Wichita Musician Maria Elena Changes Course With ‘Hollow Bones'
Singer-songwriter Maria Elena will be celebrating the release of her album, Hollow Bones, at Central Standard Brewing on Sunday, March 4. The album is the culmination of a long period of writing and revision but also speaks to the Wichita-based musician's strengths as a vocalist, scribe and bandleader. Her penchant for unexpected melodies and emotional turns give the album a unique voice that transcends genres.
Jedd Beaudoin: Tell me a little bit about how this material started coming together.
Maria Elena: The original intention was to create an album that was all about Kansas with Kansas themes. I changed that, and then it was all about birds from Kansas. I limited that to passerines — a kind of three-toed bird, some types of which are found in Kansas. I had been writing from that perspective with all of these bird names and bird themes. I realized — in trying to write in this traditional Kansas style that I was really digging listening to, as well as the people that I was really digging playing with who also wrote in that style — that I was really writing songs that sounded like I was covering them instead of songs that sounded like me. So, I scrapped most of them and brought in a whole bunch of stuff over the course of a couple of years that I had written that wasn't intended for this album, but that was a little more natural and a little more honest. I ended up keeping only two or three tunes from the original set.
I mean this as a compliment: This record reminds me very much of a ‘90s album in terms of the length and the emotional intensity. Was that the kind of stuff you were influenced by? That era of music?
Absolutely. Probably more than any other. I grew up in the ‘90s so, for me, the Pixies are god. Every band that I've been in that has not sounded like that ... there's been something in the back of my mind that just wishes that I was in a ‘90s just barely post-grunge band. But I'm not! That's fine. But, yeah, always, and hugely, influenced by that stuff.
Who are some of the players that you joined up with on this record?
Jason Teubner plays a lot of lead guitar, Kendall Wohaska plays lead guitar, they trade off back and forth. Brody Wellman did all the bass, except for on the tune "Blue," which was Mark Foley. He killed it on that song. He sounds beautiful. Scott Taylor did the drums on this and they're outstanding. Billy Cook did some slide, some steel. Joey Henry and Lalanea Chastain did vocals. Kendall also played mandolin and banjo on different tunes. A pretty good group of folks.
Yeah. And, interestingly, there's a heavy jazz tilt to that group of people.
There is. Scott, I know, would prefer to improvise wherever he could — really played with only space. He did a great job. Kendall was the same. He improvises like nobody else around here. He kills it, but he also has a huge love for, and connection with, country music, and so he was able to bring that to the table really easily. Jason always bends a little more toward jazz but is still a rock guitar player. The jazz influence is pretty heavy, I think. Not in the writing, but in the perspective of the players on it.
I think that's why, when we finally did this version of the album, we scrapped a whole bunch of other stuff. It fleshed out so easily and so well and so quickly because these guys were ready to go. They weren't concerned so much about every little take. They were just ready to lay it down and be done with it. It was a relief as far as just getting it out there and not worrying so much about the end result because I had guys whose priority is the making of the thing.
You mentioned Scott's drumming. I'm always struck by drummers who can play with sensitivity to vocals. It's not just a rhythmic element, but there's a melodic dimension there.
He's very attentive, very intuitive. He is very open to criticism, and those are really amazing qualities for any musician to have. Particularly someone who's on drums because drums can so easily take over and manipulate the song into something other than what it's supposed to be. He was really attentive to listening to what the song meant and playing the song the way it went. He was really open to having me direct him. If he was playing too much here or not loud enough here or if I only wanted toms here, he never said, "No." He always said, "OK," and did it and did way better than whatever I heard in my head. He did a great job.
Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin.
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