By Al Kaufman
Eliot Bronson is the type of songwriter who could squeeze out something meaningful about taking out the trash. He writes heartfelt songs with dark humor and backs them with his resonant voice and swampy instruments. Back in his hometown of Baltimore, he was dubbed a “folk-singing wunderkind.” He then moved to Atlanta and started the Brilliant Inventions with Josh Lamkin. The duo quickly won the Best New Local Music Act in the 2008 Creative Loafing Reader’s Poll. The band broke up in 2010. Lamkin became a full-time photographer while Bronson released his first solo record, Blackbirds, to wide critical acclaim. Bronson just released his second CD, Milwaukee, with a backing band, Yonder Orphans. The band includes Sugarland’s original guitarist, Bret Hartley, and BoDeans drummer Kevin Leahy. The album pays tribute to Rodney Lanier, who, until his death in 2011, was one of the most beloved musicians in Charlotte, NC, fronting bands such as Jolene and Sea of Cortez.
Bronson talked about the differences between being part of a duo and going solo, as well as his relationship with Rodney Lanier.
The new album, especially the title cut, “Milwaukee,” is about Charlotte musician, Rodney Lanier, who died of esophageal cancer a little over a year ago. You begin the song with, “I didn’t really know you, not that well.” How well did you know Lanier and when did you realize you needed you needed to write about him?
It probably sounds cliché, but that song just came to me fully formed. I wrote it a few days after Rodney passed. I picked up my guitar, sang that first line and the rest just tumbled out behind it. I didn’t know him all that well, but we’d known each other for years. He worked the door at The Evening Muse in Charlotte, NC, where I play a lot. He had a little bit of a gruff exterior, and he hated The Brilliant Inventions for the first couple years we played there. Somehow we made a connection over time, and, especially towards the end, were starting to become good friends. We were just getting closer when we lost him.
It’s one thing to have to write a song like “Milwaukee.” It can be cathartic. But to have to then sing it every night; is that difficult? Does it bring up the same emotions every night?
Thank you. Sometimes it is hard. But I don’t shy away from that kind of thing anymore. I don’t want to become numb. Music reminds me to feel.
Why did the Brilliant Inventions break up?
We had a good long run. In the end, Josh was ready for a more stable life. He met a great girl and didn’t want to be on the road all the time. This is a really hard way to live and I don’t blame him for wanting something a little more secure. I’m just not built that way. I have to do this. I don’t know why, but I just have to.
After being part of a duo for so long, how is it different being a solo artist who puts his own band together? Do you have the final say in Yonder Orphans decisions, or is it a group thing?
It is really different. In the duo we were equal partners, who didn’t always have the same artistic vision. We would occasionally get into bitter fights over the direction we wanted to move in. Now I’m in charge and free to make music exactly the way I want to. At the same time, I’m working with some incredibly talented musicians, and I would be crazy not listen to their ideas and suggestions. Recording the album was really a band effort. It wouldn’t be nearly as good if I just called all the shots.