Tree limbs flickered with the shifting shades of neon, the evening crowd in LOCKN’s Garcia’s Forest rejoiced as drummer Ben Atkind took the mic.
“Hey friends, I’m Ben, the super-good looking one from Goose, and this is my other band!”
ElephantProof’s return to the stage at August’s Fred the Festival was a triumphant one for a band seven years out of practice. Every month for those seven years, guitarist Sean Cronin would receive a text from Atkind that read: “Hey man, you gonna put the record out?”
At first, Cronin would respond “yep, almost done”, but as months turned into years, mustering a reply became increasingly unnerving.
The music in question resided on the group’s recently released extended play, EP EP. At the time of its recording in 2014, ElephantProof had earned itself a committed following, raging the late-night crowds of Boston’s beer joints and small clubs.
A quartet of Berklee College of Music graduates, Atkind met Cronin, Shon Gordon (bass), and “Doc” Chris Enright (keys) in 2012 while playing in general business (GB) bands around Boston.
According to Atkind, “Berklee opens up opportunities for musicians to deepen their practice and refine skills before launching into a career in music. That said, it’s not always easy to find lucrative employment right out of school. It’s pretty common for people to elect corporate gigs as it’s a great opportunity for a steady gig that allows you to stay sharp on stage.”
While playing an endless continuum of “Sweet Caroline” for weddings or the Motown hits for catered events might seem to denigrate an experienced musician, ElephantProof is certainly thankful the work brought the four of them together. After hundreds of gigs playing familiar, popular tunes from an extensive songbook, the guys found an outlet flexing their improvisational chops during after-hours gigs in Boston nightclubs.
“You have to be a musical chameleon to do those jobs.” said Enright, “And I think some of that spills over into ElephantProof.”
Chameleonic is an apt descriptor for the ever-evolving musical passages offered on ElephantProof’s recent EP.
Shortly after meeting, the quartet began stitching together music each had written throughout their years at school. The resulting compositions transmuted hues of jazz, funk, nu-metal, EDM, and hip hop into an educated smorgasbord of heady jams.
“A Pinch of Satan” serves as a prime example of what ElephantProof does best. The song snakes between math-rocky grooves and wailing dissonances, abridging serenity and chaos with a musical economy befitting of a few Berklee savants. Although EP EP only contained a sliver of ElephantProof’s original catalog, it’s representative of the disorienting (“Krampus’ Workshop”) and danceable (“Hyphy”) discography which won them spots opening for acts like Twiddle and Dopapod.
Cronin chuckled, “looking back on [those arrangements] now that we haven’t played those tunes in a few years, we’re like ‘Holy shit we were crazy people!’”
But right as ElephantProof seemed to be gaining steam in 2014, the group disbanded. By 2016 Enright and Atkind were in Connecticut playing in Goose, while Cronin and Gordon kept gigging around Boston. For the next few years, the only recordings of ElephantProof laid dormant on a flash drive, in the sole possession of Sean Cronin.
“I got a call from Cronin at the beginning of quarantine,” recounted Atkind on Zoom a week prior to Fred, “saying he basically had finished tracking everything to the album.”
Fresh off its first rehearsal in years, ElephantProof parsed through the series of events that led to the hiatus. Seven years later, their Zoom reunion had the vibe of a middle-school sleepover, despite being comprised of thirty-something-year-old millennials.
Cronin’s Zoom connection flaked in and out as he stomped through a shopping mall to find a pair of Crocs for Fred. “Gordo” had a fresh soccer fade and a tie-dye v-neck; he compared himself to Thanos now that he’s reassembled his old bass rig.
Enright waited pensively while the others chatted and joked. Now an actual doctor of music and recently, a father, “Doc” sat in a prim and cozy office waiting for the right moment to accent the banter with dry, surgical wit.
“I think in music school I learned how to articulate what I’m trying to explain, musically,” said Gordo. “We learned ear-training and a harmonic language we all spoke pretty fluently,” Cronin elaborated, “you really got to know so much more to be able to turn on a dime.”
