat Music

"Jesse Sheppard (12 string acoustic) and Drew Gardner (electric guitar) will release their first album “The Black River” on April 14th as lush 175g vinyl with UV spot gloss sleeve and in digital format on April 28th via Debacle Records.

References and collaborations of Elkhorn may not only make my mouth water: “Black River” will straddle the whole story of american guitar music. It digs into folk, Americana, jazz and psychedelia. Somewhere between American primitive guitar and the likes of Ben Chasny and Tom Carter. Elkhorn however shine as a duo in contrary to the solo artists. The combination of the fingerpicked acoustic guitar creating a tender background with the electric adding a magnetic psych layer, bliss. Music that takes you in and lets you dream.

Now, why oh why, did Elkhorn sound so familiar to me? Aaah, there it is: Philadelphia-based filmmaker Jesse Sheppard has worked with artists such as Glenn Jones, Daniel Bachman and Nathan Bowles (any fan of the record labels Thrill Jockey, Paradise of Bachelors and Three Lobed Records will savour this).

His performance documentary featuring Jack Rose, The Things That We Used To Do, came out on Strange Attractors Audio House in 2010. Which of course then easily explains that the recording of “Black River” took place in Jason Meagher’s Black Dirt Studio (home ground of Jack Rose, Nathan Bowles, Steve Gunn et al).

Drew Gardner is a multi-instrumentalist who has led bands featuring avant-garde musicians such as John Tchicai and Sabir Mateen, and often conducts experimental collaborations on the fringes of the New York improv music scene.

Right, now, those are SOME credentials…but Elkhorn’s music absolutely tops the expectations arisen. Here you can see the video for “The Black River” of the new album by Elkhorn (thank you for the permission)."

the modern folk music of america

"elkhorn is a new york based guitar duo that combines acoustic, american primitive, takoma school style picking with electric, pastoral psych drones and freakouts for a mind warping effect. their new record, 'the black river', is due out in mid april from seattle experimental label debacle records.

the title track, which is currently available as a preview, demonstrates elkhorn's unique guitar alchemy. it begins leaning heavily on a fahey-esque acoustic ramble, with the electric guitar floating like a haze in the background, rounding out the edges of the sound. as the song grows, the acoustic guitar locks in to a repetitive pattern allowing the electric guitar to enter into outer space. at each turn, the tones and riffs, crisp and organic on one hand, warm, electric and psyched out on the other, compliment each other. it sounds like a magic mushroom growing from a hardwood stump. highly recommended."

"It's not uncommon for a solo release by a twelve-string acoustic fingerpicker or electric guitarist to show up at textura's door; it's far less common for one to appear featuring the two combined. But that's exactly what's happening on The Black River, the debut album from Jesse Sheppard (twelve-string acoustic) and Drew Gardner (electric guitar) under the Elkhorn name (the two also issued a self-titled tape in mid-2016 on Brooklyn's Beyond Beyond is Beyond). On the six-song set (a digital bonus, “Electric Fluid Magnified,” makes it seven), the NYC/Philadelphia duo's interplay feels so natural, one can't help but wonder why the acoustic-electric concept isn't more familiar.

Track titles such as “The Black River” and “Sugar Hill Raga” hint at what to expect: bluesy, neo-psychedelic electric shadings blended with Takoma-styled fingerpicking emblematic of the American primitive movement—a Robbie Basho-meets-Grateful Dead-and-Sonny Sharrock kind of hybrid with occasional dashes of krautrock and experimentalism mixed in for extra seasoning. Though drums and bass are absent, the tunes rock perfectly well when the guitarists are perfectly capable of kicking up dust on their lonesome.

Ideas pour forth at a rapid rate, with each happily ceding the spotlight to the other for extended solo turns. Some degree of earthy distortion bleeds from Gardner's scrabbly playing but not so much that the result is excessively raw; Sheppard's strums and picking resonate with the fresh air of a rejuvenating foray into the countryside. The two nudge things in an Easterly direction on “Sugar Hill Raga,” Gardner's wild wah-wah dramatically contrasting with the clean lines plucked by his partner, whereas “Due West” sees the electric six-stringer waxing slow'n'ecstatic with Sheppard galloping helter-skelter behind him like some unstoppable train. The duo plunges deeply into the Southern swamp for the jazz-blues meditation “Spiritual,” seven minutes of heartfelt expression that's as much John Coltrane as gospel, before exiting the thirty-nine-minute release on an affectingly plaintive note with “Depraved Heart,” Gardner shredding and wailing like he was born to it. When the record's done, one again puzzles over why electric-acoustic recordings aren't more plentiful when the idea pays such rewarding dividends as it does here."

"BLACK RIVER follows their now sold out self titled debut cassette out last year via BEYOND BEYOND IS BEYOND [REC# 149] - previous metaphors and comparisons i used then still apply - "smoky electric solos anchored to acoustic rhythm backbones, think SANDY BULL meets LIGHTNIN HOPKINS with more heavy 70s oomph" - but this lp opens it up, not just in terms of the warm and rich yet well reserved fidelity that vinyl affords but also thematically as THE BLACK RIVER meanders a bit more beyond that established home base while also excavating deeper into the righteous mine that coughed up all those self titled gems which i collectively likened as a "sky high collaboration between BEN CHASNY and JUSTIN WRIGHT"

here ELKHORN safely and cozily land alongside DEBACLE labelmates DANIEL BACHMAN, EXPO 70, PLANKTON WAT and fitting SCISSOR TAIL crossover HAYDEN PEDIGO, point in fact THE BLACK RIVER sounds like it could have just as easily been another SCISSOR TAIL hit, pushing the BULL meets HOPKINS narrative boldly toward what i imagine a collaboration between EXPO 70 and JACK ROSE would have sounded like, at times approaching the actualized SONIC MED sounds and vibes of TERRANE's BASALT PALISADES [REC #25] which is PLANKTON WAT and CHUCK JOHNSON (as heard via SCISSOR TAIL's BLOOD MOON BOULDERS--how i never managed to post a proper recommendation for that one i'll never fully understand)

so one foot in contemporary folk guitar akin to MARISA ANDERSON and CHUCK JOHNSON and, say, WILLIAM TYLER, with the other firmly planted in brooding psychedelia like EXPO stripped of his kosmische armor or MATT VALENTINE on a(nother) vision quest fueled by a FUNKADELIC and SPACEMEN 3 binge, plus a healthy dose of TAKOMA guitar, oftentimes found free ranging through scarcely populated territories as previously trailed by the likes of ILYAS AHMED and HERBCRAFT - but if you're lookin for that moment where BLACK RIVER runs wild and bursts through any possible preconceived notion, then you'll need to stick around until penultimate track COLTRANE's "spiritual" which on paper ought to be one of the most transcendental moments in folk guitar music ever, and by my estimation it is"

"I first heard Elkhorn, the New York City based, long term friends, Jesse Shepard and Drew Gardner, whilst searching out new and interesting sounds to balance my equilibrium. The duelling duo had just digitally released the name your price ‘LIVE at Rhizome’. An album featuring tracks from their eponymous debut release ‘Elkhorn’ on fellow NYC label Beyond Beyond is Beyond becoming a sold out and now sought after limited edition cassette.

The Rhizome live set, recorded in D.C during the winter of 2016 includes collaboration with Marian McLaughlin and from Ian McColm on Drums. It perfectly captures their blend of calming yet intense, expansive yet intimate sounds showcasing how their style interweaves the extended folk standard with psychedelic improvisation. Their music flowing freely in, through and out of pre to post Rock phases whilst time traveling from the 1860s to the 1960’s.

The new Elkhorn LP ‘The Black River’ is out on Debacle Records, an experimental label based in Seattle. Recorded at Black Dirt Studios by Jason Meagher and Mastered by Patrick Klem of Klem Sound the release is available in digital format. As well as and for the first time seeing the band on heavy 175g vinyl. The limited-edition pressings are housed in a UV spot gloss embellished sleeve with art and design by Mikey Rioux.

Cinematic opener and title track ‘The Black River’ begins, bobbing at the shore side of one’s imagination. Jesse’s twelve string sound shimmers bright like a dawning sunrise. Drew’s electric guitar emanates reverberated wah-fuzz -tones that lap at the mind like inspirational waves. ‘Ohun’ sails under an open sky toward a widening horizon, framed in the distance by a mountainous range of psychedelic peaks. The pioneer heritage takes precedence over progressive fusion here as the duel between the acoustic and electric tensions intensify in mood. Endeavouring onward, against the will of the elements, reaching an elevated altitude at which point, the storm breaks into the dream cloud of ‘Sugar Hill Raga’.  A blissfully karmic track which drifts from Amsterdam Avenue through the Manhattan boroughs east, like incense on the wind. In this track Shepard’s steel strings resonate in rhythmic ostinato like the drone of a Tambura, illustrating a broad pallet and taste for world music. As if carried by swelled sails from a strong wind, buoyed by a patriotic pride singing at its heart, rooted in swamp rock, bedded in bluegrass and anchored in Appalachian melodies, ‘Due West’  symbolises landing back on home turf.

’Spiritual’ affirms a return to centre, grounding into Elkhorns traditional folk foundations and embracing progressive psychedelic exploration. ‘Depraved Heart’ carries a sombre weight tinged with angst and melancholy and brings the physical release to an end with ghostly undertones. The digital release includes a bonus track ‘Electric Fluid Magnified’. A dreamy track that comprises a reprise of insignias of all the individual album tracks and rests somewhere between pedal steel and shoe gaze and is a blissful conclusion when arrived at after experiencing completion of the full journey upon ‘The Black River’." (Ben Straughair)

"No one knows the contemporary instrumental guitar scene closer up than Jesse Sheppard. An indefatigable videographer, he shot and directed Glenn Jones and Jack Rose’s DVD The Things That We Used To Do as well as shorter pieces for Daniel Bachman, Steve Gunn, and Chris Forsyth. He has seen their fingers close up on his editing screen, over and over again. Furthermore, his instinct for knowing what to snap and how to present it is likely informed by his personal familiarity with the acoustic guitar, which is the instrument he plays in Elkhorn.

Elkhorn comprises Sheppard on twelve-string acoustic and Drew Gardner on six-string electric guitars. The two men have played together since the 1980s; separately and together, each man has played a variety of instruments in diverse styles. The Black River is the duo’s first vinyl long player, and it certainly doesn’t withhold Sheppard’s knowledge of what’s now known as American Primitive guitar.

He gets in the first licks on the title tune, which opens the record, starting with a bold strum and following it with a finger-picked melody that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Rose or Bachman record. But that’s just the first move in the game, and the next few make it clear that the duo follows its own muse rather than any dictate of genre. Gardner starts adding complimentary parts that buzz and skirl from within Sheppard’s resonant picking patterns, but then as suddenly as a flipped switch his tone mutates from rustic to squiggly, flickering like Henry Kaiser might if he was using sound to evoke the bright colors of a tank full of tropical fish. As the tune slows down he shifts again, countering Sheppard’s rustic gestures with unabashedly rocking chords.

Gardner has some pedals, and he knows a lot of licks. He’s not afraid to use any of them, but he’s got the judgment to keep his drastic tonal shifts from seeming gratuitous. And the two men also understand that surprise shifts mean more when they are balanced by patient expressions of a single mood. Both “Ohun” and “Due West” capitalize on the push-pull of stark leads and swiftly churning acoustic rushes, and their arrangement of John Coltrane’s “Spiritual” retains the original’s solemn sentiment and adds a stern electric bite. It is the duo’s grasp of pacing and knack for integrating lessons not taught inside the guitar shop that make The Black River satisfying not just as guitar music, but as music full stop."  (Bill Meyer)

"Simon Lewis delegated the task of reviewing this one to me, informing me it was “right up my street”. He knows me far, far too well. So far up my street is this in fact that it might as well be in through my own front door, feet up, sat in my favourite armchair with a pint of beer in hand.

I freely confess to having never heard this duo from New Jersey, USA before, which just goes to show I really ought to take note of what the team here writes given that Simon already raved about their debut cassette release in our Rumbles columns earlier this year, describing it as “a folk/psych-rock guitar duo featuring Jesse Sheppard on twelve-string acoustic and Drew Gardner on electric guitar. Over five long pieces the album is a mix of folk guitar and space rock soloing that reminds of the Dead or Quicksilver, primitive American styles mixing with the sounds of Kraut Rock, touches of Jazz and more experimental passages … late night music to ease your mind and leave you with visions of beauty and stillness.”

None of which is very far off the mark. These guys really do cook up a magnificent cacophony. The album opens with the title track, an American primitive freight train driven by the ghost of Jack Rose heading off into a sun-soaked desert of repetitive patterns while an electric guitarist (I like to think it could be Ben Chasny) is sat out back in the caboose picking out the landmarks in acid-etched filigrees. Gradually throughout the side the roles are reversed, until on the magnificent ‘Sugar Hill Raga’ the electric guitar drowns the acoustic with scorched shredding redolent of a train full of explosives rolling off a trestle bridge.

Simon sat watching my reaction with a knowing smile the first time we played it through. It was obvious from the first minute that I loved it, but what I couldn’t put my finger on was what it reminded me of. There’s obviously hints of Pelt, the early 90s outfit featuring Mike Gangloff and Jack Rose which was inspired by traditional American music, Indian raga, and artists as diverse as the Dead C and John Fahey; it further transpires that Sheppard in fact is the same filmmaker who crafted a performance documentary featuring Jack Rose, "The Things That We Used To Do" which came out on Strange Attractors Audio House in 2010, so there’s a connection there too.

After coming up with names as diverse as Om circa. ‘Conference of the Birds’ and Lamp of the Universe circa. ‘Earth, Spirit and Sky’ though, it finally dawned on me what this reminded me of. And in a good way, too.

If you’ve ever kicked back and enjoyed either of acoustic guitarist Mick Wills’ two albums for Woronzow, particularly ‘Fern Hill’ which features the signature Nick ‘Bevis Frond’ Saloman lead guitar, you’ll get the vibe I picked up from this album. Fabulous stuff and I for one can’t wait to hear more."  (Phil McMullen)

"Elkhorn is just two guys with guitars — Jesse Shephard on acoustic 12-string and Drew Gardner on electric — but the duo packs a lot of music into The Black River, an excellent new collection of six exploratory instrumentals. Takoma School fingerpicking, psych-ed out jams, brooding pieces that call to mind Neil’s Dead Man soundtrack, some hints of West African trance blues … Shephard and Gardner seem to have absorbed it all (and more), emerging with a beautifully unclassifiable blend. Riskiest of all here is their cover of Coltrane’s masterpiece of mood, “Spiritual.” But it’s an unqualified success, matching the original’s deep heaviness, as Shephard holds down an immovable center for Gardner to dance around. This is a River you’ll want to follow wherever it flows."

"If you’re like me (you are, aren’t you?), you can’t get enough of that primitive guitar sound, a relaxing remedy for trying times. Thankfully, there is a plethora of excellent pickers out there to choose from, so it’s been a constant stream of the good stuff lately. Starting off this week’s collection is Elkhorn who follow up their RecommNed’d awe-inspiring self-titled debut with The Black River. This is a guitar duo, one 12-string acoustic evoking the ghosts of guitar past coupled with a straight-up electric giving the ghosts a psych-heavy, modern-day house to inhabit and haunt."

