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Michigan State University Student Radio

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“Just the Start” | Brother Elsey Concert Review + Interview

Gabby Nelson
Brother Elsey perform at El Club Detroit during their 2023 fall tour.

If you’ve ever attended a concert with a small audience, you know it can be awkward. Like the dance floor at a conservative wedding, everything is a bit too intimate and no one really knows what to do with themselves. 

That was not the case with Brother Elsey. Performing to a crowd of three dozen people on a Sunday night, Brother Elsey made small, humble El Club Detroit feel like a sold-out Ford Field. 

A rock, folk and country fusion band from Detroit, Brother Elsey is composed of three brothers — lead vocalist Brady, bass guitarist Beau and lead guitarist Jack Stablien — and honorary brother Dalton Thomas on drums. The indie rock band is up-and-coming in the Nashville music scene, having just signed with indie record label River House Artists. 

But the brothers had a humble start, playing small gigs in Detroit while they were in high school and recording their first EP, Matador, in the downtown Russell Industrial Center. Their down-to-earth energy is attracting a slowly but surely growing fan base. 

Before the music even started, the band’s chemistry with the crowd was palpable. Jack chatted with the crowd while setting up, talking about his amp board and letting people call dibs on the handwritten setlists. While Brady introduced the band members, he jokingly got mad when we cheered the loudest for drummer Dalton. One crowd member in particular regularly shouted, “Tell ‘em, Doc!,” which seemed like some sort of inside joke. The banter made the whole night feel intimate and memorable, like I was at an exclusive event.

Folk-rock band Brother Elsey perform in their hometown of Detroit at El Club on Sunday, Nov. 5. (Gabby Nelson)

Brother Elsey knows how to put on a show. And they do it a lot. This Detroit concert was their sixth night in a row performing — Chicago, Newport, Grand Rapids, Cleveland and Columbus came before. Where other bands would break down under the pressure of non-stop touring, this “road-warrior” mentality works in Brother Elsey’s favor. I think they’ve gained a decent number of fans by being consistent performers. My parents are two of these hitchhikers Brother Elsey picked up while touring. They decided to go hang around Grand Rapids one night and found themselves at an outdoor concert with Brother Elsey headlining, and they’ve been fans ever since. Another woman at the concert told me she first saw Brother Elsey at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 2018 and now consistently follows their music.

Yes, the band is charming and funny, but what about their music? Brother Elsey is sound-forward, having learned to respect music at a young age from their grandfather who was the lead singer in a band called Southern Exposure. Music runs in their blood, and they’ve spent the majority of their lives discovering and fine-tuning their sound. 

Brother Elsey rock El Club Detroit. (Gabby Nelson)

They are also a rare band that sounds better live than in-studio. That tight feeling you get in your chest from the pounding bass, the vibrations that linger after the lead guitar hits a hard chord — you can only feel that live. The rasp of Brady’s voice and the gritty depth of their vocals is distinct, something that doesn’t exactly translate when recorded. The snippets of sound that stick to my soul, though, are the vocal harmonies. Especially during “Passing Through” and “Matador,” there were moments when the instruments would fade away, and out of the silence, the brothers’ vocals would swell up like a wave, carrying yearning and emotion, then grow taunt and dissipate. I’m itching to hear those harmonies again, but the recordings just don’t do them justice.

The best song of the night was “Fast Train.” It was energetic, almost feral, as Brady yelled, “She’s running wild and I’ve got nowhere to go.” By the end of the song, Brady was screaming, Beau was hyping him up, Jack was shredding on the guitar and Dalton was hammering the drums. I definitely didn’t expect that level of intensity from a folk band, but I loved it — and the crowd did too. 

Looking back, the whole thing felt like a dream. Maybe it was the hard cider talking, but no way I saw a concert that good with an audience that small on a Sunday night in deserted Mexicantown, Detroit. Brother Elsey’s passion for musicianship on top of their love for performing created an atmosphere that was fun as hell. 

I left the concert with Brady’s last words to the crowd ringing in my head: “This is just the start, and you guys are a part of it.” 


Interview with Brady Stablein of Brother Elsey

Before the concert, I had the opportunity to speak with Brady Stablein, the vocals and guitar of Brother Elsey. We spoke about the concert, Brother Elsey’s new music and what the brothers’ lives look like off the stage. 

Gabby Nelson: This Sunday night you’ll be playing in Detroit. How does it feel to be back playing in your hometown?

Brady Stablein: It feels amazing. We grew up playing some shows at home, and it’s really cool to see how everything has progressed and how fans shifted from my friends and family to now, like people that have seen us in various different places that are now coming to see us. And like we don’t know them personally, but they know us just from my music. I think it’s really cool to see how the fan base has slowly grown. They sort of progressed to be like a proper sort of fan base. 