“I learned a lot about student loan debt,” Atkind added.
Doc: “I don’t know about the ear training thing, my ear was always great.”
In its Boston days, the band would make a setlist without a plan and work it out on the stage. Whether that meant transposing a song mid-jam or modulating keys, the group’s collective jazz background made it no stranger to live improvisation.
“It’s pocketed though” Doc clarified, “it’s like the improvisation is very much in a way the construction of the set itself.”
ElephantProof doesn’t consider itself a jam band. Cronin, who grew up in the rave scene, likened its improv to a DJ mixing tracks, guiding the vibe with fan-faring change-ups. Going into Fred, there was a reserved excitement amongst the band. Although the group had two days of practice to knock the rust off, its arrangements didn’t make that the easiest task.
Before the call ended, Gordo made an admission: “[The show] has actually snuck into my dreams. Like, I’ve had multiple dreams about playing the show without my pants on.”
Five days later, dreams were a reality; it was six o’clock in Garcia’s Forest and Ben Atkind was warming up, unbothered as he mechanically churned out shuffles and backbeats. Cronin and Gordo took in the scenery from the soundboard as they chatted about GB gigging— it turned out Gordo was driving home after the show to play a wedding the next day. The two estimated they’ve probably played a thousand weddings.
“I’m ready to set it down,” Gordo said referencing GB. “If I could play shows like this all the time, I would be very happy.”
Doc joined the conversation, and everyone began talking about how they would sneak in Lonely Island’s “Dick In the Box” teases into wedding shows when they got bored.
Overqualified and underwhelmed, statistically speaking this is the norm for ElephantProof’s age group. According to a 2016 study from Harvard Business Review, “seventy-one percent of millennials are either not engaged or actively disengaged” from their jobs.
For the trio, that evening’s show was a chance to rekindle something that slipped by long ago; the simple satisfaction of a crowd wanting to hear your music.
It was five minutes before showtime, and the elephant in the room was how the Fred audience would receive the set. Soundcheck was fraught at times and went twice as long as intended. The band squabbled a few times about how “evil” the setlist sounded, worrying they’d lose their audience, but those worries were neither here nor there when you’re about to take the stage, mentioned Enright.
“I just hope we stick the landings.”
Shifting neon lights enveloped Seann Cronin, who was center stage with a black “Free Britney” t-shirt and an oversized straw hat.
From his laboratory on stage right, Doc introduced a jazzy dressage that was promptly accompanied by an Atkind backbeat. Gordo bounced the groove along a stepwise shuffle as Cronin and Enright weaved a percolating melody. A minute in, and ElephantProof had piqued LOCKN’s interest. Cronin turned the tempo with a few bluesy bars and Atkind tumbled the group into an R&B pocket, before the verse began Doc punctuated the conversation with a shimmering organ sustain.
While ElephantProof is largely an instrumental act, when words do get said it’s usually Sean Cronin on a Frampton-esque vocoder.
The crowd hollered in agreement when Cronin robo-croned “We came to get drunk, we came to get funky, stop giving f*cks now”.
Upon hearing some B3 organ scats from Doc, Cronin responded with a Fender-y couple of licks before Atkind tempo bumped the hi-hat, preparing everyone for a jump to warp speed. For all the changes that occurred in the band’s show, Ben Atkind was there to cover with the metronomic precision of a drum machine. No matter the pattern, Atkind moved through them all with ease and a gaping smile.
Back in Boston, Atkind was known for his chronic stank face.
“People would literally ask me why I’m so mad”—he never was, but playing GB gigs always had him tense and overly self-critical.
In the midst of ElephantProof’s hiatus, playing with Goose had given Atkind a new perspective on the music he made, he said: “it’s about finding the groove.”
From dark to lush, ElephantProof shifted its musical color in accordance with the temperature and mood of its environment, akin to a real chameleon. Both animals, equally fascinating in their displays of transformation.
