Elusive Groove: Established, prepared, and pushing
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“This is an interview for Hopfest, man,” says Brett Bolejack, bassist for Elusive Groove. “We’re drinking IPAs.”
Bolejack cracks the cap off a Foothills Brewing Hoppyum IPA with a lighter, slides it across the table to E-Groove vocalist and lead guitarist Samuel Hearn, and proceeds to do the same to another beer. Multiinstrumentalist Rene Roman reaches for one of the beers, as does drummer Jordan Nelson.
I’m sitting on top of the Nissen building with Elusive Groove, one of Winston- Salem’s premier reggae acts that has managed to carve out a steady following locally, as well as regionally, simply by working their respective networks of friends and bands.
It’s also been one year to the day since my first story was published on the same band in Relish Newspaper, the Winston- Salem Journal’s hyper-local alt-weekly. I’m aware of this going into it for reference purposes, but it doesn’t come up in conversation. At the time of that interview, Elusive Groove oozed musical immaturity, but has since grown comfortably to accept that they are on pace to achieve what they set out to do, which is just keep playing live music together on bigger stages.
Nelson says, “I read somewhere, maybe in Rolling Stone, that it takes on average 10 years to ‘make it’ as a band.” He laughs at the potential lack of credibility for Rolling Stone, but also ponders on the validity of what he read. “If you look at us, we are a strong two years right now. We are just finding our sound.”
We rehash the beginnings of the band with Nelson talking about his relocation back from Asheville, playing in the first iteration of Elusive Groove alongside Hearn and former member Ben Sebastian.
It was around that time, or shortly thereafter, that Elusive Groove was running a residency of sorts at Ziggy’s, but that has since dissolved and the band has moved onto bigger shows drawing more of an audience.
“We have to rely not only on our local venues and people supporting us here, but we also have to rely on our fellow east coast bands,” Hearn says. He then lists off a handful of acts – Signal Fire, The Reef, Treehouse, Sundried Vibes – and sings praises for what opportunities working with these acts has afforded them throughout North Carolina and the surrounding region.
You see, Elusive Groove is not following the path of most acts today attempting to climb the ranks of Internet-musical-stardom through likes, or constant bombarding of spam emails and social media posts.
Instead, the four-piece reggae ensemble operates on a level that is comfortable for them, which for the most part includes building a grassroots following through live shows and making friends within the community of musicians that support each other.
In the short span that the act has felt truly formed and comfortable, a lot has happened by way of the music. Nelson admits that he’s not the cleanest drummer (“not sloppy, though, just my style”), but that worked well with Hearn early on.
Adding Roman to the mix proved to be wise, as was bringing Bolejack in on the bass. Since the solidified group formed, there has been much learning between the friends as to how to communicate on stage without speaking – reading each other’s musical language and adjusting to make the songs cohesive and unique to the band. And while you’ll hear a handful of covers, mostly popular hits glorifying the legalization of cannabis, or Sublime cuts, there are also original songs laced in the sets to help set Elusive Groove apart from a typical cover band. In trying to find your own voice, it’s easy to rest on the laurels of someone else’s work, but Elusive Groove doesn’t need to do that anymore. There is a restless enthusiasm on stage when watching the act; Bolejack occasionally moves to the front, reading the crowd’s vibes and playing to the fervent audience; Nelson takes the reigns when the timing is appropriate and delivers a steady barrage of snare and kick; Roman will send a flurry of fingers across the ivories; and Hearn adjusts his pitch just so slightly that each note is aggressively reached and delivered.
“I find it fascinating that we have pushed this far with what we have,” Nelson says. “I’m not trying to sell us short because we have something really going here, but I think that word of mouth”¦ it’s easy to underestimate.”
Elusive Groove doesn’t sell hardcopy albums at its shows. If you were to actually come across a compact disc containing their music, there’s a good chance it’s a bootleg recording from a festival or other regional venue.
It’s the word of mouth, though, that has helped them land spots at events like Irie Vibes Music Festival, which just happened this past weekend.
It also helps that Bolejack, who aside from packing up and hitting the road for shows when duty calls, also moonlights at Bull’s Tavern and hosts a weekly reggaethemed night called Good Vibe Thursdays at the bar on Fourth Street.
“Meeting these bands from the east coast, making friends”¦ it’s all about showing good vibes to other bands and your fans,” Bolejack says. Through booking acts at Bull’s he’s been able to cross-pollinate in markets.
But it’s at this point during the interview, unfortunately, that we are interrupted by our host at the Nissen Building, the man who let us up to the rooftop for the interview and photo shoot, and the man who is also just a casual friend of Bolejack’s. Apparently we can’t stay up there without someone who actually lives in the building because the security guard takes his job a bit too seriously.
Nevermind that, though. Roman leans in to try and get the last word before we have to shut it down.
“We are just getting started,” he says.
“We are just getting a good rhythm and right now we are ready to do it. We have a lot of ideas and a lot of songs, it’s just taking that next step.”
That next step is landing more festival spots, which is one of the best ways local acts can rise above the regular gig-circuit and be catapulted into a mainstream light. It helps that each member, although closely tied within the context of the band, has respective circles of friends to help expand the fan base to other markets.
For instance, Bolejack’s ties have helped them land a headlining spot at Hopfest 2015, Greensboro’s craft beer festival occurring this weekend in the downtown area.
“We set out to have a very diverse lineup of bands,” Ryan Saunders tells me over the phone. “I don’t mean that like wanting to appeal to everyone, but in the realm of bands that create diversity so that your event doesn’t have a flat-line the whole time.”
With Elusive Groove sitting in the headline spot, and following an impressive line-up of local and regional acts, you definitely won’t need a defibrillator to keep you partying all night. !
Elusive Groove headlines Hopfest on Saturday, August 22. Tickets to the event range from $5-$45 depending on general admission and VIP. Other acts performing on the bill include Snake Blankets and Darklove, Grand Ole Uproar, Josh King, The Ends, Empire Strikes Brass and Gamer Gad. !