"While instrumental guitar music isn’t exactly trendy, the unique partnership between Jesse Shepard’s  acoustic picking and Drew Gardner’s electric is both timeless (referencing folk music that goes back centuries, and droning undertones that go back even further, to more modern innovations by John Fahey and Glenn Jones) to psychedelic explorations that are distinctly of this time. While it can work as fairly mellow background music, more focused listening can be extra rewarding. Take for example “Spiritual.” John Coltrane’s track from his 1961 Live At The Village Vanguard album foreshadowed his transcendent peak on A Love Supreme (1965). Elkhorn hints at such potential with a beautifully subtle arrangement that reminds me of the passionate work of John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana’s Love Devotion Surrender (1972). While the Latin jazz fusion performance is much different than Elkhorn’s psychedelic folk, both pay tribute to Coltrane’s yearning spiritual quest.  The title track was originally recorded in 2012, and a comparison illustrates how much more commanding the musicianship is on the new version, the interweaving tones of acoustic and electric achieving a perfect balance. It’s appropriate that this is their first vinyl release, as it’s their most definitive album so far."

"From the department "Unforgivably left aside last year": the debut album of Elkhorn, the joint duo-collaboration of New York-based Jesse Sheppard and Drew Gardner, respectively on twelve-string and electric guitar. Seven sweeping instrumental works in which the two musicians approach one another with their fretwork, and travel jointly for a while, only to drift apart into their own soundscapes, providing either varying levels of counterpoint to the playing of their duet partner or echoing response to the call of their fellow musician, thus keeping the tension at a high level. During "The Black River" the two east coast musicians keep an excellent balance between amplified and acoustic tones which flow freely from psychedelic free-folk and lean on Blues/Jazz phrasing and Indian Raga motifs, paying tribute to the early ancestors of American primitive guitar like John Fahey, Robbie Basho, and Leo Kottke or their highbrow spiritual heirs James Blackshaw and William Tyler while presenting a more free spirited and filigreed approach to post-rock with a pinch of weed and experimental sophistication, detached and freed from all heaviness and technically amplified trickery, a little like the Munich-based musicians Josip Pavlov and Dominik Lutter impressively do with their duo Zwinkelman. (Rock) music that, in the heat and dust of the imaginary prairie, preferring no bass and drums, brings together exquisite fine finger picking improvisations and rugged distorted electric guitar, including wah-wah effects and pedal effects magic, lifting ones spirit and letting ones thoughts dance."

"Elkhorn, "The Black River" (Debacle). When local label Debacle focuses on freak folk, it really delivers the goods; see also Daniel Bachman, Hayden Pedigo, and Medina/Walsh. They strike gold again with Elkhorn, an American duo who here engage in sublime electric and 12-string acoustic guitar sparring, raising folkadelic plumes of burnt-orange smoke in the process. Fans of Jack Rose and Steve Gunn will flip. Look for The Black River LP on April 28." (Dave Segal)


"Elkhorn, “Lion” (Eiderdown). Elkhorn have been making some of the most satisfying American cosmic music of recent times. Consisting of Jesse Sheppard on acoustic guitar and Drew Gardner on electric guitar, they weave their contemplative spangles and idyllic fingerpicked figures into skeins of pastoral bliss. Time slows and dilates under the sensitive pluckings of these two masters of six-string mesmerism. "Lion" is one of two epic jams on the Lionfish cassette, which is one of the strongest releases on Adam Svenson's consistently great Seattle label Eiderdown." (Dave Segal)

Offbeat Music

"Fervent readers of this blog will already be familiar with Elkhorn, the duo of Drew Gardner on electric guitar and Jesse Sheppard and their beautiful release “The Black River” gelling all forms of American guitar music into something wondrously excitingly new and yet heartwarmingly familiar. They are back with a new release called “Lionfish” on Eiderdown Records, an EP that features two very long tracks, not surprisingly named “Lion” and “Fish”. By all means, read the full story of the making of the record. In short: Drew was diving, met a gorgeous lionfish, touched it, got stung, enjoyed the venom. Jesse manufactured the venom into powder with which the duo experimented as an inspiration for the record. Is it true? I honestly don’t know. I do know, that both tracks on the EP hijack you into a long journey that will not bore you, too many exciting things are at the wayside and welcome rests and getaways included." (Alice Peters-Burns)

"Elkhorn have been on the Psych Insight radar for some time now, including one of my ‘Essential Albums‘ of last year. The New York guitar duo have released some superb improvised psych/ folk over the past few years, and this latest offering is no different. Without going into the boring details I have the sort of physiology that doesn’t take kindly to having mind altering drugs added to it so, I’m very happy when a band do it on my behalf. Elkhorn have done just that here, experimenting with the venom of the Lionfish to create two long improvised tracks of wonderful hazy other-worldliness that have me away in the clouds. As the album description explains:

At 11:09PM on the evening of December 2nd, 2017, a day now known as “Lionfish Day,” Gardner and Sheppard each snorted two enormous lines of lionfish powder from the surface of a mirror adorned with the silkscreened image of Bill Kreutzmann’s face. They then proceeded to capture the recording you have in your hands at the band’s Sharktooth studio in New York City.

What I particularly like about this is the balance between freedom and focus. You can tell that Elkhorn have shed shackles  in recording this, but not to the extent that the music has lost all form… this is no jellyfish of an album, but one with clear lines and a sense of progression throughout. I’ll certainly be mainlining it regularly."

"From the stoned Americana ramble of “Due West” to their surprisingly convincing take on John Coltrane’s “Spiritual,” Elkhorn’s 2017 LP, The Black River, was eclectic and confident, the sound of two guys with massive record collections, serious chops, and great ears for melody wearing their influences on their sleeves. By contrast, Lionfish reveals a distilled, introspective version of Elkhorn. There are no surprise covers, no memorable tunes, no overt nods to jazz, raga, or American folk. Save a light sprinkling of ceremonial bells and a few smears of singing bowl, Lionfish consists of nothing more than Jesse Sheppard and Drew Gardner on 12-string acoustic and six-string electric guitar, respectively, winding their way through two brooding improvisations. Where The Black River fused disparate musical traditions into something shining and expansive, Lionfish is cloudy and meditative, the crepuscular comedown to its predecessor’s sunshine daydream.

How engrossing you find Lionfish depends on your tolerance for spacy, directionless guitar jamming. However, if you’ve ever fantasized about Robbie Basho showing up during a particularly dreamy “Dark Star,” Lionfish is the moody, meandering trip you’ve been waiting for. Eschewing the propulsive melodies and ecstatic sheets of sound of earlier work in favor of smoky tendrils of tone and a spacious, open-ended approach, Lionfish is less focused and compelling than The Black River, but also provides us with a more intimate look at its players, allowing us to hear them at their freest, unbound by structure or genre.  

Though Lionfish is structurally free, Sheppard and Gardner’s playing is more restrained than on past releases. This restraint, and the tension it engenders, keeps the nearly formless Lionfish consistently engaging and prevents it from devolving into showy shredding or flacid noodling. While it feels like a lateral move after the ambitious The Black River, Lionfish as cosmic as it is conversational, is a worthy accompaniment to your own nocturnal explorations of inner space." (Isaac Olson)

Sun Cycle/Elk Jam

"While they’ve been fixtures in the NY live scene for a while yet, and have been racking up accolades with releases on Eiderdown, Debacle, and Beyond Beyond is Beyond, this is undoubtedly the year that Elkhorn makes an indelible impact on the psychedelic spectrum. With the release of a tandem pair of albums for Feeding Tube, the duo gives two distinct visions of their doom-slicked folk fallout. On Elk Jam, the band functions as a proper four-piece with acclaimed guitarist Willie Lane and drummer Ryan Jewell giving Drew Gardner and Jesse Sheppard an improvisational backdrop to work against. This LP locks the players into a shaggy trip that weaves an even denser tangle of guitars than the duo usually finds themselves caught in and knocks their rippled runs against Jewell’s expert anchor. It’s an excellent stab at the Six Organs/P.G. Six/Rangda school of psych-folk freeform that would set them apart in any year, but they don’t let things hang on Elk Jam alone.

That leaves Sun Cycle, the dark jewel of the band’s catalog. Opening cold and frost-bitten with the slow creep of “Altun Ha,” the album plunges the band into the dark corners of psych-folk, bubbling under the skin with a high-plains harrow. There’s a heavier sense of danger in the veins of Sun Cycle, feeling like the soundtrack to a dystopic Western, where the stakes are high and hardly anyone’s walking off into the sunset alive. Lane and Jewell are still here, but they’re less foils for Elkhorn than hues in their palette, creating deep oil paint scars of cracked black and saturated blue underneath the brilliant amber runs of Sheppard’s twelve string and Gardner’s electric purple drips of psychedelic sorrow.

To say there hasn’t been an LP of instrumental intensity on this level in quite a few years is no hasty statement. Wiliam Tyler’s coming close this year, but Elkhorn are topping the mount. As a pair of LPs, there aren’t too many instances of someone stormbringing this hard with quality equaling quantity. Sun Cycle in particular knocks the band into the ranks of Rose, Chasney, and the brothers Bishop. If you’ve been holding out for an essential release in the first half of 2019, look no further, this should be turntable bound and locked down for the next couple of months of your life. Let its pain become yours, its briefer moments of joy salve the soul and its sparkling strings ease the mind."

"Elkhorn is the guitar duo of Drew Gardner on Fender Telecaster and Jesse Sheppard on 12-string acoustic; they have three prior releases out, starting with their self-titled 2016 effort on Beyond Beyond is Beyond, and now here’s two more, released simultaneously but separately via one of the current scene’s best (and most prolific) small labels. If you’re excited for some electric-acoustic duo interplay, that’s exactly what you’ll get on Elkhorn’s prior records, but here they are joined by Willie Lane on third guitar and Ryan Jewell on drums and tabla, the impulse to add players first documented last November on CDR (in an edition of 50 and still available digitally). The presence of supplementary hands is felt here, but especially so on Elk Jam.

On Sun Cycle, the duo interplay is still very much discernible, with Sheppard coming from an American Primitive place and Gardner exploring lysergic plains reminiscent at times of raga rock and unsurprisingly ’60s San Fran. Gardner’s background in avant-jazz (having played with John Tchicai and Sabir Mateen) combines well with Sheppard’s dexterous fingerpicking to ensure that the outward-bound travels never meander or for that matter simply spin wheels while navigating out of a psychedelic rut. The lack of vocals is also a major plus. The Bay Area vibe is particularly strong on Elk Jam, with the title of the LP inspiring thoughts of Elkhorn releasing it as a free album a la Moby Grape’s Grape Jam. They didn’t, but I can’t imagine psych fans being the slightest bit disappointed after dropping cash for both of these." (Joseph Neff)

"Elkhorn, the powerful instrumental duo of Jesse Sheppard and Drew Gardner are back with two slabs of transcendent goodness. Only this time around, they’re not just a duo. On these simultaneously recorded / individually released LPs, Sheppard and Gardner have brought along two ringers: the enigmatic guitar slinger Willie Lane and the freakishly talented percussionist Ryan Jewell (you’ve probably heard him with One Eleven Heavy, Ryley Walker and Chris Forsyth, among others). 

It’s a little hard to believe that this quartet hasn’t been jamming together for decades; the mind-meld between the musicians is incredible, as Sheppard’s ringing 12-string and Jewell’s always alert playing anchor the masterful weaving of Gardner and Lane’s electric lead work. Sun Cycle’s opener, “Altun Ha,” is a slow, smoky wonder, like Crazy Horse taking a Journey in Satchidananda. The whole of Elk Jam, meanwhile, is (as its title suggests) a looser, freakier affair – but it’s just as thrilling, with moments of pure ecstasy rising out of the tumbling rhythms. The whole thing is a total blast, beautifully recorded by Jason Meagher at Black Dirt Studio. And as good as the expanded Elkhorn sounds on these two records, the stripped-down duo remains terrific on the tracks without Lane and Jewell." (Tyler Wilcox)

Freer Sounds

"Philly-New York duo Elkhorn show their disregard for release schedule convention by dropping two albums on the same day for the US based Feeding Tube imprint. Sun Cycle and Elk Jam see Jesse Sheppard and Drew Gardner explore different aspects of their guitar duet relationship, with Sheppard contributing the acoustic work and Gardner the electric aspect. They are joined by Willie Lane and Ryan Jewell, who supply extra guitar elements and percussion respectively. Beautiful melodies, hypnotic textures and changing moods characterise both albums. Sun Cycle contains four structured pieces, beginning with the memorable Altun Ha. This is followed by To See Darkness, which has an emotive first half and a ferocious second half. The B Side is home to the lovely reverberating Subway Mirror Heart and the folky flavoured Song Of The Son. By comparison, Elk Jam is just that, an improvised meeting of musical minds spread across four parts. The fifteen minute part I is a mind melting opener to truly get lost in. Three guitars provide wonderful circular harmony on II and this is followed by the flowing III. IV closes proceedings with a conflagration of guitars and drums. These albums are a delightful pair of guitar driven explorations. Those who prefer a structured environment should head for Sun Cycle, whilst Elk Jam offers more experimental musical surroundings." (Jon Freer)

"Going back through all of the descriptions on this site, there has been mention of how listening time and environment contour the feelings music creates. With this in mind, the correct moment to drop the stylus on this pair of vinyl heavies needs some degree of calculation. Thankfully, responsibilities were pushed aside and consolidated, leaving enough undisturbed absorption time to cycle through multiple plays of both of these compositions. Initial thoughts were to separate Sun Cycle and Elk Jam into separate entries, but at some point while listening the realization stabilized for this to be one description.


The most appreciable feature of music is the ability to loose the fact it is being listened to. This might seem like a contradiction, so an explanation is needed. Listening to Elkhorn through four sides of grooves, there are many instances when the fervor of the sounds reach a red lining overloading status. Each musician in some conscious singularity playing with such intensity as to escape the gravitational draw. By some science yet to be understood, all artists pull away reaching a nexus between the group. The music at this point is all out, like someone still talking loud when the room quiets. This momentous earnestness by the band takes all listeners through time and space. Maybe it is just called zoning out and going for the ride, but when thoughts return and the music has kicked back, the world looks different. Now small events and unnoticed surroundings beam with a fantastic spectrum. Elkhorn now playing in a fascinating and super chilled manner, the backdrop for allowing the details of the surroundings to become clear and in focus. Awareness carried by music and not being aware of it, this is what makes Elkhorn special.


Drew Gardner and Jesse Sheppard are the duo of Elkhorn. They have previous releases on both cassette and vinyl, Eiderdown Records, Debacle Records and Beyond Beyond is Beyond Records. Everything is sold out except for the cassette Lionfish on Eiderdown. The earlier compositions are the straight duo of Drew and Jesse. For the newest pair of releases, Sun Cycle and Elk Jam, Ryan Jewel and Willie Lane have made two into a quartet. Sun Cycle pushes a little more towards the preceding basis of Jesse's twelve string and Ryan's electric guitar. There is scattered percussion from Ryan and more electric from Willie, adding a new depth when needed, but not changing the fabric too much from what it has been. The four musician's full force lets loose on Elk Jam, hence the name. This is not a constant though, there are many junctures where the more duoish Sun Cycle and the rocking Elk Jam crossover. For example, the eastern "Subway Mirror Heart" with tabla, a dreamlike rock ballad and "Jam II", pairing twelve string with electrics, lite on drums from Ryan. Each track could have been on the other album, but the subtle beauty is the tethering of these compositions together, each sharing aspects of each other. The fact they are individual lps released in accord is a desirable quality, but a gate fold with both vinyls side by side would be equally as appropriate.


Heavy and lite, a constant push to fill the space of these extremes. Sounds gathered from a complex web of passions and experiences. Decades of roots for Sun Cycle and Elk Jam, so many places these passages come from. There could be a long list of artists to draw comparisons from, but this is not needed. Elkhorn just takes traditions or what substantiates multiple styles and genres, stacking it together for the Dagwood Sandwich of sounds. Acoustic guitar, long sustained notes from electric guitars, and worldly percussive rhythms sparking global resonance.


