Interview: Minneapolis Folk Trio Good Morning Bedlam Discuss Mixing Tradition With Innovation On Vibrant New Album ‘Lulu,’

Hailing from the Twin Cities, innovative folk trio Good Morning Bedlam is mere days away from releasing their awaited third album, Lulu.

The Minneapolis band consists of Isaak Elker (guitar/vocals), Victoria Elker (upright bass, vocals), and Isaak’s childhood friend, Sophie Mae (violin/vocals). During the summer of 2016, the group hunkered down to release their first album, Prodigal.

After rave reviews and an emergence onto the local and regional scene, a few summers later in 2018, the group released their sophomore follow up, Like Kings. This album would garner even more acclaim and momentum in the folk and roots world not only in their scene, but across the country.

Naturally, Covid threw a monkey wrench into their plans and pursuits as it did most, but that didn’t stop them from exploring the depths of their creativity and working towards the future. With ‘Lulu’ – which is set to release on Friday February 4th – we see the band make notable sonic strides in their songwriting and performance ability, and further cement their status as one of the most enticing folk and roots bands.

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We had the opportunity to ask the group about their origins, the new album, and much more.

So I was hoping you could tell us about the inception of Good Morning Bedlam and how the band formed.

Sophia and I (Isaak) grew up together. In middle school we were in a theater conservatory program where we would compose and perform music for plays. This led to us jamming and writing together. We started Good Morning Bedlam after I came home from my first year of college. Tori and I were dating at the time, so even though she was not in the initial lineup, she has been around since the beginning! She learned the bass to be in the band about a year and a half into us playing. 

When I listen to your music, I hear a variety of influences ranging from bluegrass to folk to classic 60s acoustic pop. Do you strive to achieve a certain sound, or do the songs you write just flow out naturally?

For us, art is an outpouring of what we are feeling. We listen to a lot of different types of music. So we would definitely say they flow out naturally. We don’t worry much about trying to stick to one sound, because even if we have songs that bend different genres, we still feel like there is a sound that comes through that people recognize as inherently, “Good Morning Bedlam.”

Speaking of: what does the songwriting process for the band typically look like?

I tend to do the majority of the songwriting. I will bring in the basic ideas, but when we all get in the room together it is incredibly collaborative. We all work together to take the initial song idea and keep adding, or twisting, or trying new things until we feel like the song ends up where it needs to be. Arranging all together is a very intimate process. We have built a lot of trust with each other over the last few years. 

Minneapolis has a wealth of incredible artists these days it seems. How does the city influence your sound, creative process, and lifestyle as musicians?

There does seem to be so much phenomenal music coming out of Minneapolis these days! We think it has something to do with the cold. I guess when it’s cold for so many months you are kind of forced inside. I think it gives a lot of time for reflection, which is usually where great art comes from. The musical community is also very tight up here. It’s big enough that there is enough work for all of us, but small enough that we all know one another, so there is a real sense of community in the scene. 

I absolutely loved the music video for the album title track “Lulu.” I was wondering what the primary inspiration was and the creative vision behind it? 

We really wanted to create an image where there was a feeling of things being out of place. This is where the idea of ballroom dancing in a bar came from. It’s a song about dreams and reality, so we wanted to have fantastical elements, and washed out realistic moments. We wanted to have moments of intense longing and loss, and also moments of triumph and victory. Musically this song spans a range of sounds and emotions, and we really wanted the video to reflect that! We had to cycle through a lot of ideas to end up where we did, but we are really proud of how it turned out. 

Are there any overarching themes or motifs behind the new album?

I think this record is about learning to let life in, even when it is painful. Growth is not static, and it’s also not linear. We think that’s reflected in the themes of this record. I think one thing that crops up in almost every song is the idea of admitting feelings of loss, finding hope in the vulnerability of that acceptance, and ultimately finding beauty in our own inadequacies. 

Who helped produce and engineer the album?

Zach Zurn of Carpet Booth Studios in Rochester, MN, produced this record. Rochester is mine and Sophia’s hometown, and we really wanted to return to our roots to make this album. We truly believe that Zach Zurn was instrumental in bringing our vision to life. We have never worked with anyone that has given our music so much care. He took the time to understand what we were trying to achieve, and really believed in the vision of what we were trying to make. Not only does he have a truly incredible understanding of music, but he has a stunning ability to be generous in his listening. He can pinpoint not only what a song needs, but also what an artist needs during the process, which is what makes him such a brilliant producer. 

What were some of your musical goals on this album?

One of the conversations that we had at least once an hour in the studio was the idea of “progression” vs. “deviation.” We knew that it was time for Good Morning Bedlam to grow sonically and take bigger risks, so we wanted to find authentic ways to do that. We wanted to expand while staying true to our own artistic integrity. I think one of our musical goals was to simplify ideas. We tend to have no shortage of ideas when writing, but we wanted to make sure that those ideas had time to breathe in each song. We think that comes from learning to trust the listener. Musically we really wanted to put more pop elements into our music. Sometimes that is achieved on this record in the production choices, and sometimes in the instrumentation. We love the idea of mixing new and old, with mixing tradition and innovation. That’s what we were going for on this record. 

Did you find determining the order of songs on this album to be difficult? Why or why not?

Yes! It was incredibly difficult! We love the narrative arcs that albums have, however we also felt like each song could stand on its own. We don’t feel like there are any fluff pieces on this record. This is one of the reasons we released all of the songs as singles. We wanted each song to get it’s own moment. However, because each song felt like it could be a single, it was hard to find the right flow for the record both musically and thematically. We tried so many different combinations. We think that the order we decided on really paints the themes of “Lulu” in a way that brings the listeners to triumphant highs and heart wrenching lows just like any good story does. At least we hope it does!

Are the wheels in motion for post-album release plans, or given the state of things, might you be taking it one objective at a time?

Wheels have been in motion! Because of the possibility of things shutting down, we are not doing any big tours immediately following the release, but we will be touring the record extensively in the spring and summer! It seems like our listeners are very excited about the record, and we cannot wait to take it on the road and share the songs live with the incredible fans that helped us make it a reality.

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