And playing at home is nice. I think, to be honest, it’s a little stressful to put on a show in your hometown for a lot of different reasons, but mostly wanting to sell a lot of tickets and getting people to show up for you. And then also the people that do come — friends and family — we kind of feel obligated to host them in some ways and entertain them in more ways than just music. But other than those things, I would say overall, we’re just excited to be home playing and excited to be where we feel comfortable. It’s going to be a really great time, really excited to play some new music for everybody.

Nelson: Do you have a favorite song to play live?

Brady: As of lately, I’m kind of partial to playing songs that no one knows. I’m excited about our new music. So we’ll go ahead and play these shows and we love playing the new songs and everyone’s like, “Yeah, really good songs, but we want to hear the ones that we can sing.” I love playing new songs, like “Boltcutter Eyes” is a newer song that we put together — it’s kind of like a more garage-style sound — and I like playing that. But from the songs that are out, “Passing Through” probably has the most sentimental value, and I think it really is a special moment to share with the people that come to see us play. Everyone is a part of that moment together, and it’s something really special. 

Nelson: Speaking of “Passing Through,” you produced that song with your new record label in Nashville. How was that production process different from producing on your own?

Brady: It’s been almost like a learning curve in a way. Our producer who we’re working with now, his name is Drew Long, produces in a much different way than we used to. Putting out music in high school and college, we had to scrounge up all the pennies that we could find to go to, like, the cheapest studio that we could find and work with a producer that’s doing good work but we’re nickel and diming everything. And it almost feels like we’re forced to rush through the process because we only had so much money to pay for so much time in the studio. 

But when we started working with Drew, it was very, like, no schedule. Like, we’re gonna work as long as we need with each other to get these songs done. So, we’re not paying for these hourly studio things; we’re working in his living room. That’s where most of our creative process can flourish. It’s the long hours that we’ve spent in his living room just tracking this weird stuff. We were getting into the nitty gritty of sounds. I think Drew is like a wizard, a really sound-forward, Zen producer. So we’re going to his house, and everything’s comfortable and just cozy. He’s like a therapist. We’ll just sit and talk for like two hours, talking about whatever. It’s almost like he’s trying to get us in a certain headspace before we get into a certain song. He wants to make sure that everyone is in the right headspace and that serves as a really amazing foundation for what we’ve created together so far. 

We’re just finishing up the record when we get home from tour in a couple weeks — it’ll be 13 songs hopefully. I’m just really excited to see how that different process, now that we have Drew as a producer, has cultivated a special piece of art that we can share with you guys. 

Nelson: I think with your new songs, you can definitely tell that there’s been a maturing of Brother Elsey’s sound. Is this where you think Brother Elsey is heading?

Brady: Honestly, I think we are the most proud of these songs that we’ve ever been of our music, ever. I think it just speaks to the process that we have had with Drew and had with each other making these songs. I think we found the right process that’s going to stick. I think the two songs that we just came out with, “Passing Through” and “Babylon,” are just the tip of the iceberg. That’s almost like a little teaser into the production style and all around vibe of what the record’s going to be. I think having found that with Drew, it’s definitely like we’re only going to dive deeper into that process and that sound — and really digging into it.  It’s definitely going to be part of our sound, I’m sure. 

Nelson: So with this fall tour, how are you guys feeling so far? How are energy levels? 

Brady: We’re on like day six of every day is Saturday; every night is Saturday night. So, you know, take that for what it is. If every night was Saturday, it’s fun, it’s amazing and then, sometimes, it’s a little exhausting. But I think, overall, being on tour is beautiful, and it’s also very hard. There’s a duality to the lifestyle. I mean we spent what feels like the entire summer and the entire fall in our 2008 Ford Econoline pulling a U-Haul trailer. It almost feels like we have been forced to make this our home for the time being, and we’re all married to each other now. We have a household together. It’s like a five-way marriage in a tiny home. It gets a little stressful but that’s one side of it. 

But the other side is also playing in front of people, playing in front of amazing crowds in amazing cities, playing in new places we’ve never played before. Like we played Seattle. We had never played there before; we had a headline there. We were saying maybe two people will show up, who knows what will happened. Then seven people show up. It was so crazy. In a place that we’ve never been, we’re just coming out of the woodworks. It’s a weird thing. That’s never happened to us. And so now, I think we’re taking risks out in the world in that way. 

Opening up for people like Allen Stone has really transformed our trajectory as a band. His fans have become our fans, and his fans are ravenous. They listened intently, and they’re kind and thoughtful. And we’re super, super lucky to have been brought into his world. And the same thing with the Wallflowers. We did some gigs with them at the beginning of this year. They’re cultivated such an amazing fan base that come and see them every single time they come out and play. And I think that’s what we’re trying to cultivate: people that show up time and time again because they believe in what we’re doing. And they understand it’s a communal experience. It’s not just about going to see the show. It’s not just about listening. It’s also about the experience, everything around the experience — how it feels, how it sounds, how it looks, the smell. It’s all that. It’s all part of the experience. We’re sort of really digging into the beauty of that. It has been really exciting, albeit a little exhausting. I think a week at home feels really nice right now, and then after that I’ll be itching to get back out, for sure. 