An interesting thought, what if you pulled either of the records from a thrift store bin? The outer sleeve worn enough to preclude it from being new. A label you do not recognize. The swirled vinyl would probably be a give away, but for this analogy lets just say they vinyl is black. What would your thoughts be when the needle finds the groove? You would probably spill your drink trying to grab the cover while looking for details. Elkhorn is timeless, fifty years ago or fifty years from now, there is no exact moment in this span where origins can be pinpointed. This also touches on another aspect of what has been composed and played, recorded or live are very similar in sound. Extremely straight forward selections which are easily just a massive set. And speaking of live, Elkhorn is playing at the WFMU Record Fair, Sunday the 28th at 3pm. Not sure if this will be broadcast live.


Released on Feeding Tube Records a week ago, copies from the label have already fled. You can find these records for sale at Forced Exposure. Each recording embodies the heavy and lite aspects of sound. This feature is complimented with mostly clear physical vinyl, darker swirls towards the center. A touch of love for those who enjoy the physical medium. Take a look through the pictures below to see. Feeding Tube Records has already announced there will be a second pressing. The digital is available from Elkhorn's bandcamp page." (Ken Lower)

"Blending acoustic and electric guitar to startling effect, the core duo of Jesse Sheppard and Drew Gardner send Elkhorn of into deep space with a West Coast Psych sound that wanders, meanders, soars and glistens with a beauty that is hard to describe but easy to get lost in.

On “Altun Ha” the opening tune on “Sun Cycle” they are joined by Willie Lane (guitar) and Ryan Jewell (drums) giving the music a sense of dynamism that pulls the listener in wonderfully, each musician listening to the others and weaving the note and rhythms together in a magical way. As the piece moves on you can hear shades of both Jerry Garcia and the guitar interplay of Richard Lloyd and Tom Verlaine the track coming on like a trippy version of “Marquee Moon”, which is no bad thing.

With a gentler vibe, “To See Darkness” has a more acoustic/folk feel, the notes rippling sweetly, the lack of percussion opening the piece out in a more abstract way creating warm cloak of sound that rests around your soul.

Complete with some fine tabla work, the strangely named “Subway, Mirror , Heart” is a slowly moving Raga that builds with energy to lead away from the everyday, purely instrumental, as are the other tracks, the listener has plenty of time to paint their own pictures as the music swathes them, music to listen to intently, this particular piece reminding me of the echoed work of John Martyn.

Finally the album ends with “Song Of The Sun” another shimmering epic that drifts across your mind like the sweetness sunset created by two talented and imaginative musicians that work together in harmony and light.

Channelling that west coast vibe to even greater levels, “Elk Jam” finds the band functioning as a four piece throughout, four improvised (presumably) pieces that are soaked in incense, soft pillars of musical smoke with a delightfully trippy heart and a warm playful nature that allows them to shine. Opening part “I” is like listening to an instrumental version of “Dark Star”, an unfolding slice of magic that ebbs and flows through time, the playing top notch, brimming with emotion and making you smile, whilst “II” has a country jangle that keeps that smile going the beautiful guitar tones making the sun shine as you dance in circles around the park.

Flipping the record over “III” seems to be a continuation of “II” although it starts as the piece steps through a door into another realm, some inventive drumming keeping music travelling forward until it fades out to reveal the chiming wonder of “IV” another controlled musical feast sparkles with joy.

You can tell everyone enjoyed making this record and the result is modern music that is enchanted and timeless, a precious thing that needs cherishing in these times.

Released in early April and limited to 300 copies of each record, I urge you to track them down before they sell out, a decision you will not regret." (Simon Lewis) 

The Storm Sessions

"The guitar duo Elkhorn, which is joined by multi-instrumentalist Turner Williams on its fifth studio outing, always has aimed to balance the folksy ideal of American Primitive guitar with the agency of ’60s psych stunners.

Despite inevitable John Fahey references, the band’s carved out a corner of the psych world whose audience seems up for a very specific strain of improvisation. And while Elkhorn is meditating on a theme across its discography, the band seemingly has more to excavate on The Storm Sessions.

The album—split into “Electric One” and “Electric Two,” each with parts designated “A” through “C”—finds the band holed up in a Harlem apartment during a winter storm. The slow build of “Electric Two,” as opposed to the more pastoral opening half of The Storm Sessions, benefits from Williams’ shahi baaja (a sort of electric Indian zither with keys added to it). Contributing to the insistent tension, he pushes Jesse Sheppard on 12-string acoustic and Drew Gardner on standard electric into racy exclamations.

But none of this really has anything to do with “soulful cosmic jazz,” as a press release would lead listeners to believe. Instead, it’s the impromptu jamming of three friends who all have the chops to match their varied tastes—a rangy collection of folk, blues, rock and improv.

“We don’t do pastiche,” Gardner told DownBeat last year about Elkhorn’s previous recording, Sun Cycle/Elk Jam (Feeding Tube). “We just have certain things we like and we respond to emotionally. And our way of getting a unique sound is based on just trying to play the most sincere thing that we can think of.”

It’s an admirable pursuit, one that’s yielded music worth tossing on whether you’re stuck inside this winter or just need some enthusiastic reinvestigations of psych-indebted guitar moves." (Dave Cantor)

"In 2013, Jesse Sheppard and Drew Gardner formed Elkhorn, a duo capable of unspooling mesmerizing long-form guitar improvisations. With Sheppard on 12-string acoustic and Gardner handling six-string electric, their sound is capable of evoking both calm and eerie danger. Over the course of several albums, they’ve stuck to a fairly consistent formula.

The Storm Sessions signals a slightly different sound, and it’s one that can be attributed to manpower. As a result of circumstances beyond their control, Sheppard and Gardner have invited their friend Turner Williams into the fold. Williams, who records under the moniker Ramble Tamble, found himself snowed in with the other two guitarists “on the night of an emotionally important gig” (so says the press release, which mysteriously fails to elaborate). Thus, a weather-inspired collaboration was formed.

Stuck with instruments to play and nowhere to go, this duo temporarily became a trio, recording two side-long improvisations (titled “Electric One” and “Electric Two” with each side split into three separate subsections) totaling roughly 45 minutes. Adding to the duo’s guitars, Williams contributes electric bouzouki on one side and shahi baaja on the other. The latter instrument, the name of which translates to “royal instrument”, is an electrified and slightly modified version of the Indian bulbul tarang, a type of Indian zither with keys added to alter the pitch of the strings. Williams’ presence adds a unique element to the sound, but it doesn’t drastically alter it. Rather, it deepens what’s already a captivating template.

The triple layer of sound is used to haunting effect from the very beginning. Williams enters the picture gradually, taking advantage of his instrument’s haunting, drone-like qualities, eventually adding a more distorted sound profile as the first side progresses. Sheppard and Gardner successfully join forces in the kind of way that two long-time collaborators usually do – it’s almost like osmosis, a thick slab of dark pastoral folk with the electric guitar reminiscent of Jerry Garcia’s intricate improvisational style. Williams darts in and out with plenty of interesting, unique ideas – he clicks with the other two immediately, and it never seems like an unwelcome intrusion.

While the three musicians seem to move in all sorts of directions but never to the point of breaking free of each other, there are moments when they gel beautifully as one cohesive unit. That is particularly apparent in “Electric Two (Part B)”, as a subtle, almost strobe-like staccato effect overtakes them. The effect is hypnotic, and most likely, something of a happy accident within the freeform improvisational structure.

Great albums have come out of the most unusual circumstances, and with The Storm Sessions, Elkhorn proves that it’s possible to take an unforeseen episode and turn into a transcendent evening of pure, unfiltered inspiration. Rarely has a blizzard sounded this good." (Chris Ingalls)

"Elkhorn, instrumental guitar duo of guitarists Jesse Sheppard (12-string acoustic) and Drew Gardner (6-string electric), releases their 6th full-length record in five years on February 7, 2020. The Storm Sessions is a two-side improvisation record that finds Sheppard and Gardner joined by Turner Williams (electric bouzouki, shahi baaja). The séance like connection and telepathic energy on display in these improvisations reflect the enigmatic dynamism of the time and place in which it was recorded. Snowed in on the night of an important gig, instead of letting the situation dampen their spirits, Elkhorn let their spirits soar through a series of near-transcendental explorations. Listed simply as “Electric One: Part A, B, C” and “Electric Two: Part A, B, C”, Elkhorn’s The Storm Sessions introduces itself as more symphonic movement than other-worldly jam. Each piece builds and plays with its initial theme as each instrument adds subtle yet significant tonal accolades until the piece has been transformed into something else, seamlessly slipping from one form to another while maintain its foundation.

“Electric One: Part A” begins as a slow rumination on country blues guitar before building throughout “Electric One: Part B” into cacophony of other worldly tones. As if wandering, plodding, through a deserted backcountry before being beamed aboard a starship bound for the outer reaches of the universe, these passages embrace the vastness in between the notes as much as the notes themselves and in doing so establish an outpost in the outer-limits. Just as the voyage is about to return to Earth, “Electric One: Part C “launches into the stratosphere yet again as mix or near sitar or backwards guitar tones are drawn from William’s electric bouzouki over the hypnotic presence of Sheppard’s 12-string and Gardner’s 6-string adventures.

“Electric Two: Part A” opens with a single droning tone as thunderous energy builds in the distance – a conquering army or storm on the horizon. As the tempo and timbre ebb and flow as Elkhorn play with harmonics and drones as sparse fingerpicks tip toe throughout the landscape careful to avoid a budding anxiety in the electric guitar’s weighty tendencies and “Electric Two: Part B’s” darker turns. As “Electric Two: Part B” continues a slow build reaches for more uplifting heights at once growing beyond and maintain a remembrance of the darker sonics that set its initial tone before resolving in a near atonal jumble of competing lines and noise at once jarring and inviting. This final shudder from “Electric Two: Part B” readies listeners for the final return to the lonesome dispatch of “Electric Two: Part C” where a reminder of Elkhorn’s country blues foundations compete with fuzzed out stabs and spikes that punctuate the final moments of The Storm Sessions escapades in sonic manipulation.

The Storm Sessions is especially well-suited for a vinyl listening experience in which each side can be experienced as a work unto itself. If you listen to a digital copy of the record, I suggest loading and listening to one side at a time to optimize your listening pleasure. Take a break from a hectic world and get lost with Elkhorn for twenty minutes or so at a time. With The Storm Sessions, Elkhorn build and expand upon the legacy of John Fahey’s American Primitive Guitar and Leo Kottke’s 6- and 12-String Guitar. Wondering where instrumental guitar music is going in the 21st Century, then pick up a copy of Elkhorn’s The Storm Sessions today to find out."

"Since forming Elkhorn in 2013, guitarists Drew Gardner and Jesse Sheppard have developed a unique brand of rural psychedelia, bringing together both traditional folk forms and improvisation. Using just two guitars, Sheppard's steady-footed acoustic 12-string figures have served as the grounding force for Gardner’s explorations on electric, often-heavily processed six-string. The duo issued their first album in 2016 and took off from there, releasing at least one full-length annually as their sound wandered into new territory. Sixth full-length The Storm Sessions was tracked in a single night in Gardner's home studio when the group was kept from playing an important gig by a snowstorm. On a pair of albums released in 2019 (Elk Jam and Sun Cycle), Elkhorn expanded from their regular duo formation to include a percussionist and additional guitar player. With The Storm Sessions, they welcome auxiliary musician Turner Williams into the fold. Over the course of two long jams (each broken into three smaller pieces), Gardner and Sheppard build sprawling instrumental landscapes in their patented Elkhorn style, with Williams playing electric bouzouki on one track and a zither-like instrument called a shahi baaja on the other. The album opens with pensive acoustic fingerstyle playing from Sheppard, soon joined by Gardner's phaser-heavy lead lines. "Electric One" builds from that starting point, becoming a simmering raga that reflects the frustration and tension of being trapped in a small apartment by the forces of nature. The three players complement one another well, adding their own accents to the overall mood but never crowding out each other's voices. Even Gardner's meandering lead lines don’t place themselves at center stage, but slink around like a nervous counterpart to Sheppard's patient progressions and Williams' understated contributions. The subtle use of electronic processing adds a psychedelic sheen to the otherwise folksy drones. Twinkling, synth-like tones and distant distortion cut through the mix at various points, breaking up the tension of the slowly ambling pieces with an otherworldly character. The Storm Sessions seeks no resolution, musically or emotionally. Even without the backstory of how the sessions came about, the feeling of snowed-in restlessness is embodied throughout the album. This mood never lifts or opens up to blue skies. Instead, Elkhorn spends The Storm Sessions softly constructing the sonic equivalent of the situation they were in: stuck inside with no way out, passing the hours while the snow silently piled up outside." (Fred Thomas)

"The supersonic label that is Beyond Beyond Is Beyond have delivered yet again a sumptuous release, this time in the form of New York duo Jesse Shepherd and Drew Gardner under their guise of Elkhorn with their new album The Storm Sessions. All the tracks are skilfully handled jams beautifully evoking hazy days amongst the setting summers sun as you playing skip through this enchanting set. 

The album is made up of 6 individual tracks named Electric One and Two with 3 parts to each track. As with the likes of Pete Townshend in his Tommy period when in a live setting he would be found twiddling through a number of different chord sequences maybe finding new structures to investigate further in the studio, it is this similar pattern that the pair have given water to, helping create a flourishing, glistening delight of a release.

The different sequences of expansive showmanship doesn’t deceive or misconstrued the listener into thinking this is some sort of bored exercise in the studio, rather this is 2 minds together unleashing their potential on their instruments, just give Electric One (part two) a spin and within an instant a deep appreciation of their improvisation using different layers and textures to fill the spaces around them will gain nods of approval in all directions. 

An album different in many dimensions to so many around at the moment making it an intriguing and uplifting listen, delivering something different in terms of your ordinary pop album. If you haven’t checked out the bands lofty previous releases including 2019’s Sun Cycle/Elk Jam make doubly sure to not miss out on their box of delights."

"Guitarists Drew Gardner and Jesse Sheppard have been making music together since high school, when they played in the post-punk band Mayfirst. A couple of decades later, the friends reunited as Elkhorn, a psychedelic folk duo inspired by the American primitive guitar stylings of the late Jack Rose. After releasing a pair of free-flowing full-band companion albums in 2019—Sun Cycle and Elk Jam, both recorded with the help of drummer (and frequent Ryley Walker collaborator) Ryan Jewell and guitarist Willie Lane—Elkhorn scale things back a bit for their sixth album, The Storm Sessions. Split between two distinct improvisations—”Electric One” and “Electric Two”—that each conveniently fill an LP side, The Storm Sessions is anchored by Sheppard’s acoustic 12-string guitar and Gardner’s electric Telecaster. Turner Williams Jr. adds electric bouzouki to “Electric One” and shahi baaja to the flip side, amping up the record’s hypnotic atmospherics. Sheppard’s 12-string provides a calming, meditative backbone for Gardner’s electric solos, which often patiently build to experimental noise peaks, particularly on “Electric One (Part C)” and “Electric Two (Part B).” The record’s two sides are each split into three parts that bleed together seamlessly, making it hard to tell where one “song” ends and another begins. But maybe that’s the point. This is music that invites you to sit back, relax and close your eyes while you vibe out to Elkhorn’s meditative moods." (Rudi Greenberg)

"Elkhorn’s Jesse Sheppard and Drew Gardner know a lot about acoustic guitar music. The pair’s joint Listed in 2018 showcased an intimate knowledge of the American primitive guitar tradition, as well as interest in a variety of other mind-bending genres. Their scholarly approach led them, several years ago, to strike up a friendship with Mark Fosson, the long-lost guitar picker whose decades out of print collection of demos caught John Fahey’s ear in the 1970s but then was never released until Drag City picked them up in 2017

Elkhorn’s two principals were planning a show with Fosson in late 2018, but the guitarist became ill and died of lung cancer early in November of that year. The show had been set for November 15, 2018, about two weeks after Fosson passed away, so they decided to go ahead with it anyway, as a kind of tribute, and invited Turner Williams (aka Ramble Tamble) to sit in. On the day of the show, though, it snowed heavily. All three performers got to the venue safely, but the weather was so bad that the show was canceled. The three of them were stuck in Gardner’s home studio, nothing on deck for the night but the music they could make together. And so, they recorded this very beautiful album, The Storm Sessions, featuring Sheppard on 12-string, Gardner on six-strings and Williams playing electric bouzouki and shahi baaja. The city ground to a halt outside as the snow blanketed roads and bridges, but inside the three musicians found warmth and communion and all the time in the world to hit a groove. 

