Love songs are all over the airwaves, concert stages and even the commercials that won’t leave us alone. Especially, it seems, when we’re least in the mood to hear them.
The members of the indie-folk trio the Lone Bellow decided to embrace the idea that keeping even the most solid relationships fresh and exciting can be challenging, whether they involve close, loyal bandmates in their 10th year as a team or loving spouses walking through life together in near-constant bemusement.
That’s where “Love Songs for Losers,” the trio’s fifth full-length album, finds its been-there realism. And when the trio stops by Charlottesville’s Jefferson Theater for a Wednesday evening show, it’s fine to sing along, share a laugh and remember that we’re not alone out there.
“I have a pretty healthy marriage relationship, and I still feel like a loser,” guitarist Brian Elmquist said with a chuckle. “We lose more than we win sometimes.”
Lead vocalist Zach Williams, multi-instrumentalist Kanene Donehey Pipkin and Elmquist recorded the new collection in Nashville, Tennessee, at the former home of legendary vocalist Roy Orbison, who is one of Elmquist’s favorite singers. The band’s fifth collection is its first self-produced album, and the unseen presence of one of rock’s finest voices provided a welcome boost of inspiration and moral support.
“I thought it was cool that it was in Roy Orbison’s house,” Elmquist said. “He drew from so many useful elements in his music. His whole life is pretty inspiring to me.”
Pipkin served as vocal producer for a recording that makes the most of the trio’s practice of giving each member the lead-vocals reins in recognition of “what serves the song the best,” Elmquist said. “It’s important on every album. You try to make sure the song itself is getting the right voice. Most of the time, you sing ones you’ve written.”
Elmquist co-produced the album with Jacob Sooter. Taking the reins themselves kept Elmquist “just on the edge of panic,” he said. “I really think, for us, for me, it’s probably the most important thing that you’re not making the thing you’ve already done. It was a really good experience.”
Exploring different shades and qualities of love was important. The trio turned “Gold,” a song previously performed as a gentler folk song, into a more beat-friendly number with a bigger guitar presence. “Dreaming,” with Elmquist on lead vocals, explores the pain of lost love as it surfaces in a chance reunion. “Cost of Living,” sung by Pipkin, explores the impact of grief. On “Unicorn,” Williams can’t hold back his enduring affection for his wife.
Elmquist said he enjoys watching audience members respond to different songs from the new album.
“’Honey’ is just so fun, and people in the room sing along,” he said. Williams was inspired to write the song after reflecting on his wife’s dislike of being called “honey,” “baby” and other pet names. “’Wherever Your Heart Is’ is probably the most collaborative.”
Knowing that they can make meaningful music with the safety net of studio professionals and trusted producers and with only each other to rely on opens up plenty of possibilities and fuels the trio’s confidence in one another.
“I’m really attached to this record. I’m biased,” Elmquist said. “What can we do next? It’s a great place to be.”