Nelson: Do you guys have a before and after show routine?

Brady: Yes. Before the show, like an hour before we play, we tried to make sure we have no distractions. We’re sort of getting zoned in with each other backstage, getting our vocals warmed up. We really want to get the harmonies going. So, we’re all from a choir background in high school, so residual knowledge of warmups that we did in high school. I think we just kind of rip off our choir director. They’re kind of burned in our brain because we did them for four years. So we just do that little choirboy warmup together, which is really hilarious. And then we also, probably 10 minutes before we go on stage, we’ll sing “Seven Bridges Road” by the Eagles. We saw their documentary on HBO and it starts off with that scene backstage — it’s like the most beautiful, amazing, luscious harmonies, you’ve heard just backstage at some show. And I think we were just like, “That sounds cool. Let’s try doing that.” And so we’ve been doing it for the last probably like four years before every show. We just start singing that, and then we’ll gather around and say a little prayer, make sure everything goes smooth and no one gets hurt. 

Yeah, we do the show and then after, we don’t really like to say good job to each other. We don’t like to talk about the set until maybe like an hour afterwards, like let it all sort of settle. Because emotions can get high, especially if we feel we haven’t done a good job or something went wrong during the show. Like right after the show is not the time to try to suss out what happened, what went wrong or whatever. It’s like giving ourselves like an hour to really cool off, and then we come back and revisit whatever went wrong and if we have to make some adjustments, then we will.  

Me and Jack, Beau and Dalton get off stage, if we need to pack some things up, we’ll do that. And then we go straight to the merch table right away. We want to make sure that if someone is wanting to talk to us, they’re not waiting too long. We talk to everyone, every single person that wants to talk to us — they don’t even have to buy a t-shirt or anything. That’s as much of a ritual as the warm-ups. We really want to make sure that the people that come and see us play, they understand that we’re not going to be hidden away. We want to make sure they can approach us, and we can be friends and that they feel as much a part of this family as we are. I mean we’ve met some really incredible people. It’s one of my favorite things about being on the road, just being able to meet as many people as possible and talk to them and hear their stories and hear how much our music has touched them. All these cliché things, but it really is a special thing. 

Nelson: Outside of the studio, outside of music, do you guys have any special activities you like to do together?

Brady: Yeah, I think right now, for fall season, we all are into fantasy football at the moment. So we love watching football together, just hanging out in that way. Sometimes golfing — we’ll go golf sometimes if we want to. I personally love to cook. I would say my second love, other than music, I love making food, so I’ll do that. Like, if I’m home, say last week we were home for like two days, I made two feasts Sunday and Monday night. Anyone that wants to come over and eat, like, the door’s open. You know, I made food for twenty people, so hopefully someone shows up to eat it. I just love the camaraderie about making a meal, hanging out and relaxing. Other than that, me and Beau, we go to the gym together a lot. We’re kind of big on True Fit Gym — that’s in Madison, in Nashville. I would consider that a hobby, I guess. Anything we like to do to make sure our mind’’s right. 

Nelson: You talked about some of the stuff you’re working on with your new label. Is there an upcoming album release you can allude to yet? 

Brady: I mean, we’re definitely sitting on 13+ songs. That will be our debut full-length record. We’re hoping for the spring, but you know the way of the world, music these days is a little bit shifty and volatile, so it depends on how the next couple singles do. If we get the streams and the numbers that we’re looking for, then we’ll release the record sooner. But if we need to release more singles before then, we’ll push the record back to late spring, early summer. So, it’s kind of a moving target at the moment, but those songs are there. There will be an album next year. It will be a full-on record, for sure. We’re really excited about it.

Nelson: I’m looking forward to it. Do you have any final comments before we wrap up the interview? 

Brady: I think the biggest thing for this last year, I think it’s been the best year for this band. And it almost feels like the first year. We’ve been doing this thing for what feels like a lifetime in a way because it really has been with me and my brothers. But it’s like we’re just starting now. It’s just the start. And everyone that comes to the shows and listens to the music, it’s just the start and they’re a part of it. I want everyone to feel like they’re in on something really special that’s just getting started. And we’re excited about it, excited about the record. And I just want people to come see us play. Come see us play and I think they’ll understand that we’ve got something special, something that we really want to share.

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About the Contributor
Gabby Nelson, Entertainment Editorial Assistant
Gabby (she/her/hers) is a senior studying journalism and the entertainment editorial assistant here at the Impact. Gabby enjoys reading, eating sushi and doing yoga. She loves jamming to E.L.O., Wallows, Pearl Jam, push baby and Stray Kids. You can reach her at [email protected].

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