Two side-long compositions make up this tranquil, contemplative album, each divided into three A, B, and C tracks. “Electric One,” is, as the name suggested, amplified, but in so quiet and undistorted a way as to coat these notes in amber. Sheppard raises spectral, vibrating miasmas of tone and overtone with the 12-string, while Gardner cuts through in warm clarity. The electric bouzouki sounds very much like a guitar, the bends and half tones have a blues cast, not a middle eastern one. “Electric Two” is dronier and more exotic (due at last in part to William’s shai baaja), with long bowed tones and electric oscillations framing melodies in high clear picking. Here the microtones lean eastward rather than towards the Delta. Yet what both tracks have in common is an unhurried grace, a serenity; you can hear the noise of the outside world fall silent under heavy snow. 

The album is intended, at least partly, as a tribute to Fosson, though I’m not hearing a lot of direct, obvious reference to his guitar-playing style. Consider it more a tribute to filling in the quiet spaces that have arisen unexpectedly out of chaos and disappointment, but which are, themselves, very peaceful and beautiful." (Jennifer Kelly)

The Acoustic Storm Sessions

"The magnificent and mesmeric entity that is Elkhorn, Jesse Sheppard and Drew Gardner, return with an extended and improvised acoustic foray into long form psychedelia and sonic exploration. Recorded during a wild storm that resulted in a prestigious show being cancelled, the duo (alongside friend Turner Williams) turned disappointment into opportunity whilst snowed in at Gardener’s home studio to record spontaneously, using their shared sense of each other’s playing and creativity to craft both earlier release ‘The Storm Sessions’ and this sister album, ‘The Acoustic Storm Sessions’. A departure from the full on mix of acoustic and amplified desert and cosmic landscapes conjured on previous long players such as ‘Sun Cycle/Elk Jam’ this release instead relies on sheer emotive, instinctual power and genuine heart to transport the listener to a unique, inner space.

Split into two compositional pieces, a track per side of vinyl, it quickly becomes clear that the crystalline acoustic fingerpicking and fretplay, whilst improvised and unrehearsed, is a tight and focused soundscape that has both direction and significant emotional heft.  The trio seem to have an almost preternatural sense of each other’s playing, as the music slows to a ritual refrain not unlike an acoustic Popol Vuh, to then fasten into an intense and dynamic raga worthy of Robbie Basho.  Indeed, aficionados of Basho, Fahey and the work of Six Organs of Admittance’s Ben Chasney will find much to love here. You can almost feel the wind and snow whirling around the building and battering at the windows and the door; there is something in the ebb and flow of the guitars, in their intensity rising and dispersing that echoes the turbulent weather experienced during the recording, capturing a unique and authentic moment.

If Part One describes (in musical terms) the tension and edge that comes with huddling in the heart of a storm, Part Two feels  more acclimatised and hopeful, revelling in the comfort and warmth of shelter. Again, recalling the repeated and hypnotic guitar refrains of Popol Vuh’s Florian Fricke (notably his work on the ‘Nosferatu’ album), there is something of the same feeling of spiritual and universal ‘togetherness’ that is evoked here.  There may be snowdrifts outside, but indoors there is company and mutuality. At no point is there a sense of showboating or guitar wizardry, each run or sequence is earthy, cinematic and provides an engaging, evocative soundtrack. Turner’s electric bouzouki provides a shimmering and chiming framework during a particularly exultant section, as both 12 string and 6 string arpeggios gently float down around like flakes of snow. The empathy that is occurring between the players is striking, the songs building, layering and transforming both instinctively and organically.

A triumph captured from trying and difficult circumstances, ‘The Acoustic Storm Sessions’ provide further evidence of just how vital and unique Elkhorn are. It is genuinely exciting to think of where their creative intuition may go next. One thing is certain, you want to be on this journey, come storm or shine." (Grey Malkin)

"This is a record with a story. Once there was a storm…  Come in by the fire and watch the flames – a steady grounded burning, flickers of themes and the mind finding patterns. Acoustic Storm is released nearly a year after Elkhorn’s The Storm Sessions, essentially two improvised pieces recorded after being snowed-in by a massive storm. 

These acoustic tracks were recorded the night before The Storm Sessions, the night that the three musicians retreated from the streets of New York, abandoning a gig that was sabotaged by the elements.

While the record they released from the next day’s playing features various electric sounds, all we hear on Acoustic Storm is two acoustic six-strings and one twelve-string. Those three voices speak at once, in turns, stepping forward and stepping back in an extremely attuned flow. It’s not clean and pristine, there are mis-steps, mistunings, lines that don’t lead anywhere and fall away, but the sound is clear and intimate.

In the honesty and simplicity of approach, Acoustic Storm seems to point back at ancient music, but the two pieces are not confined to one tradition. There are elements that are plainly in the US folk style, and that is a large part of where these players are coming from, but we also hear phrases that seem to come from elsewhere, or that wouldn’t sound out of place as part of a psych or krautrock exploration.

Modes shift around a held resolution, and the intertwining guitars push on and pull back at rhythm and melody, introduce ideas to build momentum and resonance, or settle back through dry and brittle picking. There are the seeds of a dozen songs here, but it’s enough to sit with the sound and share the ‘mood of expansive calmness’ that Jesse Sheppard (twelve-string) says they felt during this session. That calmness is much more evident than on The Storm Sessions, nothing needs to be pushed to the fore, distorted or amplified because the tools work as they are.

Elkhorn say that with this recording they hope to ‘help transcend the noise and tumult of everyday life and make the necessary reach inward that much easier.’ It works for me, this is music as process, a function for both players and listener, a bridge between inward-looking and communication."

"Centripetal Force (North America), in conjunction with Cardinal Fuzz(UK/Europe), is excited to announce the upcoming release of Elkhorn’s ‘The Acoustic Storm Sessions’, the sister album to the much-lauded ‘The Storm Sessions’ released earlier this year on Beyond Beyond Is Beyond. The album is being presented in a 500 copy vinyl pressing.

Elkhorn is known for their unique blend of psych/folk guitar music, with Jesse Sheppard on fingerstyle twelve-string acoustic and Drew Gardner on six-string electric. The Acoustic Storm Sessions, recorded the evening before The Storm Sessions, also features Turner Williams (Ramble Tamble, Guardian Alien) on guitar and marks the first time Elkhorn has created an entirely acoustic album.

The Acoustic Storm Sessions is comprised of two side-long tracks drawing on the trio’s intimate knowledge of each others’ playing as they immerse themselves in the spirit of improvisation and allow it to guide the music’s course. As a result, there are raga-like qualities to these pieces, a revolving array of melodies, rhythmic flourishes and subtle embellishments that not only entrance the performers but the listener as well. There is no doubt that the group’s meditative intensity on The Acoustic Storm Sessions is at an unprecedented level.
The nature of these spontaneously composed pieces offers audiences an endless number of experiences and interpretations. A listen to either side of The Acoustic Storm Sessions today could sound completely different tomorrow. What seems like a page taken from the tomes of American Primitivism during one sitting recalls the motorik rhythms of early 70s Germany on the next. And, thanks to the constant intertwining of three spiraling guitars, the music on this album takes on an ever-shifting visual aspect. The perspectives are in flux, each guitar mercurially switching between foreground, middle and background, creating sharp and linear textures before receding to a more atmospheric realm. The experience is an ongoing kaleidoscopic shift in sound that adds detail and depth and colors the mind.

Perhaps the most important elements of The Acoustic Storm Sessions can be found in the circumstances behind its recording. Finding themselves snowed in to Gardner’s home studio after a massive storm forced the cancelation of a highly anticipated gig in Brooklyn, the trio decided to turn an unfortunate occasion into an opportunity to create and were able to record material for two records. Such endeavors are never easy, for mental and emotional release often requires a major shift in mindset. Instead of reaching outward for such release, one must find a way to reach within. These are the moments in which music becomes most valuable as a positive force for self-healing, and this album not only exemplifies the degree to which Elkhorn was able to make the necessary mental adjustments, it also serves as a tool for listeners to use in their own lives. In a pandemic year of isolation and turmoil, we are often left to our own devices to see ourselves through each day. The Acoustic Storm Sessions provides the kind of deep listening experience that can help transcend the noise and tumult of everyday life and make the necessary reach inward that much easier."

"Last winter, Elkhorn, which is comprised of childhood friends, Jesse Sheppard and Drew Gardner, were supposed to turn up for a gig with fellow guitarist, Turner Williams Jr. (Ramble Tamble, Guardian Alien). The night off, a blizzard struck and the concert was cancelled. So the group retreated to Gardner’s home studio, grabbed some acoustics and whiled away the hours with some excellent jams. 

That first snowed in night was an all acoustic affair, and in the morning, the trio dove into another session and fell into some abstract zones with the use of some electric instrumentation and effects. The later of these two informal sessions came out in February as The Storm Sessions on Beyond Beyond is Beyond Records. 

Yet the first night’s acoustic recordings went unheard by the general public until now. The good folks at Centripetal Force Records and Cardinal Fuzz have worked together to bring us The Acoustic Storm Sessions. The music contained within is hushed, intimate and rich with warmth, despite the weather that served as the impetus for these jams. Last month, I spoke with Gardner and Sheppard about the environment that produced these records and how their creative time spent in temporary isolation relates to the global isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic. Check it out below.

Keith: Were these recordings born purely out of improvisation, or did you have a bit of a working skeleton or a vague musical phrase to serve as a jumping off point first? 

Drew: Totally Improvised. 

Jesse: This was out of nothing. Even with the Lionfish stuff, which is very abstract, there were a few phrases that we were sort of working towards or away from, but this was absolutely built out of free improvisation between three people. 

Drew: As a working rule, we almost always have a tonality established before hand. So even though all the content in the thing is improvised on the spot, we usually say we’re going to play in this key or we’re going to play in this mode. With this, that was the only limiting factor. 

One of the things that makes this record different from some of the other ones, is that it’s three acoustic textures. It creates more equality between the three instruments, so they could change more dynamically. The whole band could change direction much more quickly, and much more subtly. So the improvisation—the way we tend to do it, where we’re breaking stuff up into suites, which we develop and change one to the other, almost like motifs—can happen with a little more flexibility. Just because of the nature of the acoustic texture. 

Keith: Besides being electric and featuring different effects and so forth, the first Storm Sessions release had a sort of chaotic and aggressive sound to it, whereas this album has a more meditative, stoic and aerial feel. I was wondering what do you think caused such a stark difference in mood and atmosphere between just two nights? Was the first night’s weather more of a peaceful but heavy snow shower while the second was more of gusty, violent storm? 

Drew: They’re both the product of being shut in by that storm, and the circumstances mood-wise. The second one (Acoustic Storm Sessions) was recorded the night of the storm, after we had failed to get to the gig. We were in the car for an hour and a half going about a block, then we had to re-load everything back into my studio and we were basically like, “huh, well now what?” So for me, there was a sense in this recording and it was at night and we were calm, all of the stress was kind of relieved. We were stuck in the house and we just had this fiasco, so the music was a way to escape that negativity into something peaceful. 

Jesse: Basically what happened is we came home and we sat down to the three acoustics and that’s where this record flows out of. All of the music on this record is from that night. 

Drew: The Electric Storm Sessions was from the next morning. We got up, we had our energy back. We had the coffee, and we were ready to rock.

Jesse: The albums were recorded in the opposite order from which they were released, does that make sense?

Keith: Yeah. 

Jesse: But they were recorded within a very short time from each other.

Drew: 12 hours. 

Jesse: [The records] have this kind of connection, but distinction from each other, which is kind of part of the whole process actually. One of the things that I’m most psyched about is that we were really able to matchbook the two albums together with some design elements, obviously with the players and all of these other things that came out from the timing and how they all flowed together.

Keith: You’ve been playing together largely as a duo since 2013, how does adding one more guitarist into the mix change your dynamic or approach to playing and your overall improvisational chemistry as improvisers? 

Drew:  We hung out with Turner and listened to him play quite a bit, because we toured with him, before we played with him. So we knew what he sounded like, we knew we liked his playing and we knew we liked him. So there was an affinity there to start with and then my experience of it, is that it gives you more options. Either you’re playing at the same time, you’re playing supportively in the background or you’re taking the lead. It’s like foreground, middle ground and background to this music. So we could all switch roles. One person could be background, one person could be middle ground and one person could be foreground. There’s another person who’s got your back. So there are more choices because there are more people making different kinds of music, different phrases and things that you might not have thought of and then you could follow that. 

Jesse: I think the biggest piece of it is that Turner is such an intuitive player. I mean, we have this flexible duo format, as a band, and we can kind of bring in and play with all sorts of different people and we’ve had a lot of success with that. That’s kind of a part of our sound actually, after several albums and a few years of that. I think with Turner, he’s just…you know, to get to this level of intimacy with somebody, they have to be somebody that really understands flow and listening and stepping back and stepping forward. One of the things that I was going to say too, was that Drew did such an incredible job mixing, because of all of those factors. We could hear during the process of mixing, that it could have almost been many different records, if you just mixed it differently. Do you see what I’m trying to say? 

Keith: Oh yeah, for sure.

Jesse: One of the things that I think we were really trying to do, and I think this album is very exemplary of that, is allow “guests” to come up in the mix and be in the foreground and not being afraid of that being a part of the energy of this band. I think that that’s one of the great things about Turner.

Keith: You all sound so completely in the zone and overtaken by the music, letting the piece or the feeling guide you instead of the other way around. Is that how it felt at the time, or were you more cognizant to where you wanted the track to go?   

Drew: That’s exactly how I’d describe it. Let the music tell you where to go, rather than the opposite. That’s exactly what that is. 

Jesse: For me too, I think that’s partially just my relationship with the instrument, with the guitar itself. If you listen to it and let it breathe or listen to what it wants to do, the instrument can also be a kind of guide as well. 

Keith: Going back to some of your influences, what or whom inspired you to play improvisational music? I know you both are into the Grateful Dead, or at least I know for sure that Jesse is, so I was wondering if it was more from that [jam band] zone, or more of a jazz direction, or elsewhere?

Jesse: Well, to start off, both Drew and I are really into the Grateful Dead.

Keith: Oh! Ok. 

Jesse: Let’s establish that as a fact, which should be documented in the publication of record. [laughs] 

Keith: Ok I thought that might have been the case, but I didn’t want to accuse anyone wrongfully. [laughs]

Jesse: Oh yeah, we could both bend your ear on the Dead for as long as you want. 

Drew: The Elkhorn tour vehicle plays a lot of ’72, ’73 ’74 Dead, so…

Keith: As you should. That’s fantastic. 

Jesse: I go back with Drew for a long time, and I would say that our interest in improvisation comes more out of the jazz tradition or like, forms of jazz rock fusion that were very open, like Mahavishnu Orchestra.

Drew: We’re both big ’70s Miles fans.

Jesse: Yes! You could do an Elkhorn taxonomy of all of the bands, but the ones that are the most free are sort of in that ECM kind of territory of the early ’70s. I was big sort of Gateway/Dave Holland/John Abercrombie person. Drew will tell you himself, but he has a deep file on free jazz, which is improvisatory at its root, and incorporating that into other forms of music, blending music and finding the seams where you could marry various things together. Another big band for me anyways, is Shakti, staying on the McLaughlin tip. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that band, but it was sort of a jazz/Indian music hybrid. 

