Lake Charles band Elms District stands for music that is pure, real and rooted in faith and friendship.
If you were on the recent Gallery Promenade hosted by the Arts and Humanities Council, you probably couldn’t help but notice the free concert hosted by Empire of the Seed on the side of the Calcasieu Marine Bank building. If you didn’t notice, you either don’t have a pulse or are blind and deaf, because you could not have helped hearing the angelic harmonies and earthy sounds that were luring out of the venue.
As we wandered into the courtyard, we saw twinkling lights overhead and heard the sounds of banjo and mandolin. (Music echoing off the sides of downtown buildings is one of the best sounds in the world.) We were intrigued. Where did they come from and why didn’t we know about them? The crowd seemed to know them. There were hundreds of people there and not just passers by. This was a fan base! We were intrigued and had to know more. So, we called them up and scheduled our usual band-lunch-interview at Luna Bar and Grill. The band creating the sounds is called Elms District, and you’d better catch them while they are still catch-able in Lake Charles. Ashley plays guitar and sings while Amy plays keyboards and, basically, anything else that makes noise.
Ashley Gatte arrives first and we have a second to sit and chat. Ashley is a laid-back 27-year-old brunette with a warm and relaxed smile. She has a background in marketing with an MBA from McNeese State University but is currently back in school studying Civil Engineering. (Umm..a seriously smart chick!) Shortly after that, her co-conspirator and best friend Amy Kerwin arrives. To counter Ashley’s calm nature, Amy is brimming with personality, wild blond hair, knee-high lace-up boots and black eyeliner. She is a 36-year-old mother of six (yes..we said 6) originally from the Ashville, NC area. Amy and Ashley are a definite contrast, but you can see their compatibility almost immediately as they fall right into finishing each other’s sentences and speaking excitedly about the other instead of themselves.
We started our conversation talking about where we’re all from, what we all like, and how the band started. Both Amy and Ashley met at the Dwelling Place Church, where they first discovered their compatibility for playing and writing music and the core of their support and strength in growing their fan base.
The conversation turns to bluegrass, of which there are strong hints of mandolin and banjo in Amy and Ashley’s music. When we told them about the upcoming Bluegrass Camp and Jam in Reeves, LA on November 9th, their faces lit up and they were totally down with that idea. But, more about that later.
While Elms District is grounded in their faith, they are not a praise band. On their debut album, Revival, they sing about love and friendship and faith. But, most of all, they are friends and it shows in their music. Sights and Sounds, the 4th track on the album is by far our favorite. Imagine the harmonies of the Dixie Chicks but with the indie marching/pulsing beats you might hear in Modest Mouse.
Amy’s vocals on Don’t Know Why start out with a very Loretta Lynn country twang. The banjo helps with the country vibe, but as the song progresses, it moves in and out of a melodic up-beat and turns into bumping harmonic bass lines that keep you toe-tapping.
On the track Journey On, Ashley takes the lead on vocals with a great throaty contrast to Amy’s soprano melodies. This song is a great ballad about inspiration, love and supporting friends. It paints the picture of a safe harbor at the end of a long journey.
We asked about their inspirations and they talked about bands like Judah and the Lion, Seattle-based Josh Garrels, and Matthew Mole. You can definitely hear elements of these acts in Elms District, but Amy and Ashely have created something that is unique to them and it is more than just one strong willed individual forcing their musical will on their partner (think: Hall & Oats). The sound is unique and is something that can only be achieved through the openness and support that comes from friendship and love.
On the Lake Charles growth front, Elms District is exited to be a part of the changes in Lake Charles. Amy explains that people miss art and authenticity and they see a revival (no pun intended) of people looking back to the traditions of the past and community. They can see how Lake Charles is going to see a lot of grow, and growth in family activity. Bands like Elms District are going to be important to the culture of Lake Charles so that we can grow future generations to love the arts and music in the area.
They say their biggest challenge is platform and venue. They take their faith seriously and find it difficult to find places to play that represent their values and create an environment where their fans from their church, who include young children who look up to them, can enjoy their music in a venue that promotes family values. We agree that it’s hard to find a venue that provides that in Lake Charles, so (hint, hint) that might be a good idea for a start-up.
Allen Singletary, a local realtor and developer, has been a huge supporter of Elms District. We spoke to him by phone while preparing this article and he believes that Lake Charles would be shocked by the turnout if they began to promote the type of entertainment that Elms District represents. He wants to promote things that will create a legacy for his grandchildren that are good and real. He first saw them at the Dwelling Place, but has long been friends with Amy’s family. After one great performance at church, he asked if Amy would be interested in recording.
After the album was completed, he brought a copy to Rick Richard, who runs Empire of the Seed and owns the Historic Calcasieu Marine Building downtown. Rick, being of like mind to Allen and wanting to promote the type of events that Elms District represents, immediately offered his courtyard during the Arts and Humanities Council’s Gallery Promenade. The rest is history…
We always like to ask musicians about their favorite places to shop and dine in Lake Charles. Ashley says she’s a fan of Miyako Japanese Grill and, for clothes locally, she like the Mimosa Boutique. Amy is big on vintage clothes shopping in Houston, but locally hit’s the Goodwill and Lebanese food at Cousins or Zeus Grill. Both are HUGE fans of Botsky’s Gourmet Hot Dogs…as are we!
Check out their website or facebook page for upcoming events and should go and purchase their album online and keep an eye on our site. We might be cooking something up with them in the next month, but you’ll only know if you keep reading. 🙂