Women Making Music
Now You See Her: Dulci Ellenberger
By Peggy Ratusz
There has been a fair amount of press, accolades and the like out there for a sweet treat acoustic trio called Now You See Them, of which Dulci Ellenberger was part. And while as of September of this year, they officially disbanded, it’s certainly not the last we’ll hear of Ms. Ellenberger or her talented former partners. I’ve been champing at the bit to learn more about this fine female artist in her own right; in her own words. It seems now is a great time to profile this individual, fine and fancy, melodic singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist.
I heard Dulci for the first time during the height of the buzz for her super trio back in 2009 when they won Mountain Xpress’s Last Band Standing contest and opened Bele Chere that same year. The crowd went from Coxe Avenue stage all the way to Patton Avenue that Friday afternoon and I was in that throng. It was a show that I’ll never forget because the originality of the sound and the songs were ultra-captivating and fun. The catchy, cohesive, inventive and innovative tunes that rang in our ears and into our bodies inspired a collective domino of head boppin’, toe tappin and spontaneous amusement.
The buzz about their arrival three years ago and their mutually decided upon break up is on-going. That’s due in part to the co-creating contributions that each band member has made, partnering with a plethora of other great local music artists and acts. Jason Mencer, Shane Conerty and Dulci continue to epitomize and enhance the networking climate that makes the Asheville music scene such a loving community. In the past three years they toured in and out of Asheville and their shows were mostly capacity because of their infectious and healing musicianship and camaraderie.
Even though it’s sad that they will not be playing together in the immediate future as a group that we loved to love, it is super exciting for us to find out what’s next for each of them.
I posed these questions to Dulci recently and I am thrilled that her answers will help familiarize you with a gifted, approachable, charming and prolific woman making music.
I can only imagine how challenging it must have been for the three of you to decide to take this break from the group you formed together called Now You See Them. The name itself vaguely alludes to an ending that would come someday. Could you help us grasp what that was like for you all? Our name DOES allude to that! At first, it was because we were moving around so frequently. Now, it’s just kind of ironic. It was hard to make this decision, because I hate feeling like I’m forfeiting or giving up in any way, but we all fought really hard for as long as we could with this project. It needs time to breathe. We need time to breathe!
It’d be great to know one or two highlights from your time with the group, like your favorite festival or bar gig and why? That first Bele Chere was unforgettable! It almost feels like a dream looking back on it. Shakori Hills festival was really beautiful for us, and we all really loved playing Music City Roots in Nashville.
How has your time in Asheville affected your songwriting? Being surrounded by so much natural beauty and genuine community has been really good for me, personally. I love the significant season changes, the way they affect people (myself included), and the mountains are really comforting to me. Also, music and art are important in this town, and that is evident everywhere you look. It feels great to be a part of that.
Your proficiency on several instruments is impressive and beguiling. How and why were you drawn to the instruments you play? I was raised in a musical home. Singing is and always will be my first love, and I’ve always been around other musicians and instruments. I took piano lessons when I was younger and again in college. Shane brought our first Melodica home with him from Thailand! I’m still learning and have a lot to learn where the guitar is concerned, and I’m excited at the prospect of improving.
The range of emotion of the songs that you’ve had the heaviest hand in writing is wide. Is there a process you cling to when crafting songs of different feels and content? There is not. It usually happens over a long period of time, really. I’ll just think and think and think about something that’s been occupying my mind… a saying, or a story, and then I’ll try to write about it somewhere in the vicinity of a thousand times until finally, one day, it just clicks. I’ll usually have dreams about the song right before it’s finished. I basically obsess about something until I feel some sort of resolution, or reason to sing about it. Restless nights—actually, mornings— drag me from my bed to drink coffee and make it happen. Inspiration is random and fickle for me, so I try to take advantage of it when it shows.
Your voice is pure and lovely. You are authentically and uniquely you when you sing. How did you find your voice and did you start out emulating anyone? I think I’m still finding my voice. It’s been a really interesting journey in that regard. As a child, I never wanted to sound like a little kid or a kid who sings like an adult, so that was tough. I studied Musical Theatre in college, so there’s a certain amount of affectation in that kind of singing, and when I first started out with Now You See Them, I didn’t really know how to perform in the kind of settings we were in. It took me a LONG time to stop trying to make everything sound perfect all the time. Microphones were really new to me too, because I was trained to project and sing without amplification. Shane Conerty was a great influence on me that way, because he was always very free with how he used his voice. The fact that he wasn’t tied to trying to make it flawless gave it expression and freedom, and I wanted to learn that.