Drew: We tend to like things that mix different genres into one thing. 

Jesse: Yeah, obviously Hendrix is in there too, from our earliest days while hanging out in high school and just listening to music. Sonic Youth and Butthole Surfers, too. Within all of these different genres and different sounds, there are elements of open improvisation, where the pieces that hold everything together start to come apart and that’s the place that we like to explore. Obviously, the Dead is a big piece of that picture as well. 

Drew: I came late to the Grateful Dead. 

Jesse: Yeah, I was more sort of an Allmans person, and listening to those long jams in that kind of music. One of the questions would be sort of where is that the most in the acoustic guitar sort of world, right? How does it get into that?

Keith: I was just about to ask!

Jesse: One of the things that I keep telling people about the Acoustic Storm Sessions album is, and I’m not sure if Drew agrees with me, but if you listen to some of the Peter Walker stuff from the early ’70s, where he’s got a lot of different instruments and he’s got them flowing together and it gets into vaguely Acoustic Storm Sessions places and spaces at times.

Drew: He also does Indian music. Acoustic Indian music stuff, which is a little bit related, because there’s a drone quality to some of our music and we tend to stay in the same key. I like that Peter Walker stuff when he gets a little bit Indian, too, it’s clearly related to what Jesse’s been really involved with, in several different levels of American Primitive music. 

Jesse: He’s one of those guys that’s like, American Primitive is a core, but how exactly he fits in, nobody’s ever really bothered to figure out. Like Sandy Bull, I think our music has overlaps with his stuff in places. What we’re working on right now is even pretty connected to Sandy Bull. 

Drew: Yeah it does, because it sounds more like a band usually, not like solo music with a guest. 

Jesse: How Peter Walker got put into like, the American Primitive hall of fame, I don’t really understand the whole process [laughs]. But anyway, the point is, that’s ultimately the joy of it, is making things that don’t work all sound totally fluid, you know?

Drew: What I would just add is that my background is as an improviser, I was a jazz musician, a jazz drummer for years in San Fransisco and in New York. Playing free jazz and vibraphone and at some point I wanted to go back and really focus on guitar and play something more like rock music.

Jesse: Even the rock music always had an open improvisatory…

Drew: Yeah, I’ve always been playing with improvisation. 

Keith: The album was recorded during a brief moment of isolation. Do you think there’s anything within the two Storm Sessions that listeners and musicians alike can learn from or could apply to their own life in order to cope with the current periods of isolation thanks to COVID? 

Jesse: I hesitate to draw too much of a conclusion about this period, but more of the general idea of how to get through difficult periods. That’s one of the things I noticed during COVID, too. There are a lot of people experiencing little tragedies in their lives in the context of this much larger tragedy. Those pieces are always going to be moving in our lives and it’s really how we deal with them, and what we turn them into, what they look like in the rear view versus when they’re coming at you. That applies to everything that we’re all going through for sure. Would you add anything to that, Drew?

Drew: I would just repeat what I said earlier, just in the sense of in that moment of like, “god this sucks,” and be instead like, “Well, no.” A big part of life is not what you can control. Obviously COVID is not something you could control. That snow storm was weather, it’s totally out of your control. So don’t focus on the control thing, instead focus on what your response is to these bad circumstances. That’s what matters. 

Keith: On a similar note, did you two learn anything from these sessions? Or even while listening back to the recordings later on? 

Drew: That’s a good question. 

Jesse: There are so many ways to answer that. Just in brief. First of all, as you’re improvising, you’re so in the experience. So whenever you listen back to something that was done in a purely improvisatory way, you’re going to be like, “woah! I can’t believe I played that” or like, “woah dude, did you hear that those two things were going on at the same time?” So there’s a lot of things that kind of come out of listening back.

I do strongly remember, I think Turner had just left and was going home, and Drew and I were going back through the stuff and we were like, “woah, that’s kind of good sounding, we should hunker down on this and figure out what it is.” So that always happens, but then again, the process of releasing music in the world today is one of constantly listening back through it and figuring things out and learning more about it. I mean, we just had a funny moment where we were like, “yeah I remember being out of it during this part,” and then when we were listening back to some masters or checking something for the release, we were like “no, wait! That sounds super odd!” You know, parts of it you think of one way keep changing and changing. Like I said before, that kept happening during the mix where Drew could sort of feature one piece and that would be that one whole section, and it could lock into place, and then we’d move onto another section. It was kind of a cool experience from beginning to end. 

Drew: Have you ever had an experience with a band that you really like, and you know is in a good moment and you get their new record, and you know it’s good, but it hasn’t quite sunk in yet for some reason? Like it takes a couple of listens [before it clicks]?

Keith: Oh absolutely. 

Drew: It takes a couple of days, it grows on you and then you’re like, “oh wait, now I get it!” The funny thing about improvisation is that can happen with your own record. You can’t even remember quite what you played on that night, and several weeks have gone by, and you’re like “wait, that’s not what I normally do, I’m not sure about that.” And then you’re like, “No wait, that’s good!” and you grow into your own recording. 

Jesse: I mean, I’ll be straight up, there’s actually a lick on the Acoustic Storm Sessions, which we improvised in the moment on this track that became a tune or a section of a tune that we play now. 

Keith: Now that’s cool. 

Drew: It makes you think about how the difference between composition and improvisation may not be as far apart as people assume that it is.

Keith: Oh yeah, I see what you mean. 

Drew: The other thing I wanted to say is a good take away—and that’s a good question, nobody has ever asked me a question like that. I just realized I do have some good take aways. One is that you can work very quickly and very spontaneously, if you’re sincere and you come up with something really good, even if it seems like it was put together just on a dime, you know? And second, if you trust the players that you’re playing with, the music’s gonna work. 

Keith: I think the one sheet said it best, “The perspectives are in flux, each guitar mercurially switching between foreground, middle and background, creating sharp and linear textures before receding to a more atmospheric realm.” How exactly did you achieve that melding, almost oscillating effect between players and instruments with this recording, especially since it was all performed together in a single room? 

Drew: Well, I have a background as an audio engineer. I recorded Lionfish, and mixed that one, too. That’s been kind of my role within the band. What we did was we recorded in the spirit of being spontaneous and quick, so it’s not complicatedly engineered. It’s engineered as simply as possible, which is just a mic on each guitar. It’s just separated and in the room. A stereo mic on Jesse’s 12 string, and then just single microphones on both Turner and my guitar. We just got a clear capture and then the mixing is in two parts. One is that I’m not doing anything in the mixing that isn’t in the music, right? So the mixing to me is a kind of enhanced listening process. I’m like, “Oh I hear what we’re doing, like this part is going foreground and Turner’s doing this.” So I’m just exaggerating it a little bit. I’m supporting it a little bit. When you’re mixing, you’re putting things in different places so they don’t get into each other’s way. So the whole thing creates a coherent image. So that’s all I’m doing, just cleaning it up and moving it around. As long as you’re listening, you’ll know to just keep pushing them around. It took a long time with this, because you’ve got to do volume automation and you have to do multiple passes in order to get it right, but it’s all there in the music. 

Keith: I think one of the things that makes this record so magical, is its intimacy. It feels like we’re right there in the middle of the room with just these three friends conversing through their instruments. With that in mind, I know you’re all spaced apart, Jesse you’re out in Philly and Drew is out in NYC. And where is Turner? 

Jesse: Turner is in Southern France.

Keith: For real? Wow. 

Drew: He used to live in Kingston, NY. 

Jesse: Yeah he used to be north of NYC, and he moved right after the record was recorded. 

Drew: Yeah he was in Marseille. 

Keith: Wow, lucky man. 

Jesse: He’s a lucky man because he can go to shows. 

Keith: That is lucky. God, I’m envious…so with that in mind, have there been any plans of meeting somewhere perhaps in between outdoors to do a socially distant live streaming show, or would the constraints of something like that be detrimental to your overall cohesion?

Jesse: Well the short answer to that is when this all first came down, a lot of my friends, especially my friends who live with people that they play music with or who play solo music, did do streams and a lot of that was great stuff. We never really got in on that, just because Drew and I were in different places and it was just complicated, you know? We were thinking for the release of this album, we were thinking of doing something like that, get to a place where we could hang together and try to see if we could maybe stream something from Turner playing over seas in a different time zone. We’ve been talking about doing something like that for the record. If we felt like people would want to see that or hear that, then it might be worth it. 

Drew: I should point out that one of the things that we did after this, is that we collaborated, the three of us long distance between France, Pennsylvania and New York, to make an extra track that is going to be apart of the release from Cardinal Fuzz and Centripetal Force, where it’s a lathe cut record. A 5-inch single that people who order early would be able to get. [Editor’s note: Since the time of this interview, Elkhorn and Turner Williams have scheduled a live streaming record release show through Rhizome DC’s Facebook, on Saturday October 3rd at 4pm. Click here for more details.)

Jesse: It’s like a bonus track that comes with the album.

Keith: That’s excellent! Now here’s the last question, if you could be snowed into a studio with any other guitarist, who would it be?

Jesse: Jimi Hendrix. Oh I don’t know (haha)

Drew: Oh I don’t know, that’s a brain scrambler. 

Jesse: [laughs] like, where do you go with that? Maybe you want like, someone who like, looks like they taste the best [laughs].

Drew: Yeah someone with nutritional content. 

Jesse: Yeah it’s a good question, maybe somebody who knows how to build a fire, I don’t know. 

Keith: Oh my god, yeah that’s a good point. 

Jesse: Once again, that question kind of got answered on the last record, when Willie Lane joined in. WIllie is on my list for something like that for sure. You can answer that in so many ways, it’s hard to answer. 

Drew: We do like collaboration though, so we’ll rope the motherfucker in. So if there’s a guy in the scene and we like their playing, we’re going to do what we can to maybe make a record with them or at least have them sit in with us, you know. That’s an important part of the band. 

Jesse: Think about guitarists as varied as like, Turner and Nick Millevoi. I think that’s what we would do, create music with whoever it was and find as much common territory as the three of us could possibly occupy. 

Drew: If it was throughout all of history, I might go with Eddie Hazel. 

Keith: Fuck yeah, there you go.

Drew: Or John Lee Hooker, probably one of those two guys. 

Jesse: I’d probably stick with Hendrix, for all of history, who again is someone who spent a lot of time sitting in studios and just chilling out trying to get things to happen. So that’d be cool." (Keith Hadad)

"I’ve been leaning on music like never before these last six months. The records I’m spinning at home have been helping to drag my soul from one anxiety-ridden day to the next, and my copy of Elkhorn’s The Storm Sessions, which came out on physical formats in February, has been doing quite a bit of that heavy lifting. Its origin story is tailor-made for this frightful time; two side-long improvised pieces that represented the lemonade made when life gave the guitar duo of Jesse Sheppard and Drew Gardner lemons in the form a gig-killing blizzard. Snowed in with multi-instrumentalist friend Turner Williams, Elkhorn made magic. In turn, I’ve made it through this ordeal more emotionally intact than I might have otherwise.

Speaking of accumulation, I was recently organizing the records I’ve bought during COVID era — definitely more albums than usual, given the way ordering online provides a boost both in the present and the future — and I stopped when I got to The Storm Sessions. Should it sit with 2020 live albums, maybe next to that excellent Joan Shelley Live at the Bomhard set that came out a few Bandcamp Fridays ago? Should it hang out with conventional studio albums like Waxahatchee’s masterstroke, Saint Cloud? The sessions did take place at Drew Gardner’s home studio in Harlem, yet their searching sound and the circumstances that brought them about seem antithetical to the premeditation that defines the latter end of the live-studio continuum. Improvisation requires real-time reaction. It’s singular. There might not be an audience, but it’s as “live” as it gets.

Does it really matter where I file my records? No, but improvisation does matter. It’s what we’re all doing right now. Faced with a global pandemic, an economic downturn, and more time at home than even Daniel “I Like to Be With My Family” Tiger knows what to do with (don’t worry, he’s working through it), we’re being forced to adapt on a near-constant basis. Each day, we scan the most up-to-date dimensions of this weird and difficult situation, and we adjust, because not doing so would be like wishing the sky were green instead of blue, or wishing that it hadn’t snowed so much on the night you had a gig you were really looking forward to. Maybe it’s unsurprising that skilled musical improvisers made the most of a bad situation. (Maybe we could stand to follow musicians’ lead more often.)

To be clear, this isn’t about force of will, or about grinning and bearing it. Quite the opposite. It’s about a type of strength that can only grow out of an appreciation of one’s vulnerability — of the fact that being in the world means being changed by it. The most compelling music I’m hearing these days reflects the moment we’re experiencing, not just by addressing current challenges and opportunities lyrically, but also by letting our broken, unvarnished humanity show through. Whether it’s a collection of covers captured imperfectly on home recording equipment, or experimentation with new techniques and tools, I’m finding the most fulfillment in music that dares to document — faithfully — who we are after we’re knocked down but before we’re back on our feet. That’s certainly where I find myself these days.

It’s why I continue to find comfort in The Storm Sessions, and it’s why I was so thrilled to learn that The Storm Sessions has a companion album on the way. Elkhorn has teamed up with the Centripetal Force and Cardinal Fuzz labels to release an addendum in the form of The Acoustic Storm Sessions —another pair of side-long pieces improvised at Gardner’s home studio during that fated blizzard, captured the night before the recordings that made up the original album. This is Elkhorn’s first entirely acoustic album, and while Turner Williams does appear on these recordings as well, the tighter instrumental focus remains a compelling facet — a narrower passageway for a two-stage journey that’s no less ranging. The way the guitarists are able to draw in close to one another in spots affords the moments of contrast a whole other richness, and their expansion and contraction along that axis makes for rewarding listening wholly distinct from where they end up traveling.

Still, as with all of Elkhorn’s work, the “where” is such a gift. Oh, the places you can go while sitting and listening to Sheppard and Gardner (and Williams, in this case) build musical landscapes and chart winding, serendipitous courses through them, all while leaving you room to fill in your own imagined details along the way. I have a silly, wordless ritual for when I put on an Elkhorn album: I tend to imagine myself settling into a dream alongside one of the architects from Inception, ready to experience a world that transforms in front of my eyes. (The fun parts of the movie, minus all that stressful corporate espionage.) That ritual started as a result of an Instagram comment penned by James Adams of the Aquarium-Drunkard-hosted Bob Dylan bootleg show, Pretty Good Stuff. He concluded, “It’s like you can walk around inside this music and find new and instant friends. It’s a tonic.” So well put. If there were ever a time when we needed internal experiences that have the power to transport and connect us, this would be it. I suppose it’s ironic, then, to be so thankful these gifted improvisers were stuck in place when and where they were, but I am. Doubly so, now that we have these new acoustic sessions."

Southern Star

"For Drew Gardner and Jesse Sheppard, the who, what, when, where, and why of music are inextricably and inspiringly linked. 

The two guitarists have been on a shared journey to the heart of improvisation since the mid-1980s. Since 2013, they’ve performed and recorded as Elkhorn, with Sheppard laying down a foundation of 12-string acoustic guitar for Gardner to build 6-string electric structures atop and around, resulting in adventurous pieces that create space for the listener’s own internal exploration. I’m always surprised and delighted by the places I travel when I close my eyes and let Gardner and Sheppard’s playing do the navigating. But place is much more than a byproduct, and the duo’s new live album offers a window into how unique spaces and the people who inhabit them are intentionally woven into the fabric of their creative process.

