Elison is an American, Indie Rock duo based in Des Moines, Iowa. The duo formed when singer and songwriter, Marissa Kephart found the time to work on music during the 2020 lockdown. Kephart had then met multi-instrumentalist and producer, Scott Yoshimura, who had opened his studio up to friends. Having bonded over a mutual interest in music, the duo fleshed out the first Elison track, Meet Me Halfway.
Using the extra space allotted to her during lockdown she found the courage to finally pick up the guitar and start taking voice lessons. “Hopes & Horoscopes” is the second demo—following the release of “Meet Me Halfway” in the fall—she took to music teacher, multi-instrumentalist and producer Scott Yoshimura (The Envy Corps, Canby). The two quickly understood their creative energies and influences aligned, and they formed Elison. Inspired by bands like Sparklehorse, Dinosaur Jr., Yo La Tengo, Snail Mail, Slow Pulp, The Beths, Cat Power and Broken Social Scene, they’ve created a sound all their own. “Hopes & Horoscopes” is set to debut on January 7. The new track is awash in wistful melodies, layers of shoegaze guitars, ringing synthesizers and a static-y drum machine.
“It’s been so exciting to see the song take shape from concept to completion and we’re so ready to share it with others. I’m also excited to start recording our next set of songs. I was fortunate enough to take a songwriting class with Ellen Kempner (Palehound & Bachelor) through School of Sound and through that experience wrote enough songs to release new music steadily in the months to come.” ―Marissa
The beginning of elison
Marissa named her project in homage to her origins: her maiden name is Cornelison and her father a musician himself. As she says, “My dad’s a long time jazz musician so my love of this art form really stemmed from seeing him perform my entire life. I pulled “elison” out to honor him and his influence in my life, now that I’ve finally started pursuing music for myself. I wanted to know if there was any meaning in the word and quickly discovered it meant “division” or “separation,” which felt serendipitous because that was one huge effect of this pandemic and ultimately, the catalyst that led me to start playing. There was no other option. I had to use elison.” For Marissa, creativity has always been a way of life. She explains, “My mother is an artist and that had a big impact on me growing up, so visual arts was what I pursued first when looking for a creative outlet. I started creating art to coincide with music. I was inspired by album covers and began collecting show posters. Ultimately, the energy of bands’ branding and their visual messaging was what drew me to graphic design. My graphic design career has very much paralleled my love for music.”
How the COVID-19 pandemic affected the duo
You could say it’s one reason they’re a band. As the world grappled with the tragic effects of the virus, Marissa looked for a new way to process everything that was happening. Playing music had been a lifelong dream for her, and under the isolated conditions of social distancing she unexpectedly found herself ready to face that desire. She finally gave herself permission to be bad at something — to fumble around uncomfortably while finding her singing voice — and to learn the guitar. As for Scott, building his in-home recording studio filled the void usually taken up by social calendars and frequent performances. Just as he began inviting friends and acquaintances to work with him in his new setup, Marissa crossed his path. Thus, in March the duo joined forces and began to make something brilliant.
What is “Hopes & Horoscopes” about?
“Hopes & Horoscopes” is a self reflective song that highlights the vices singer, Marissa Kephart, struggles with. Some more playful than others but ultimately a collection of bad habits she can’t seem to shake. Recorded in Scott’s home studio, the song was principally written and sung by Marissa (and features her newfound guitar skills), while Scott engineered, produced and performed other instruments as needed.
The duo’s songwriting process
The duo’s assemblage and subsequent process has been fortuitous to say the least. While still developing her guitar skills, as well as the vulnerability and courage required to share her gifts with others, Marissa was fortunate to pair up with Scott, who has spent many of his adult years teaching private music lessons. Scott’s gentle encouragement and patience created a safe space for the two of them to work collaboratively. Scott’s musicianship, production choices and recording know-how swiftly preserved the raw, earnest spirit of Marissa’s demo of “Hopes & Horoscopes” while bringing it to its full expression.
The road ahead
It’s as yet unknown what material forms the song and its future companions will take, but when listening to music Marissa personally favors “vinyl for the warmth and the crackle, and digital for the convenience of taking the song with you.” On performing, Elison’s stance echoes Kate Bush’s method more than, say, Willie Nelson’s: “We actually don’t have much of a desire to play out. Scott is a seasoned musician who has played plenty of shows, and I’m so new that I have incredible stage fright. Maybe one day this answer will change, but for now we’re content writing, recording and releasing songs from the comfort of our homes.”
After all, Marissa founded Elison on pursuits more holistic than the music industry’s norm. “I’m not pursuing music for fame or fortune — I’m looking to connect with others and deepen my connection with myself.”