The Reluctant Writer: Something Else to do When I Should Be Writing

December 11, 2009

Grey Egg, Hunter Gatherer, Christopher Walken and SNL

Filed under: Grey Egg,Hunter Gatherer,SNL,writing — cynthiaboiter @ 13:00
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I was just writing yesterday about Columbia’s hidden arts treasures, and here I am again, writing about another group of amazing local artists that many people in town may not have heard of.

Would it be bad to say that I’m glad?  It’s not that I don’t want everyone in town, hell – go for the world — everyone in the world, to know about the band Grey Egg.  It’s just that I realize that the more people who know about them, the more people are going to crowd the already crowded venues when they play their rare gigs, and the harder it will be to get to the bar, much less find a place to sit my weary old butt down.  Eventually, word will get out.  And by out, I mean out of Dodge, out-of-town, out of the South, and before we know what happened, Grey Egg will be crawling up on the stage at the NBC studios in NYC, with Liz warbling her little heart out and waving goodbye to the television audience when SNL signs off — I’m hoping Christopher Walken is the host that night.  I can see him up there, hands clasped before his chest, acting all Walkeny and thanking Grey Egg for being the musical guest on the show.  Seth Myers will have had to absolutely force Sarah and Steve out there and Liz will be standing in the back looking at her feet as the camera pans to her, little wisps of hair sticking out of her braids.   Chris will have missed them by now and shoved Jason Sudeikis aside to reach them and bring John and Amy and Liz up in front of the crowd of comics and writers.  He’ll likely try to ruffle Liz’s hair or something, which is going to really piss her off, and she’ll show him the back of her hand, sure as the world.  Though for the most part a peaceable man, Chris don’t take shit off no little white girl but the cameras are rolling and the last thing he wants to do is disappoint Lorne.  So he just stares off into the audience and pretends that Liz and everyone else in the band is dead. By now though, the applause is getting good to Liz, and she and Amy start doing that little dance they usually do in the bathroom just before the show and Chris just can’t ignore it anymore, so next thing you know, Christopher Walken goes all Deer Hunter Nick on her ass.  It ain’t pretty. Plus South Carolina gets in the news for something stupid again.  So it’s probably in everybody’s best interest for none of you reading this to come out and see Grey Egg perform at 11 pm on Friday night at the Hunter Gatherer on Main Street.  Really, just stay home.


Here’s the piece on Grey Egg that I wrote for Stir earlier this year.  It never got published in hard copy, so you might have missed it.  Take a look if you did.

Grey Egg

If you get the feeling, when listening to local Columbia alt band Grey Egg, that you might not be in Kansas anymore, it’s okay.  That was the plan.  For starters, chances are pretty good that the lyrics you’re hearing aren’t being sung in English.  Chances are even greater that you aren’t going to be able to translate those lyrics either – not unless you can get inside the head of band leaders Steve Dennis and Julia Elliott.  And I’m not sure you want to do that.

Listening to Grey Egg perform is reminiscent of traveling abroad or watching the recording of a foreign film, but doing so in the comfort of your own culture.  But rather than hearing French or Farsi or Portuguese, what you hear is a fake language constructed in its entirety by Dennis and Elliott.   Not all of the lyrics are created in the heads of the couple, who literally are a couple having been married, “forever, and ever, and ever,” as Elliot says.  The English language does occasionally crop up in the vocals, sometimes jarring the listener out of that meditative place where ones head seems to hang while listening to Grey Egg’s music and forcing her or him to actually hear the familiar English words.  Luckily, the drug kicks back in pretty quickly though and you soon feel like you’re in some smoky eastern European coffee house, or huddling around the samovar in a Turkish hammam.

The band members themselves are almost as eclectic as their music.  Co-founded in the late nineties by Elliott and Dennis, who began playing as a duo back when the two were small town South Carolina teenagers, the sounds of the band may not reflect the members’ upbringings, but seem oddly at home with the lives the musicians now lead.  And odd ain’t bad.

For day jobs, composer and multi-instrumentalist Dennis, who is also a permaculturalist, works with bass player John Hammond as an heirloom grain processor.  Drummer David Kelly, originally from Rock Hill, works as an historic preservationist when he is not driving the group’s experimental inclinations toward both progressive and psychedelic music a la` late sixties and early seventies.  Both Elliott, who once went by the name Liz, and violinist Sarah Quick, are part-time college professors and when Quick isn’t studying anthropology and ethnomusicology, (she is an expert on the Métis of Canada), she can sometimes be found performing with the South Carolina Philharmonic Orchestra.  Then there is saxophonist Amy Overbaugh who hails from Charleston and, rumor has it, sports a dandy dead toe she only shows to band-mates and friends.

But much of the attention in a Grey Egg concert rests on keyboardist and vocalist Julia Liz Elliott.  She doesn’t just play the keyboards; she plays her voice as well.

“I do use my voice like an instrument, and for some reason have always approached singing this way without really thinking about it.  Recent influences have helped me conceptualize this process more clearly – Magma, Catherine Ribeiro, Yma Sumac,” she explains.  “Steve (Dennis) also does this quite naturally.  I think that’s partially how we drifted into the fake language thing because it is much easier to compose vocals, in terms of sounds and syllables, this way – and then these sounds inevitably evoke specific language groups.”

According to local music aficionado and WUSC Music Director, Kyle Petersen, “Grey Egg is one of those bands that exists outside the normal margins of rock and roll.  Most bands incorporate Eastern elements and dense instrumental passages as diversions from the actual song,” he explains.  “But for Grey Egg, these elements and passages are the primary focus.  It is hard to argue that there is any other band like them on the local scene – they are like nothing else you will experience in Columbia.”

The past few years have revealed some surprising new directions for Grey Egg, a name chosen for the band because it “somehow captures the notion of a green world in decline,” Elliott glibly shares.  Kelly and Hammond didn’t actually join the group until 2006, and the quartet recorded their more electric CD titled Indoor Ski together in 2007.  Violinist Quick and saxophonist Overbaugh came on board a year or so later, and all six musicians will be featured on their new CD, entitled Albumen, which will be out this summer.

“We’re also starting to be more bilingual,” Elliott says.  “For us, this is a process that usually involves composing the vocals the old way via sounds, but then translating as much of that as possible into English.  More than half of the vocals in the upcoming CD Albumen are in English.”

Rare bird that the band is, it’s not easy to catch it about town.  You’ll most often find the group performing at Hunter Gatherer, or sometimes at the Art Bar or the Whig.  According to Elliott they only make forays out-of-town to Asheville, Athens or Charleston on occasion.  But the sure sighted will be able to spot them this summer when they settle in for a performance at the Art Bar on June 27th.  Until then, check Grey Egg out online at or

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