Southern Star arrives this Friday, March 5th, via WarHen Records, compiling performances from the spring 2020 tour leg that the group completed before the pandemic put a halt to live music everywhere. It’s not the first time they’ve made the most of a change in itinerary. Their previous two releases, The Storm Sessions and the follow-up Acoustic Storm Sessions, were recorded at Gardner’s Harlem home studio during a blizzard that wiped out a show they were scheduled to play in Brooklyn. I leaned hard on those albums throughout 2020, a time when isolation and canceled plans became the norm. Those albums embodied a type of lemons-to-lemonade optimism that I needed in my life, while offering reassurance that even when we’re temporarily kept separate from one another, the art we make connects us in the long run, and always will. 

As Southern Star documents beautifully, Elkhorn’s music thrives on connection. Five of the album’s six tracks feature guest collaborators — musicians who themselves are deeply connected to the areas in which their guest appearances took place, from “Harmonica Dan” Balcer and the Philadelphia Record Exchange to Mike Gangloff and his deep Virginian roots. (Head to the Southern Star Bandcamp page and you’ll notice the track names are venues and dates instead of song titles.) It’s not uncommon for bands to share bills with local performers, but in Elkhorn’s case, the people, places, and music are intertwined to an exceptional degree — one where the borders surrounding those elements melt away and the art is truly one with the circumstances in which it was made. 

I had the pleasure of learning a few weeks back that Gardner and Sheppard are just as open and generous in conversation. Over Zoom, we spoke about the end to their 2020 tour, the experience of listening back to those records, and how they approach the art of improvisation. While you read, enjoy this premiere of the second track from Southern Star, which was captured at Rhizome in Washington DC on March 7th, 2020, with Mike Gangloff and Nate Scheible as guests.

You Hear That: At the risk of diving right into pandemic talk, Southern Staris the product of a tour that was cut short, correct? 

Jesse Sheppard: With this tape especially, you kind of can’t get away from it. In a nutshell, we had this tour planned, which was two legs. One was southern, focused around Virginia, and we were going to tour with the Eight Point Star guys. Then we were going to do a northern leg that was centered around Massachusetts with Glenn Jones… 

We went on the road and you could sort of hear about the pandemic coming during the first days of that first leg. But actually, and Drew will confirm this, when we got off the road, we weren’t sure if Massachusetts was going to happen or not still, because these were all small-sized gigs, and we had just seen the big festivals get closed down… Then the smaller gigs started closing over the course of a week between the two legs, to the point where we were just like “What’s happening here?” 

When that second leg got canceled, it left us with some time to do what we normally do over a long period of time after we tour, which is go through the tapes and listen back to what had happened.

YHT: When I’m in the audience at a show, I’m always hoping it’s being taped for a live release down the road, so I can relive that moment later. Is recording shows a regular part of Elkhorn tours?

Drew Gardner: We tend to be tapers, and connected to taper culture a little bit. For this tour, I brought what’s kind of a classic Grateful Dead bootleg microphone intentionally to capture it — this AT822 microphone. We’re definitely into taping everything…

One of the cool things about what [this] tape represents is that, for each of these gigs, the music is really affected by the spaces that we’re in — the physical spaces that we’re in, and the social spaces that we’re in. It’s unique physical spaces, and it’s unique combinations of people… The human vibe around the communities that we’re playing in makes a big difference on what you’re hearing in the music. And obviously with the guest musicians as well.

JS: Which goes back to your point about taping, and how taping, and especially this tape, really, reflects all these different environments. So that Black Swan tape is a bookstore environment, [and] then you’ve got that salt cave, which is a totally different live performance space from any other, and the tape takes you through all these different physical spaces, as well as a little bit through time. 

Elkhorn with Mike Gangloff at Oddfellows Hall in Blacksburg, VA on March 8th, 2020. Photo courtesy of James Adams.

YHT: This release is a big milestone for WarHen Records, given that it’s their 50th release. How did you link up with Warren?

JS: We just linked up at that show. He did the poster for the show, he knew the store, and honestly I really don’t know exactly what his relationship to our music was prior to that. Kind of like you, he heard it, it hit a groove, and off he went. 

That is really the kind of central piece of this whole conversation we’re having with ourselves, because we’re finding out the ways in which the music responds to not having an outlet, or how you create outlets without audiences, or all the stuff that’s going on in the pandemic. But prior to that, that’s what was so powerful. It wasn’t just moving through these spaces, but moving through these social interactions, like Drew was saying. Meeting people on the road, building up relationships… that’s really what touring was about, and making music was linked into and wrapped in that. 

Now we’re sort of like “What else is out there? How does the music evolve without those interactions, or how do you maintain those kinds of interactions? 

YHT: In a sense, the Storm Sessions albums managed to build a pre-pandemic framework for making those types of remote connections.

JS: That’s actually almost thin ice in a way. When the pandemic hit, and we had these two almost concept albums in the can about how you process experiences like this, we didn’t want to make that connection overtly, but it was right there in front of us. 

I think what we did is what we always do, which Drew talks about a lot, actually, which is double-down on the piece of the music that’s healing. Because that’s really where we’re at. We’ve suffered some mortal wounds as a community and as individuals, and everyone’s processing those all the time — pandemic, pre-pandemic. And so it all fit together really powerfully.

YHT: On that topic of healing, I found your music to be essential in 2020 in part because of how it manages to transport you mentally. It’s a way of traveling while staying in place. Do you feel transported when you play, or is staying present too important to the process of improvising? 

DG: I think there’s a couple of interesting things there. First of all, the thing about the Storm Sessions reflecting the pandemic situation is strangely true. To me, that was about “Hey, this is not a great situation, this is a negative situation” and focusing on “What we can do to make this constructive?” Which is a thing I’ve needed during the pandemic for sure. Every day you have to focus to be like “OK, this is bad, but I gotta make this constructive.” It can show you that if you can have a constructive philosophy, you can improve things. 

What you say about being present is the main thing for improvisation. But the other thing is letting yourself dream a little bit. In life and the social world, there’s not a lot of space to dream in. But if you can get a protected musical environment, I like to be able to create a music where other people can dream when they’re listening to it… That thing of allowing yourself to dream is essential, to me, for the improvisation, and for connecting to the listener.

JS: I feel like that piece Drew was talking about, about trying to be constructive, actually goes to what you were saying, Davy. Without a performative context for the practicing that I’ve been doing, I feel like it’s allowed me to get more involved with the centered, present space of improvisation in a way that I always wanted to, or always needed to. That’s always been the goal, but now I feel like I actually, through the past year, have gotten closer and closer to it, and I’m hoping that I can bring that into my practice once we’re out in front of each other again.

Elkhorn at Oddfellows Hall in Blacksburg, VA on March 8th, 2020. Photo courtesy of James Adams.

YHT: Do you remember the first time you took that leap of faith and improvised together?

DG: We’ve been doing that since high school… I can’t give you a date, but it was in the mid 80’s sometime, and it was a jam we did in a band called Mayfirst we were in at the time that was in a church. And it was really a jam. That would be the earliest one. It was us doing post-punk music, but it was still improvised.

JS: It was like Joy Division meets Sonic Youth, or something like that. 

YHT: In terms of the trajectory of your collaboration, does it feel like you’re exploring further and further afield, or like you’re getting closer to something essential?

DG: I couldn’t really say. The band has its own evolution, which we just kind of try to follow. I always feel like I’m trying to follow the music, and I’m trying to find out where it’s going. That’s how I think about it.

JS: Touring creates a lot of movement and evolution. Even in the history of global evolution, there are periods where things speed up in the evolutionary process, and slow down, and that’s true with this music that Drew and I are creating as well. And it’s been interesting to see how it’s ebbed and flowed, and touring kind of speeds it up, but it’s definitely been evolving, even during this period where we haven’t been playing together, in a variety of interesting ways… 

And yes, the answer is we’re trying to find more and more and more freedom, but I think both Drew and I appreciate that freedom is not just energy music at full blast to your face all the time. Freedom for us is the freedom to be really beautiful and pastoral and explore things that are very organized and almost proggy, and then move back to things that are very spacious and open and improvisatory, and trying to find where this music and our music hits in all those places is what I think we’re moving towards. 

YHT: Were you aiming for that type of range when choosing tracks for Southern Star?

DG: We do like the recordings to have a journey aspect to them where you go from one place to another place to another place. Certainly variety and contrast, too.

JS: The sets, too… One of the ways that we refresh the listener’s ear in a setting is to specifically make sure that we do hit a few different tones throughout a set. But another way we do it [is] interacting with different musicians. Every time we tour, we look for opportunities to do that in different places we hit as well. And I have to say first and foremost, one of the most transformative things about this tour was hanging out with Mike Gangloff, and seeing how he interacts with music, which is really powerful. That went for all the players that we hung with at various points.

YHT: Was there anything that surprised you as you first listened back to the recordings?

DG: One thing I like is that with the guest players, we’re often throwing them in without a huge amount of practice. I like the sound that produces, because people are focusing, you know what I mean? So you can get a novel sound out of some of those songs, and when you’re coming back and listening to it, you’re almost listening to somebody else’s song, because an unpredictable element has been introduced into it.

JS: Jordan [Perry] was a perfect example of that. We had never played with him before. I had never even heard him play electric guitar. But at the same time, I just knew how his brain worked, and I knew he could follow where Drew was going to go. I knew he would be able to stand up in the music. 

Elkhorn with Mike Gangloff at Oddfellows Hall in Blacksburg, VA on March 8th, 2020. Photo courtesy of James Adams.

YHT: How do you balance leading and following when improvising with a guest performer?

DG: Trying to give them some structure [and] give them a context where they can feel comfortable and where they can say what they want to say is the main thing for me. Make an arrangement where they can do what they want.

JS: The idea is to create enough structure so everyone knows where they are, but have it loose enough that anyone can say what they got to say. We’ve actually worked on how to do that through the set construction process over time.

DG: And there are decisions you can make in it. I often take on the audio engineer role in various ways in the band, and one thing I did in the Harmonica Dan set was that I could mix his volume while we were playing. I heard something when we were playing, and I intentionally turned him up louder than he would have been normally because that’s what I was hearing, and I liked the way that sounded. So I could mix while I was also playing. That’s a thing that’ll happen sometimes.

YHT: What’s the setup like that allows you to do that in real time?

DG: That was at the Philadelphia Record Exchange, and it’s a tight space, so I could control all the guitar stuff and also reach over and be able to control the balance, which is somewhat random. I would normally be thinking in terms of mixing anyway. What you’re going for is a collective sound that works — of people being together.

YHT: That’s such a cool example of the environment making its way into the music.

DG: That’s why each track is unique. It’s in its physical space and its social space. I would hope that you get that sense of traveling through these unique spaces."

"This one comes in a bit bittersweet for me. Before the cavalcade of Covid hit us last year, Elkhorn’s Winter tour would have passed through Tubby’s in Kingston for an RSTB Presents show alongside Glenn Jones and Alexander Turnquist. This was pretty much the week after the now fabled 75 Dollar Bill set that’s been immortalized on LP, but alas it was not to happen. We erred on the side of caution and with good cause, but it meant that the show remains frozen in hope until such a time that live music resumes in good faith. But as I’ve been missing Elkhorn in the live sphere this tape from War Hen arrives just in time to run down some excellent performances from their earlier dates on that tour — stopping through the Montauk Salt Cave, Rhizome in DC, Record Exchange in Philly, and Black Swann and Oddfellows in Virginia.

Along the way they picked up some locals to help them out and each show fleshes out the Elkhorn sound with pop-ins from Mike Gangloff, Nate Scheible, Harmonica Dan & Ken Brenninger, Jordan Perry, and Eight Point Star. Each set jam is unique to the sets that wrought them and each feel the inimitable touch of Elkhorn’s magic on the stage. Jesse and Drew, while excellent in the studio, are improvisors at heart and the stage opens up the sound of Elkhorn to new tributaries of sound that branch from their psych-scorched catalog. One of the true lifesavers during this time period has been the abundant proliferation of live material that’s been officially up for sale and this is right up there with the best from the last twelve months."


"Elkhorn never rests. Jesse Sheppard and Drew Gardner have been playing music together as a duo for nearly a decade, but that’s no reason to rest on their laurels and start mailing it in. With each album, new tendrils spin off into their own focused worlds. Their music is an ever-growing organism. On their latest album, Distances, they set the compass toward the horizon and pressed on as deep into the sunkissed abyss as possible. With two drummers – Ian McColm and Nate Scheible – drafted into the studio with them, Distances emerged like a golden monolith ready to cast its gleaming shadows onto the landscape. The spaces between us might look enormous, but with openness comes connection, and Elkhorn is here to harness those intersecting points. 

Distances is out tomorrow, September 16, via Feeding Tube. It’s one hell of a triumph.

First, how have y’all been holding up these last few years, and what’s been helping you make it through?

JS: I’d say we’re holding up about the same as most folks. Some pain and disappointment… both personal and global… but also lots of experiences where we’ve seen creativity and community overcome tough situations. We were halfway through a tour of the East Coast in March of ’20 when we started seeing festivals shut down and then smaller and smaller venues. Turns out our expectations are figments of our imaginations, just like all the events on our calendars that we thought were so important. But looking back, it feels like having some time to draw inward, think, be with the ones we love, and separate the music from performance a bit; was not a bad thing. We learned a lot, and we’re still learning from the last few years. I had time and opportunity to go back and pick up the electric bass after many years away from it. Drew took a deep dive into fingerstyle guitar and studio recording techniques. We all found a thing or two that got us through. But there’s no doubt the music, whether sitting with a guitar in bed or playing an outdoor show to a field full of kids and dogs, has been a major part of surviving all of this. 

Alright, let’s dig back even further. What are some of your earliest memories or experiences related to music or sound? What are some of the real formative things from when you were young that have stuck with you?

JS: I’ve been thinking about this a lot. What do those earliest musical connections mean to the music I’m making now? As the child of middle-class hippies, there was always a steady diet of Dylan and the Stones when I was growing up. My father was on the sound crew at Woodstock and regaled me with stories of standing on stage with Canned Heat. Apparently, he had to leave before Hendrix played to get back to me in utero, which has been a lifelong guilt – Ha! Like the rest of my generation, I was a Free To Be You and Me and Schoolhouse Rock kid. But I also remember playing my mom’s copies of Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concerts and the Paul Winter albums, and I think some of that can definitely be found in the Elkhorn grooves. 

DG: My parents only had a handful of records in the house I grew up in, but among them was All Things Must Pass and a record of Charles Ives songs. I’m still trying to reconcile these two sounds. 

What was it, then, that pushed you to pick up a guitar (or whatever came first!) and start to play music?

DG: I was really into KISS when I was in grade school. I wanted to be Peter Chris AND Ace Frehley.

JS: I remember learning “If I Had a Hammer” in 5th grade and having a crush on my guitar teacher. Fast forward to high school, and we’re all listening to Joy Division and passing instruments around. I gravitated toward the bass because no one else was playing it. I think I liked the idea of providing the music with a solid foundation to lift off from, and that still means a lot to me in the music I make today. I shifted to the 6- and then the 12-string in the early aughts when I moved from New York to Philadelphia and got snared in the web of Takoma School guitar. American Primitive music definitely destroyed my life.

So how’d you all meet and start playing music together, anyway?

JS: Seems like this story has been told a few times, but Drew and I were in a band together in high school in Central New Jersey. It sounded sort of like a cross between The Cure and Sonic Youth. Released a few cassettes. Played a few gigs on the Lower East Side. But the singer and guitarist got married and Drew and I are still playing together, so the project had legs!

The new record, Distances, is out soon on Feeding Tube, and it feels like such a different beast. How’d the idea of having two drummers play on these songs first come to mind?

DG: The double drummer thing is like having two huge outboard motors on a boat.

