One of the upsides to attending an art college as a dedicated artist is being surrounded by other talented individuals who are willing to indulge in creative projects. It’s a great place to build working relationships, and sometimes those relations grow into solid professional structures. As Savanna Dickhut and Julian Daniell of Elk Walking share before their performance at the SubT Lounge, it was a chance meeting during college that pushed the two songwriters to pursue a career in Chicago’s music scene.
Dickhut and Daniell met during a class while attending Columbia College Chicago. They were both intrigued by songwriting and decided to start a folk duo. They recorded their first EP The Road Ahead in 2016, a record built on vocals, rhythm guitar and storytelling. It’s well-done for two young college students, but the evident talent and chemistry between the two pushed Dickhut to want more.
“I wiped [Julian] into shape when we first started,” laughs Dickhut. “We weren’t friends before we started, but I saw so much potential in him and so much potential in us together I was like, ‘Let’s do this. Let’s get in the studio.’ I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, but I knew we needed good professional recordings, and I knew we needed to get a band together to play shows.”
From there, the duo added drummer Tyler Ommen, guitarist Jeff Sullivan and bassist David Thrift, creating the 5-piece rock band that would later grace stages across Chicago performing highlights from their debut album Between Us. The full-length record, which was released in August 2017, explores the ins and outs of relationships, both romantic and not.
“All the songs kind of go together and a lot of them are about a relationship between two people, two entities, two friends, two lovers,” says Dickhut. “I was the one who put them in this specific order and I actually wrote a whole backstory about everything, which was kind of for myself to kind of make sense [and] connect the songs. I think it tells a story if you want it too. On the other hand, it could totally be ten random songs.”
Ommen nods in agreement. “The whole album as one cohesive piece is really fun,” says Ommen. “I like telling everyone the grand story throughout the songs cause it feels like each song is very different and has its own character or color that contributes to the whole thing.”
As the bandmates search for ways to describe their latest album, there’s one word that seems to repeatedly come up: Colorful. Even before the album is played, a consumer is immediately overtaken by the album’s unique artwork. The cover, created by Mairead Zigulich, is an abstract image that looks like two faces looking at each other, a representation of the album’s name and theme. The two singles from the album “Drift On” and “Out of My Mind” have similar style cover art pieces, both abstract and rich in color.
The vibrancy is not only in the album’s artwork, but in the tracks, too. It’s an accurate term as each song is filled with different combinations of instruments. Some tunes, such as “Bourbon Ocean” and “Aphrodite” feature a prominent organ, while songs like “Everyone’s Gonna Make It” builds textures through the saxophone and trumpet. It’s the complexity of this particular single that has made it a personal favorite among the band.
“[Everyone’s Gonna Make It] is a good song,” says Thrift. “I should preface that by saying, I did not record on the album with them. I’m complimenting the song from the outside. It’s definitely the song that elicits the most response out of me when I’m listening to it. I feel like it’s very much something a lot of people can identify with.”
The piece runs nearly six minutes and has a way of encompassing everything the band is in one song. It’s cool and laidback with punches of aggressive instrumentations and rhythms as well as thoughtful songwriting and vocal delivery.
“It’s not a live song, it’s a studio song,” says Daniell. “I think that we tried to play that song live a bunch of times and once we got to the studio we were like, ‘This is what this song should have been.’ I think it’s a lot different from all the other songs on the album. It’s got more going on and I think it’s way more produced than anything else on the record.”
With their first full-length LP under wraps, the band is taking time to play shows around the city as well as plan for future endeavors. While no new releases or tours have been set yet, the band expresses that they are looking to pursue such projects, but they’re still learning who they are as a band.
“I think the longer you’re in a band, the longer you work with people, the better you get at figuring things out,” says Dickhut. “We’re such a new band [and] we’re learning from our mistakes and our experiences. We’ve grown so much from [our first] EP to this album and I’m excited to see where we’re going to be at with this next album or this next single or whatever else happens. I don’t have any regrets.”
Elk Walking’s next show will be on Wednesday, November 15 at Schubas. The night will also include a performance by The Lighthouse and the Whaler.
Photo Credit: Mckenzie Hanson