Los Elk has come a long way since their days practicing in the unkempt trailer at Skidmore College. For one thing, the band no longer practices on a floor littered with the wood chips of broken drumsticks and forgotten trash.
“We used to put our drums and amps on skateboards and longboards and wheel them from our dorms all the way to the edge of the woods, where the trailer was,” lead vocalist Amir Rivera-Lieberman tells me. (The university had found the trailer, parked it, and left it for students to use as a place to practice music without disrupting others.)
It’s difficult to pinpoint a specific date the band formed, because some of the bandmates have known each other for years, and the band lineup has changed. If we trace the local funk-rock band’s story back, we might find ourselves in the halls of Cambridge High School, where bassist Gabe Follettie and Rivera-Lieberman met. Or, it could be the day at Skidmore, when drummer Ryan Bondell decided to wear a Kasabian shirt, sparking a friendship with Rivera-Lieberman.
Or it could also be Follettie’s first day, when he came to jam with Los Elk in the trailer by the woods, and the music meshed so well that no one said a word during the entire two-hour session. Or, perhaps it was Bondell’s persistence and efforts in finding a new guitarist, and the day he came across Leticia Filizzola’s work online.
Though the lineup has changed over the years, it’s clear the band has always worked to improve their sound. Their way of knowing when a song is ready? “We look at the crowd and how they’re feeling; how much movement is out there? That’s how we know whether we need to tweak a song,” Rivera-Lieberman explains.
But it’s not just the audience’s dancing that matters. “We’ve really built up a core fan base. Some of our Boston fans will drive up to New York just to see us play the Mercury Lounge,” says Rivera-Lieberman. At their performances, it’s important to Los Elk that their audience is always entertained. “We don’t want to bore them with the same thing over and over.”
While growing up in Boston has helped the band build their fan base, it also has influenced their songwriting. Slumped on the couch with a bottle of Fat Tire in hand, Rivera-Lieberman tells me about growing up in the Cambridge writing community: “My mother was a writer. She would have readings in these really cool cafes, book stores, and clubs. As a kid I got to hear amazing writers pour their hearts out in these quiet rooms,” Rivera-Lieberman says. “As I got older, I became more and more aware of the power of word play. Witnessing it from an early age definitely matured me as a writer.”
Later, as we discuss how the band would describe their sound without using genre names, the guys clearly have, er, dancing on the mind: “Intergalactic love sauce.” “Bite your lip and swing your hips!” “Sex practice.”
But Filizzola, the latest addition to the band, a Brazilian guitarist who is currently studying at Berklee, chimes in with a new flavor: “Rice, beans, and bananas.”
In a way, this seems most accurate.
Los Elk’s brand of soul-rock takes the essentials, the rice and beans, of rock—the classic quartet instrumentation and their dance-inducing velocity—and garnishes it with a sweet, funky spin.
It’s Filizzola’s expertise in guitar that has helped push the group’s recent growth. When their last guitarist, Dan, announced he was leaving for LA, the band knew they had to find a replacement. “I wanted to get a head start on the process, in an attempt to minimize any damage done by layover time between players,” Bondell explained. “Stagnation equals death for a band. When Cheese [Filizzola] joined, it really changed the game. We knew we had our permanent guitarist.”
That’s also not to say she’s the pivotal player; Los Elk has made it clear that all the band members bring something to the table. Apart from the fact that the band shares songwriting responsibilities—writing is split almost evenly amongst them—each member brings their own essential flourish. Bondell, ever-smiling behind the kit at a live performance, seems to play a managerial role. Follettie’s spread-eagle bass stance brings added liveliness at their shows, while Filizzola’s social media prowess has launched Los Elk’s online presence. Even Rivera-Lieberman, makes an active effort to step away from the spotlight; as I lobbed questions at the band, he helped encourage the others to answer for themselves.
So, what’s next for Los Elk? A tour of Brazil, one day. For the meantime, Los Elk is performing live at our sold-out Listen Local show at Brighton Music Hall on Friday, March 31st.