JS: The idea had been in our heads for a while. In fact, the Sun Cycle album was going to be with two drummers, but the pieces didn’t come together. Over the years, we’ve thought a lot about how the music works differently with and without a percussionist in the band, and we wanted to lean heavily into the drums the next time we worked in the studio. Ian McColm and Nate Scheible were both in DC at the time and had been doing music together. When Drew and I would come through town, we would play shows with them individually and together as a quartet. Those shows were next level, and we knew we had something worth capturing.

On the technical side, it’s such an incredible sounding record, too, especially the guitar tone. It feels like anything is possible, and things can go anywhere at any moment. What’s the secret to the sound?

JS: Obviously, a big part of the sound of Distances is Jeff Zeigler at Uniform Recording in Philadelphia. He just brings so much experience to the table, along with a deep understanding of how all the elements in the recording work together. I think the challenge we set out for him was creating a cohesive, organic band sound out of very disparate elements. Elkhorn has always had a very wide dynamic range, but this recording takes that even further. The massive drums stand shoulder to shoulder with the delicate 12-string guitar. There are some places where you can hear me breathing louder than I’m playing, and others where it’s just a wall of searing electric heaviness. Whether it’s rock or folk or jazz, I couldn’t tell you; but it’s clearly pushing out into new directions, and that was important to us.

DG: We could tell you the secret to our sound, but we’d have to kill you afterward. 

Distances incredible cover art by Jake Blanchard

One thing I’ve always admired about you guys is that none of your records necessarily sound the same, but I feel like they’re always instantly recognizable as Elkhorn. Distances is an excellent example of that because there’s a different vibe going on, but that same heart is still there. I’m curious what you all view as the thing that ties it all together, beyond it being the two of you and whoever else? I mean, what is it about the connection you guys have that keeps this thing cohesive but also a space for exploration and pushing yourselves?

DG: There are two parts to our process, the having ideas part and then turning your brain off and being in the moment part. We’ve played together so long that it’s easier to not think when we’re playing. Being able to turn your brain off is important creatively, and it’s not so easy to do. 

JS: You’ve gotta figure we’ve been playing music together for over 30 years, so a certain amount of muscle memory is at play here. But I think the fact that both Drew and I have very strong musical conceptions that are complimentary but come at what we are doing from different directions has a big role in tying the music together. I’m writing and playing in these massive open tunings, and sometimes I’m not even sure what notes are under my fingers. Drew is great at figuring out what scales work over what I’m doing and finding the space to weave his lines through. And over the years, we’ve been able to play a bit with that structure…. Moving me to the front or Drew switching to acoustic fingerstyle. I think a lot of the sound is about creating enough structure to give the music a direction while leaving things loose enough that they keep the music flexible and alive. And, of course, both of us value what collaborators bring to the table. We’ve been honored to work with some of our favorite musicians. We don’t really think of them as guests as much as temporary band members with an equal voice in what we are creating.

Speaking of pushing yourselves, y’all really went for it on Distances with how you play and how these songs are built and flow. It’s such a belter of a record. What were the sessions writing and recording these songs like, and was there something different that really made you all want to push way out into new zones?

JS: The whole idea is to get into new zones. The music has to be exciting and challenging to us before it ever gets into your ears – Ha! But this material came together slowly over a long period of time. I vividly remember driving home from Black Dirt Studio after the Sun Cycle session and thinking that we needed to write a big rocker for drummers to jam on. After playing with a bunch of great drummers on the road for a year or so, that idea became the first tune on the new album. You are totally right that we were consciously trying to create a band sound on this one, but it also had to feel like a unique statement. Obviously, the 12-string ties a lot of what we do together, but the sound also has a lot to do with how we interact, what we are listening for, and of course, working with musicians with whom we feel a real personal and creative connection.

What were some of the biggest challenges in making this record?

JS: The biggest challenge was just how long it took for all the elements to come together. We recorded in the summer before the pandemic, then with everything moving in slow motion, it took a while to mix, then we had to find a home for it and get it pressed as things were starting to come back online, and the entire record world was under extreme stress. As you can imagine, it’s easy for creative projects to come undone with all the logistical hoops you have to get them through. But now, when I hold up the record and put it on the turntable, it feels incredibly cohesive. Jeff’s work, the whole sound of the band, working with the great Feeding Tube label, and of course, the amazing cover art by Jake Blanchard, just feels so focused and true to the vision we had before we started. It’s kind of a beautiful miracle. This record is in no way a commentary on the pandemic, but it definitely applies some of the lessons we’ve learned over the past few years…. Patience will out.

And what surprised you the most about it?

JS: See the answer above. But for me, it’s always a beautiful surprise that the completion of one project is really just the beginning of the next one. Drew will tell you that I often find myself thinking, “That’s it. We’ve said what we have to say.” But now I’m just excited for folks to hear this music and add it to the overall conversation that we’ve been having. Drew and I had our first gig as a duo in May of 2013, so we’ve got a bit of water under that bridge… but there’s still a lot more to say and more music to come.

So the record is coming out, as mentioned on Feeding Tube, and then are there any tours, shows, or anything planned? What else is happening?

JS: See the answer above – Ha! I’ll just say that we’ve got a few different projects in various states that will be coming out next year. This is stuff recorded over the last couple of years and reflects that, along with everything else, our creative lives got tossed in the air and settled back down in new and interesting ways. Different ideas had a chance to filter in, and we were able to capture some of them beautifully. Now we’re looking forward to sharing that with all of you out there. In addition, as we prepare to head out on the road for a few Distances gigs, we’ve been able to pick up on a few threads that we had to lay down when the world paused. Ian was slated to play with us the week we had to cancel all our shows in March of 2020, and now we are about to play a bunch of shows with him, which feels really great. So there’s a lot of music, and we just want to keep doing what feels true to us because we know that’s the only way we will have a real impact on the people who are out there listening."

"On Sunday, a free outdoor concert at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts will bring improvisational psychedelic folk music to the Berkshires.

The event is part of the Clark’s ongoing Locals at the Lunder Center series, presented in partnership with North Adams’ Belltower Records.

“We've been good friends with the Elkhorn duo since we started the shop, and we've been looking to get them up here- And we actually booked them for March 2020 and then the pandemic hit," said Wesley Nelson, who co-owns Belltower Records with his wife Andrea Belair. “I always thought that these kind of progressive folk musicians always had something of a spring or fall feel to them. And that goes back to me the American primitivism of John Fahey. When you listen to his music, I mean, it evokes rivers that evokes being out in nature and it conjures up these feelings of being connected with the natural world and the way that that world changes around you.”

You can hear Elkhorn's "Lionfish" LP here.

“I am the electric guitar player in the band Elkhorn, which is a duo of electric guitar and acoustic guitar that does psychedelic folk music,” said Drew Gardner.

Since playing their first show in 2013, the band has released a succession of well-received albums on labels including Western Mass-based Feeding Tube Records.

“We combine fingerpicked acoustic guitar that's played by Jesse Sheppard with electric guitar that I'm playing," said Gardner. "So we always say it's like a combination of the 1860s and the 1960s. It's instrumental music and it's highly improvisational. So it's mixing kind of earthy, almost old fashioned folk sounds with more modern and more explicitly psychedelic sounds with a heavy use of improvisation.”

“One of the things we're excited about for this show on Sunday is that we're going to have our friend Ian McColm, who's just a fabulous drummer from New Haven, Connecticut, playing with us," said Sheppard. “We do a lot of that, just combining the duo of these two guitarists kind of like interacting and weaving back and forth and creating sort of like foreground and background elements with another collaborator [who] comes in and brings their voice. That's what our music is about.”

Elkhorn revels in balancing freewheeling musical exploration with a deeply grounded sense of place.

“You always have to have a plan," Gardner told WAMC. "We have the song framework in mind, but it is, in terms of the improvisational part of it, very much about tuning into the present moment and tuning into the environment, and to the people, the particular people who are around and the social vibes well. So all of that comes together to create a kind of sound in a time in a place.”

Sheppard says Elkhorn’s genre-defying approach to music can make them a hard sell to the uninitiated, but those who take the plunge usually come out smiling.

“What you're going to see is something that's really hard to kind of categorize and describe, but sort of feels very familiar to you, and feels like really a place that you feel comforted by or maybe talks to real emotions that you connect with,” he said.

According to Gardner, for both band and audience, Elkhorn is about leaning back and being taken by the flow.

“I'm just trying to follow where the music is going," he explained. "And that if you do that in the right way, you wind up getting into really good spaces. But the main thing is tuning into where the music wants to go.”

"More is more on the latest longplayer by these East Coast guitar spellcasters. Elkhorn’s core combo of Drew Gardner (six-string electric guitar; New York City) and Jesse Sheppard (12-string acoustic guitar; Chadds Ford, Pa.) recruited two drummers—Ian McColm (Heart Of The Ghost, Nagual; Richmond, Va.) and Nate Scheible (Mark McGuire; Washington, D.C.)—to lend some heft and swing to their open-ended compositions.

While Gardner and Sheppard often work with extra musicians, they’ve generally done so in mostly improvisational contexts. This music feels more purposeful. On “Wilderness,” for example, all four players lock together to create a swirling, patterned effect. If one lick went astray, the whole performance could collapse, but it coheres immaculately. Sheppard handles the patterning solo on “1919,” but the light, decorative kit work of Scheible and McColm builds out from his cyclical picking to create a framework for Gardner’s skirling lead. When the two guitarists suddenly drop out, the drummers deftly transform filigree into scaffolding, then pull back to make way for another ensemble round.

Some instrumental music works associatively, prompting a sort of guided imaginary tour. Distances always feels like it’s going somewhere, but it’s not really about anything beyond the tone, tune, harmony and groove, which in aggregate are more than enough to give listeners license to listen in or lose themselves. Either way, the person playing the album wins." (Bill Meyer)

"Elkhorn’s catalog has been building steam for a while. It’s no secret around here that Sun Cycle, and it’s partner album, Elk Jam were a few of my top albums when they were released. The snowed-in set with Turner Williams stripped the band back but only served to prove their prowess under any circumstances, but it never felt like it lived in the same headspace as those recordings. Sun Cycle has always been the one from that bunch to hit me the hardest and Distances feels like the proper follow-up to that album. Jesse and Drew pick up the acoustic and electric responsibilities respectively, and this time they add a double drum counterpoint by way of Ian McColm and Nate Scheible. The quartet slipped into the studio with Jeff Ziegler for the record. Ziegler, who is finding himself inexorable from the Philly psych contingent these days adds an elevated balance to the album, letting the guitars glide over the tumult of drums below them. This studio stew produces one of the band’s headiest and most potent albums to date.

Jesse’s tenderness weaves throughout the record, letting the acoustic passages ripple on unseen winds. Drew then lights the psychedelic torch, leaning head-down into those winds and raising the heat on many of the songs here. The pair have spent years honing an unwritten language of give and take between their string work and it comes to a head one the cinder-scraped “Train,” and the cavernous descent into darkness on “1919.” They stretch themselves into the ambitious territory of their live shows, ending the record with the massive, 18+ minute title track, a culminating ceremony of triumphant will. The song starts with a fogged-on-the-mountain calmness. It crests and crashes down into its latter half with a resolve that’s gorgeous, if not a bit weatherbeaten, an autumnal send-off to the the album that tempers the fires lit by its first half. I know that this album has been years in the making, but letting it slip under the needle, the wait becomes worth it."

"Elkhorn has always been a duo of two guitarists—Jesse Shepherd on acoustic and Drew Gardner on electric—locked for long periods in an improvisatory trance. Together, but not exactly in sync, the two set up folk-blues atmospheres and puncture them with transcending, psychedelic eruptions. Their pieces move organically from one idea to another, at the lumbering, ruminating speed of wordless communication, and you get the sense that, on another day, at another time, they might move in an entirely different direction.

For Distances, they have added a pair of drummers. Ian McColm played with David Shapiro and Stefan Christiansen in the drone-ambient outfit Nagual through the Teens; he has also collaborated with Daniel Bachman, Tashi Dorji and Nate Scheible, the other drummer on the disc. Scheible is similarly well connected, a veteran of Mean Crow (with Luke Stewart) and Scarcity of Tanks.  The two percussionists perform the same kind of free-wheeling exchange as Sheppard and Gardner, with each other and with the two guitarists. They move in loose conjunction, sharing a beat, but seeing it differently, one walloping a tom while the other strikes shimmery, slither-y cymbal tones, one nailing the time with rimshots on snare, the other setting off wild, flaring fills. You can hear that there are two of them if you listen closely, but it’s hard to say where one ends and the other picks up. 

The drumming is the wild card in Distances, an album that shakes up Elkhorn’s meditative sound and makes it more visceral, ominous and live. You can hear it best in “1919,” the second-longest track, which like all four of these pieces begins in finger-picked shimmer and ends in free-roaming, electrified jam. In the middle, though, sits just under two minutes of percussive interplay. The two drummers enter a conversation, one rolling chaotically over the toms, the other building a buzz in snare fills punctuated by cymbal explosions. They run at each other at angles, on the same beat, but approaching from different directions, meeting, conflicting, melding where they touch, jumping off of one another’s ideas. It ends as abruptly as it began and ushers in a placid sunshine of acoustic again, the buzzing dissonance of electric guitar looming up through it. 

Different parts of Distances will remind you, at least tangentially, of different artists. The slow, repeated, blues-steeped swagger of “Train,” for instance, sounds a lot like Jonathan Kane’s transcendent chugs. The clean lines of electric melody in “1919” evoke Richard Bishop in Rangda. Bits of Chris Forsyth’s psychedelic riffery peek through “Wilderness.” And yet, what they sound like most is Elkhorn, enlarged and enlivened and evolving, but nonetheless themselves. You’d have to add more than a couple of drummers to change that." (Jennifer Kelly)

"NYC/Philadelphia based Elkhorn – Jesse Sheppard and Drew Gardner – are becoming increasingly renowned for their cosmic and widescreen, yet often intimate, guitar symphonies, with their melding of Jack Rose/Robbie Basho style acoustic work with sacred Popol Vuh atmospheres. Previous albums have offered beautiful and sonically adventurous improvisations recorded whilst being holed up during a snowstorm (The Storm Sessions), innovative psych folk (Sun Cycle/Elk Jam) and the spellbinding and intricate fingerpicking of their debut Beyond Beyond is Beyond. Compulsively inventive and with a strong drive to push their music into new landscapes, they continue their incredible run of releases with the propulsive Distances, recorded during summer 2019 and now emerging blinking into the post-lockdown daylight. As Shepherd notes, this is an underlying theme of the record; ‘everything in its own time’.

The first aspect of Distances that quickly impacts is that there are two serving drummers accompanying Sheppard and Gardner this time around. Both Ian McColm and Nate Scheible’s presence help transform this particular incarnation of Elkhorn into, at times, a veritable psych rock behemoth and at others, eyes on the horizon custodians of Floydian space jams that truly exist in their own, richly detailed universe. To illustrate, opener ‘Train’ explodes into being following a pensive, scene setting build-up of finger picking, cosmiche electric guitars runs and an apocalyptic acoustic refrain that underscores the track as the drums propel and then solidify the increasingly fiery and fuelled guitar explorations. As an opening salvo, it is hard to beat and ably sets out Elkhorn’s stall for what follows. ‘Wilderness’, by turn, is a gorgeous and triumphant slice of baroque folk, with a shifting undercurrent of molten guitar and spiralling acoustic arpeggios beneath a sympathetic and grounding rhythm section. On previous Elkhorn recordings it felt as though Sheppard and Gardener had some kind of psychic link, such was the intuition at work in the interplay between the two. On ‘Distances’ all the musicians seem to have tapped into this, as the drums play around the guitars, follow them and frame them, but never overwhelm or pin them down too tightly; everything glides and flows, and it is a joy to hear. If Arthur Lee was still with us, he would want Elkhorn for his backing band.