Who are some of the local artists you most admire and why? I greatly admire so many Asheville talents for so many reasons. A few of my favorites would have to be Amanda Platt for her songwriting skills, and Melissa Hyman and Ryan Furstenberg as the fantastic duo, The Moon and You, because they literally sound like they were BORN to sing together. Linda Mitchell is a badass woman who’s a great inspiration to me, because nobody I know can sing the blues like Linda or play guitar like she does. Oh, there are just too many. I could go on like this for days!
Who would you like to work with locally, that you haven’t had a chance to yet? I think Moses Atwood and I would sing a killer duet… I just don’t know which one of us is going to write it!
Everyone likes to know an artist’s early influences. Who are yours and why? I have always loved Julie Andrews. I freaked out the first time I heard Karen Carpenter’s voice, because it was unlike anything I’d ever heard! I loved Amy Grant for the better part of my youth, and my Dad loves Neil Diamond, so I love Neil Diamond. I know… that one is random.
When you’re alone and wanting to bask in listening to music, who do you tune into? This changes by the hour. I love oldies, and there are a few bands I know won’t miss… but if we’re talking about basking, it’s always going to be Paper Bird. They’re a band from Denver, Colorado who changed the way I viewed music and life the instant I saw them perform. Three female vocalists backed by stand-up bass, guitar, banjo, and drums. They play beautiful folk Americana that almost breaks my heart.
You’re part of an all-girl group called Sweet Claudette that your profile describes as Motown Country. Tell us about the members and how you all came to that moniker and how you decide the material you cover and/or write and choose to do? We all love old girl groups from the ‘60’s, like the Chiffons, Diana Ross and the Supremes, etc., so we just started talking about that, and next thing you know, somebody’s got an idea for a cover. As for the “country” part of that descriptor, well… I don’t know… Melissa Hyman, Amanda Platt, and I are all songwriters, so we trade leads on our originals. Amanda’s are the most country, Melissa’s are the sultriest, and mine are the most pop-y. Somehow, when the four of us (Amber Sims is our percussionist and fourth vocal) combine our voices, it works out to something like country. That’s the best I can describe it! You just have to hear it to believe it.
Where did you grow up? Tell us about your childhood and adolescence. I grew up in Hermitage, Pennsylvania, in the house that my Dad’s Dad built. My parents still live there! I have two sisters, I’m the middle. Our town was kinda quiet and full of strip malls. People there work hard, and I’d say there’s an emphasis on family values and strong morals/work ethic. My parents were both music teachers in public schools. My mom taught in my district, and my Dad taught at the rival district. I was really involved in extracurricular activities, like dance and piano and voice lessons, theatre at EVERY chance, sports here and there (though I was NOT good at any of them), and boys.
What’s on the horizon for Dulci Ellenberger? Where and when can we come hear you play next and in what capacity? I’m doing a Breast Cancer benefit on October 27 at the Kava Bar downtown. It’s a breast cancer awareness/Halloween extravaganza, so I think I’m going to dress up like Dolly Parton. I’ll be there singing solo, and after that, I can be found at the Black Mountain Ale House on November 10th with the fabulous Dan Shearin.
Many songwriters name songs they wish they would have written. Are there any that come to mind for you? So many! Mostly old standards; Cry Me a River, New York, New York; anything Frank Sinatra ever sang, anything Cole Porter ever wrote… Happy Birthday! Everyone knows it!
What’s your favorite original tune and why? MY favorite? Of my own? That’s really tricky. I suppose, right now, it’s Growing Older. I love the chorus vocals on our most recent recording of that song. It’s great to feel like you’re surrounded by all of your good friends, singing beautifully, which is what was happening the day we recorded it and every time we performed it for a familiar audience.
And there we have it; in her own words. I thank Dulci for taking the time from her busy life to sit down for a spell and let us in. If you’d like to keep up with her schedule, you can find her calendar at www.reverbnation.com/sweetclaudetteandthebirds or on facebook.
Peggy Ratusz is a songstress, writer and vocal coach firstname.lastname@example.org www.reverbnation.com/peggyratusz