New Ellum might be the latest Americana act to come out of Dallas, but the band’s singer Jason Michael is no stranger to the music game.
"I've been around Dallas as an acoustic singer," Michael says. "I also had a blue-eyed soul project in Los Angeles and here in Dallas for a while called Jones, which was a little funky.”
Michael also had a touring band for three years called Ice Cold July, which toured in the early '90s. Through the decades, he’s come to find his own sound.
“I ended up moving into more of a blues sound over the past 10 years as I've been writing songs that fit this genre more,” he says.
New Ellum began as a small project in 2019, when Michael met up with producer and guitar player John Mesh.
"We both started kind of playing in the early ‘90s in the Deep Ellum scene," Michael says, "and then we migrated out to Los Angeles where we played in two different music scenes and came back here around the same time."
Michael and Mesh had been wanting to do a record together for over a decade, but when Michael finally had some songs to record, Mesh knew this project could be bigger than a simple solo act.
Sabrina Taylor-Mesh was shortly added to the band, followed soon after by bass player Randy Morris.
"We just became a project over recording over 2019," Michael says. "I was like, 'This ... feels more like it's becoming a project in the band than it is just me doing a solo record,' but you know, it takes on a life of its own."
Since January, New Ellum has been slowly releasing singles and videos ahead of an album to be released at a later date.
The band's newest single, "Wedding Ring," is a slow and easy track made for a nice day on the patio, and the band's two previous singles already have videos to go along with them.
The blues-rock track "Devil's Bail" has a Lego video that rivals The White Stripes' "Fell in Love with a Girl" video, and the video for the heartfelt memorial to Michael's father "Millecoquin River" captures the sadness of the loss and the natural beauty in the memories the two created together.
"My father passed away a couple of years ago," Michael says. "I remember being really young, and me and him and one of my brothers would go fishing or go on little trips. We went to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the middle of nowhere, and I remember pulling up to this stream called the Millequin [sic] River."
Michael may not have remembered the exact name of the spot when he penned the song, but in a song about an idyllic childhood memory, what does accurate geography really matter? The correct pronunciation of Mille-co-quin River would not have fit as easily in the lyrical structure anyway.
"It was just an amazing day," Michael says. "My dad said that he had never been to any other river or stream in all of Michigan or Wisconsin that held all these different kinds of fish. That always stuck with me in my memory.
"I was doing some research, and I started Googling that memory. It's the only spot in Michigan and Wisconsin that holds all five species of fish. [My friend] said, 'You pronounced it wrong, but nobody really gives a damn.'"
New Ellum's steady release of new songs and videos is also a way for them to build a fan base. As a new band, they had been relying on the opportunity to play live shows, but with the pandemic stripping them of this opportunity, they are exploring different ways to engage people's interest.
"[The pandemic] has affected us just because at the end of the day, we all look at ourselves as a live project," Michael says. "I mean, that's where we all kind of come from, so we were all really excited the night before the pandemic. We had our first chances to start playing with each other and practicing and then that all just came to a stop."
In spite of all the shutdowns, Michael remains positive about the band's future, citing the many bands he grew up listening to.
"Most of the bands I grew up listening to, I never saw them live, I just got to listen to them on albums and dream that one day they would come to town," he says. "I would just get to see them once every five years. It was about releasing music that people could really listen to and be like, 'Hey, one day, these guys are gonna play somewhere!'"
In a time of so much uncertainty, the one thing that Michael can be certain of is music's ability to transcend time and weather any crisis.
"It'll get figured out somehow, and we'll get back to it," Michael says. "You really can't stop the music, you know?"
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