‘1919’ is next, a tension wire acoustic refrain building and layering with added electrified, expressionistic lead guitar forays that are at times steeped in a late-night melancholy and wistfulness, at others cinematic and charged with atmosphere. Elkhorn’s ability to shift from a mantric and locked groove or melody to something infinitely more freeform and looser, and then back again is spellbinding. The track morphs as it journeys onwards, picking up after a thrilling drum breakdown to ascend once again in a cascade of sunlit harmonies and ecstatic soloing, the light shining through after the storm. The finale too, a rolling and majestic wave of guitar buzz and finely wrought acoustic picking, is jaw dropping. Finally, the epic title track fills a side of vinyl on its own, and begins by masterfully setting mood and anticipation via drum rolls and inventive guitar expositions, all framed by an increasingly urgent acoustic backing. And then, it just flows, river like, into new shapes, new spaces and sounds; sometimes back into the quiet, reflective and golden sun strewn shallows, at others into an elevated and more forceful torrent with genuine power and grace. There is a real beauty to these songs, they glisten and hold melody throughout, even when on their more exploratory travels.

Distances, then, is another essential Elkhorn album; it is tempting to describe it as Elkhorn ‘max’ due to the addition of drums which pitch and propel the tracks to different, new and unexpected territory. However, and crucially, it is the core duo of Sheppard and Gardner and their intuitive interplay that continues to exemplify the human, beating heart at the centre of their music. Often earthy and grounded, sometimes stratospheric and galaxy bound, Elkhorn are pursuing their own dedicated pathway, one that is beautifully unpredictable and constantly engaging. Join them on their journey." (Grey Malkin)

"I believe that by now all TimeMaZine (especially the European ones) readers are familiar with the instrumental guitar duo Elkhorn and their musical quests (Our radio audience, too!!!). Elkhorn is a New York guitar duo featuring Jesse Sheppard on twelve-string acoustic and Drew Gardner on electric, interweaving the extended folk tradition with psychedelic improvisation, moving freely from pre-rock to post-rock and beyond.

Elkhorn has been releasing their music since 2016 and their latest ‘adventure’ is called “Distances” and is a limited run of 400 vinyl LP copies released by Feeding Tube Records. “Distances” contains music that deals with folk, American primitive, avant-garde psych, and rock, the music is instrumental and improvisational, and the album contains just 4 tracks. On “Distances” the duo is being helped by two drummers, Ian McColm and Nate Scheible… The opener “Train” is an acoustically drenched impro tune with some super cool cosmic electric guitar sounding, some abstract drumming completes the puzzle while the track slowly becomes something like a Stoned Jam, an amazing psych hippie-like electrified cosmically trippy theme! The scenery rapidly changes with “Wilderness”, an 180 degrees turn I may say, as the duo decides to improvise on some Baroque-Folkie sounds, emerging a very strong late 60s Grateful Dead feel! The soundscape changes once more with “1919”, the night falls, the music becomes darker and more melancholic, and there’s a tremendous acoustic/electric guitar rhythm, a short ‘drummy’ jazzy break, while the track continues to ‘flow’ or maybe ‘fly’ driving the listener into that ‘cursed’ Laurel Canyon scene (well, not exactly a scene, but…), resulting an improvisational country-folkish jam… Side ‘B’ occupies just one track, the self-titled “Distances” which is divided into two parts, the first part has an acoustic start that acts like a guitar tuning or maybe a warm-up thing, it seems that the guitars and the percussion are trying to find a common place to meet and finally when they meet they drive the track into a glorious improvisational late 60s West Coast jam, a folkie & Rockie one… Part two of “Distances” has a more laid-back rhythm, still acoustic with a country-folkish sound, a much more ‘grounded’ track… In conclusion, “Distances” is an inventive, essential, earthy, journey that somehow magically manages to annihilate any… distance! Superb!" (TimeLord Michalis)

"I first came across Elkhorn through the New York duo’s 2017 album ‘The Black River’, and ever since then have been very taken with their laid back hazy folk approach to their music… akin somewhat to being gently caressed with peyote tipped leaves in front of a roaring fire in a remote log cabin.

This has broadly continued with subsequent releases, of which particular favourites have included: ‘Sun Cycle’/ ‘Elk Jam’ (2019) and ‘The Storm Sessions’/ ‘Acoustic Strom Sessions’ (2020)… however, ‘Distances’ feels like a significant step forward to me.. Drew Gardner (Electric Guitar) and Jesse Sheppard (acoustic guitar) have frequently worked with other musicians on their previous releases, and here they have brought in a couple of drummers, Ian McColm & Nate Scheible,  to work with them. The result is at times something a little bit more removed from the spare minimal sounds that I certainly most remember them for… although far from exclusively…

What we have here, then, is a set which those who enjoy previous Elkhorn releases with undoubtedly dig… but perhaps broadening out their appeal to those whose preference is for something a little on the rockier side… the overall result seems to be an album which is as deep and psychedelic, just in a slightly different way..

Starting off with ‘Train’ we get underway with a slow acoustic build up… almost an establishment of momentum in which we all get ourselves attuned before the band all click in and head off on a bluesy/ rock journey which takes us from one level to the next until we seem to reach a plateau… it’s a cool accompaniment to any sort of travel… but connecting it to the song’s title gives us a nice way to imagine where we might be… most of all though the playing is as superb as you would expect…

…something that is, of course, also the case with ‘Wilderness’… in some sense I’m still on the train imagining the open vistas of the desert float past me… revealed by that typical Elkhorn intertwining of acoustic and electric guitar sounds… here regulated and bolstered by the drums which give the whole thing a certain heft. This is a denser Elkhorn than I’m used to… but it’s very effective and I am enjoying the change… and am certainly felling myself getting drawn into this world as the repetition becomes mesmerising.

After that ‘1919’ starts in a quieter and more open manner… a track that’s longer than the previous two put together, this has more time to stretch itself out. This gives me time to reflect that, while the music may be more intense (relatively at least) it still feels like something you stroll along with… even during the quite unexpected, but not unwelcome, drum solo which gave me the feeling of having a private audience with the band as they performed in front of me… and I really like the underwhelming (in a good way) manner in which that Gardner and Sheppard came back in after it… not with any great fanfare… but just being themselves. After this section the tempo does pick up and you find yourself listening to a cracking folk/ rock jam which I find very uplifting…

The final two tracks, ‘Distances Parts 1 and 2’, make up what I assume is the second side of the vinyl version (on Feeding Tube Records) and begins in a manner more reminiscent of previous Elkhorn releases with the interaction between the two guitars dominating and only a minimal fill of the spaces in between with percussion. However, even though there is less it really digs into you and has fully got hold as they start to loosen out and begin to really build up momentum before dropping back about halfway through the twelve minutes of Part One… in fact it’s almost as if this is split into two parts itself… either way there’s a lovely ebb and flow to the music and I am really enjoying visualising what this would be like live and find myself totally zoned out with it… a vibe that’s pretty much carried over into Part. 2, thus completing a great set which is warm and welcoming… just inviting the listener into Elkhorn’s world for a bit… it was really nice just to hang out and let ourselves be for a while… what a pleasure!"

"On Distances, Elkhorn proves just how far they’ve evolved by soaring to daring new heights on robust and agile wings.

Across the record’s four epic tracks, guitarists Drew Gardner (electric) and Jesse Sheppard (acoustic) take their twisting double-helix interplay down gnarled and heavily forested footpaths, snaking along the seismic rhythms of duo drummers, Ian McColm and Nate Scheible.

The group kicks the record off on an earthy, shroom-laced tone, with the molten riffage of “Train.” Propulsive cannon-like drums erupt as Sheppard and Gardner invoke the ferocity and doom of Black Sabbath through their potent mix of woody acoustics and fluorescent electric guitars. Crank the volume way, way up when you play this track. With its charging locomotive intensity and ayahuasca-trip atmosphere, this tune is as psychedelic and wild as the artwork on the LP cover.

From here, the band explores lighter territories with the dazzling radiance that is “Wilderness.” This song is illuminated with sunny Richard Thompson-like electric somersaults and barrel-roll drum fills that could easily spiral the tune off into a multitude of disparate directions. This is the peak of the group’s unadulterated exuberance. It sounds like a celebration of life itself, wrapped up into a tight five-minute instrumental.

The following cut, “1919,” starts off as a melancholic piece that transports you to lonely stretches of open highways, dusty landscapes and wide open skies. In the first half of the track, Gardner’s solos take center stage and slide like liquid mercury, before the drums briefly dominate the song, signaling a shift in mood and tempo. Then, Sheppard’s fingerpicking kicks in to weave a towering intricate web for Gardner to scale with his aggressive electric licks, as the drummers whirl and crash around them like a tropical cyclone.

The track’s multi-staged progression, with its peaks and valleys, is similar the journey of the psychedelic experience, which makes you wonder if the track was titled “1919” because that was the year Austrian chemist Ernst Späth became the first person to synthesize mescaline.

The album closes with the 18-minute title track, which is also more of a suite, but unlike the previous song, this piece seems to rely slightly more on ambience. The tune’s transcendental and leafy atmosphere is mainly conjured by Sheppard’s sinewy fingerpicking, which often takes the lead. The arsenal of shimming and jazzy percussive tricks that McColm and Scheible keep up their sleeves certainly solidifies the track’s mystical mood.

Meanwhile, Gardner’s coiling guitar lines, with their clean and glassy tones, add the perfect amount of electric illumination to this otherwise chiaroscuro bath of sound. In almost 20 minutes, the group explores just about all of the tune’s many sonic possibilities without ever letting the piece grow dull or listless.

While they’re certainly no strangers to collaboration, Distances shows just how hard Elkhorn works to uncover the strongest possible magic that could come from combining their powers with that of their guests. This is a record of a heavily versatile band in full creative flight, completely confident and unencumbered. It may just be the duo’s most compelling LP to date." (Keith Hadad)

On The Whole Universe In All Directions

"Elkhorn (Jesse Sheppard and Drew Gardener) have previously blown minds and gathered devotion with a series of staggeringly inventive and deeply immersive releases, from the adventurous psych folk of 2019’s ‘Sun Cycle/Elk Jam’, to the wind-torn improvisations of ‘Storm Sessions’ (literally recorded whilst holed up during a winter ice blast), to last year’s propulsive and percussive ‘Distances’, which introduced and added two drummers to their foundational palette of 12-string acoustic and electric guitars. Indeed, with each album, Elkhorn have not only expanded their sonic remit, but also acquired new band members or fellow travellers who have sympathetically adorned or embellished their work – as well as furthered the opportunity to explore new musical forms, both practically and stylistically. Interestingly, with ‘On The Whole Universe In All Directions’ (the title comes from the work of 13th century Japanese Soto Zen poet Dōgen), we are returned to the core duo of Sheppard and Gardner working alone, and we also experience a further stripping back in that Gardener’s distinctive electric guitar playing is not to be heard on this recording.

This does not however mean that the duo are taking a backwards step in any sense, or have ceased their journeying into new, creative and expansive realms of sound. Instead, Gardener helms both vibraphone and drums/percussion to add yet another aural dimension to Elkhorn’s exploratory journeys; this is a band who do not rest or settle on laurels (and they could and still be entirely satisfying), but instead shake things up or push further out with each new utterance. In some ways this step is perhaps a natural progression; Gardener hails from a jazz background, having worked with both John Tchicai and Wadada Leo Smith in San Francisco in the 90s, and this direction adds a further sense of freeform and lack of conventional constraint to Elkhorn’s wide psychedelic visions. The result is that ‘On The Whole Universe In All Directions’ sounds recognisably  Elkhorn, but also not like other Elkhorn releases; and this is their gift, an unpredictability and a searching, questing for new ground and new fertile possibilities.

‘North’ opens the album, commencing with mantra like shards of Sheppard’s 12-string, evoking the ghost of Popol Vuh at their most sacred, before being joined by Gardener’s vibraphone, its chimes reverberating and cascading like snowfall around the guitar and the accompanying drumrolls and percussion. Freeform, yet tightly controlled and focused, the piece builds and expands in waves into something truly cosmiche and expressive, a voyage into the dark night sky amongst the pinhole stars. With echoes of Saucerful–era Floyd in the tumbling drums and sense of vastness, as well as hues of the most interplanetary of Alice Coltrane’s output, there is an edge to this work, a tumultuous sense of being in the heart of the storm; a still epicentre within a raging whole. 

‘South’ is a calmer beast, more rapturous with its shimmering cymbal splashes and gently strident guitar, the vibraphone now reminiscent of hazy, warm lights, both guiding and reassuring. Sheppard’s guitar holds the structure here, pinning down a widescreen vista that the other instrumentation can then run free upon. Almost meditative in certain parts, and alternately dynamic and thrilling in others, this piece could ably soundtrack a long night journey into the endless desert, into the mountains. As the track develops there is a sudden increase in intensity as vibraphone notes multiply and waterfall all around, which is then followed by a sense of breathing out and the slowing of pace, the guitar returning to a more prominent position as the song settles and sighs, like some living creature.

‘East’ sits upon a ragga guitar motif, holding tension as drums build and fall, the vibraphone now eerie and laced with foreboding, evoking a sense of ceremony or ritual. Indeed, there is an air of the spiritual (as there can be with Elkhorn, their music is often imbued with an undertow of something magical, or otherworldly), as the piece repeatedly peaks and recedes, both hypnotic and transportive. ‘West’ by turn is more contemplative, though still glistening and with moments of genuine beauty, like awakening to the gentle morning light after a long, dark slumber. It is both transcendent and uplifting, and yet also contains an equally earthy and grounded beauty. This quality (which can be said of the album as a whole) suggests that Elkhorn could provide the perfect soundtrack to any future Werner Herzog film or documentary, indeed there is a hint here of the more sunlit moments from the afore mentioned Popol Vuh’s ‘Brüder des Schattens – Söhne des Lichts‘. Very possibly the album highlight, ‘West‘ is arguably the most obvious meeting point of the Elkhorn who have come before, and this current incarnation. 

Another triumph then, and a beacon to those who still believe that music can be an illuminative, emotionally resonant and connective force, ‘On The Whole Universe In All Directions’ treats its listeners as adults, and takes us down untrodden and undiscovered paths. Elkhorn are determinedly creative and unafraid of following their intuition, free from convention or restriction. Instead, they are a breath of musical fresh air, and this listener, for one, cannot wait to hear what they do next."

"With the use of a vibraphone, Elkhorn has once again changed the name of the game.

Available today on Centripetal Force and Cardinal Fuzz, On The Whole Universe In All Directions finds the Philly/NYC guitar duo expanding their sound and transforming their entire dynamic by placing Drew Gardner on vibraphones and drums, instead of behind his usual electric guitar.

Despite the lack of that second axe, this Elkhorn record sounds just as thick, exploratory and beguiling as ever, if not more so. With Gardner being a veteran of the ’90s San Francisco jazz scene, he is certainly no slouch on his instruments of choice here. He filled the album with dreamy clouds of ringing, bell-like tones for Jesse Sheppard to lace his 12-string acoustic leads around. He then overdubbed his own slow, crashing cymbals and rolling drum fills into the tracks, illuminating an almost melodic path through the dense fog bank of wandering guitar and vibes.

The tracks on this record still certainly dwell within the same psychedelic guitar improv world of the previous Elkhorn releases, but the pair have broadened their sonic horizons, allowing for ECM-like minimalist folk-jazz to enter the picture. There is so much airiness, subtlety and even a deeper blue atmosphere in Gardener and Sheppard’s playing that could have only come from the jazz world. Listeners of John Abercrombie, Oregon and some of Bill Frisell’s early work will find a great deal to love about this record.

If ethereal acoustic jazz combined with the hallucinogenic openness of ’74-era Grateful Dead sounds like a good time (and you know it is), then get yourself On The Whole Universe In All Directions today."

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