Bonnie Paine and Daniel Rodriguez Share the Elephant Revival
Bonnie, what inspired or lead you to play the washboard, and the saw?
My dad had the idea for me to play the washboard. I played percussion since I was six, with my sisters. They played the drum sets, and I was the youngest so I got to play them when they weren’t in use. My dad noticed that I always tapped my heart when I danced. We were at Winfield Bluegrass Field and he said, “Why don’t we go down and get you some banjo picks and put them on your fingers. Steve Fields said you could borrow his washboard tonight if you wanna walk around the camps.” Winfield has all these spontaneous jams all over, there’s hundreds of groups of music you can step in and out of. It’s a great place to learn a new instrument. So, that’s how the washboard came about. I played in band with my sisters called Mighty Kind, and there was a guy named James Townsend who played guitar and musical saw in that and he let me play his saw one night and he gave it to me for my birthday a week later because we sat down and had so much fun with it. He had a twin saw that went with it so we can play them together.
Do you make your own washboard gloves?
When my grandma died I inherited a hat box full of antique driving gloves that I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with. So, now they’re my washboard gloves, but I’ve worn through almost all of them. I sew banjo picks onto them with dental floss.
Dan, you play both the banjo and the guitar on stage, are you more creatively drawn to one over the other?
I am more creatively drawn to the banjo. I wouldn’t say I’m very good at it so I’m always watching other banjo players and their technique, so I would say creatively as far as problem-solving goes, I think about the banjo in those terms, but I definitely explore on the guitar a lot more because that’s my first instrument. I’m not as good on the banjo because I play guitar all the time.
Do you feel that Elephant Revival has evolved into something unanticipated, or different from when you started out?
Bonnie: For me, originally I started to play music with Dan. I wasn’t aware that everyone was going to be songwriters, but I’m glad that they are. We never had a specific, confined vision. We try to keep it open so it can grow in bigger ways than our expectations would force them into. It started playing songs with Dan, and it was a nice surprise to find out that other people are also writing songs, and let it grow in that way also.
Dan: I think it all started because none of us had expectations, but I would say expectations have grown around it just like anything in life, but I think the solid thing about it is that all of us are trying to break those expectations down and arrive at a pure collaboration.
Do you have any visions of yourselves later as musicians, or things you would like to do?
Dan: I’d like to have a studio one day, maybe get a barn, and build it out and bring in bands that I really love who could maybe use the recording the experience. I would love to nourish that, and other bands…to become more of a producer I guess.
Bonnie: I’d love to work with a choir, and a choir that works with an orchestra. I have always heard that kind of stuff in my head, and it has always been a really exciting thought to think that could actually help in that way to write pieces and parts for people and hear it all come together. I also thought about being a midwife and starting a group called Singing Doulas that sing through the birth, if the mom wants it. There’s a lot of ancient birthing songs that have been forgotten that have are really powerful and keep the process very sacred, which sometimes isn’t easy to do when you get thrown in a hospital…to keep it almost tantric and help women get into a trance so it can be a healing experience; I would love to facilitate that.
What is your advice for the young musicians out there?
Dan: My advice would be to not really care about what popular culture thinks is cool and to follow your own heart. I remember being embarrassed when I was younger to be seen with a guitar for some reason because I didn’t think it was cool. But, follow your heart really, which is a lifelong process.
Bonnie: I encourage anyone with an instrument, because you can forget this as you get older, just to listen for the sounds around you, to listen for patterns, that will bring in new life to your songwriting. Birds are incredible with their constant portrayal of different melodies, and there are constantly different rhythms around you that are interweaving themselves in and out of your life that you can pick up and try to mimic on an instrument. Listening.
What is your personal mission as a musician?
Dan: I think personally as musician I’d want to give what other people have given me which inspired me to become a musician, which is like a healing, or inspiration, or goosebumps. You go to a show and you have goosebumps all over you body. It’s like this unspeakable thing that happens; it’s an invisible thing. And I just hope that those things are coming through us, and me personally, and being able to project that out.
Bonnie: To feel that space around your heart, the way that music can do that for people, I love to be a part of that, and for dancing. I think even the slightest movement is so good for healing.