“Krampus’ Workshop”, one of the heaviest compositions on EP EP, arrived in a similar fashion at Fred.
For the live arrangement, all of Gordo’s pedals were in overdrive producing a coarse rattling bassline, Doc played six synthesizer parts at once using midi redirect (complete with sleigh bells), and Atkind provided a lurching dubstep beat. Three minutes and thirty seconds in, Cronin fell out of a spiraling shred and began to play in a relative key two steps down, jumping between two themes with sneaking nuance. The bass and keys followed the same fluttering modulation until T-Pain’s “Buy You A Drink” emerged from under Krampus’ ominous veil. There was a palpable “oh sh*t” moment amongst the late-night crowd in Garcia’s Forest.
ElephantProof had stuck the landing.
Other highlights of the evening included a Gordo original titled “Satan is A Vegan Who Lives in San Francisco”, a cover of the “Home Depot” theme, and recently released “Baltimore Scrappledorf”. While there were moments of miscue and redundancy in the return, a well-paced and surprising setlist kept the forest filled until two in the morning for the encore.
Walking off the stage after the show, Cronin suffocated Atkind with a pogoing bear hug. Grinning from ear to ear, the four old friends congratulated each other briefly, but not long after Doc and Gordo were back on the stage breaking down the gear and chatting with the audience. Once they returned backstage, Ben had already left.
Enright, Gordo, and Cronin recapped the show at the hood of Gordo’s car. The RC car Cronin brought with him zipped around everyone’s feet.
“I thought that the transition from Krampus into T-Pain worked way better than I was expecting.” Cronin giddied, “I thought that was a cool like juxtaposition of vibes, that somehow still made sense.”
Gordo was excited that the crowd seemed to stay engaged during the “eviler” parts of the set, knowing the casual jam listener is unaccustomed to their level of dissonance.
The question of plans going forward arose; Ben had mentioned “more shows and music coming soon” to the crowd. They all were sure more music would happen soon, but there were no clear moves until Ben figured out his schedule.
The next morning in the shade of Fred’s main stage, Atkind reeled about how well the show went, despite only two days of practice. He said some of the uncomfortable transitions would smooth out once the band gets more time to play together.
“It’s more about feeling comfortable and having the music and the transitions internalized, instead of feeling like I needed my setlist.”
Now that ElephantProof was back, the group’s next challenge would be finding a groove amidst Atkind’s touring schedule. Atkind said the band would pick their spots for tours, late-night shows, and festivals in a way that won’t leave anyone burned out.
As of late, ElephantProof has been busy recording tracks like “Baltimore Scrappledorf” in New York City and recently announced a January run of shows, including an opening set with Baltimore’s Pigeons Playing Ping Pong.
The recent productivity is a vast improvement compared to the last seven years, so it looks like yet another bright future for ElephantProof. But what’s the difference this time around? According to Sean Cronin, it’s a sense of purpose.
“This band, in particular, is the most special thing I’ve been a part of, so if there’s any gift that I have to give to the world, like any purpose for me to be here— this is probably it.”
Below, listen to a recording of ElephantProof’s entire set at Fred The Festival, courtesy of taper guitar77.
ElephantProof – Fred The Festival – 8/20/21
Today, December 27th, saw the release of ElephantProof’s latest single, “Hurbadurb”. Recorded at Gary’s Electric Studio in Brooklyn, NY with audio engineer Robert Aceto, “Hurbadurb” expands upon the group’s eclectic sound.
Much like “Baltimore Scrappledorf“, this instrumental hears excellent interplay between the four-piece, which is on full display thanks to the video filmed by Bryan Murphy. Gordon, Cronin, and Enright join together in lockstep throughout the 4:13 telling, while Atkind guides them through line after line of hypnotic and harmonically-rich melodies.
Listen to “Hurbadurb” via the player below and head to the band’s Facebook for a schedule of tour dates and news on its latest releases.
ElephantProof – “Hurbadurb”