Ask Eli Wheeler what genre his music falls into and he’ll ask you a question right back: what genre would he be considered here at Elon, or back home in Nashville, TN? This folksy, bluesy, singer-songwriter explains that at Elon, people would probably classify him as a little more “country” than he would classify himself.
And it’s true – Eli’s music, much like his upbringing, is uniquely Nashville-esque. Growing up, his house was filled with music. He began violin lessons at age 5 and guitar and mandolin at age 8, his father listened to classic rock, and his sister now studies commercial fiddle at Belmont University. Because of his dad’s classic influence, many of Eli’s favorite artists – or, more specifically, guitarists – are “oldies” like Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler, Bob Dylan, James Taylor, and Al Green. However, his tastes span today’s more modern artists as well, ranging from Sturgill Simpson and Rayland Baxter to John Mayer. He refers to Sturgill Simpson’s album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, describing his sound as “maybe even retro.” However, right now, Rayland Baxter’s “Yellow Eyes” resonates most with Eli. “It kind of encapsulates where I am right now and when I listen to it, it makes me think of home, but not in a homesick way – in terms of what I like about home,” he discusses.
Speaking of home, Eli’s sister played a significant role in his development as a songwriter. “My sister and I wrote together and we had a little band kind of deal,” Eli recalls. Though they wrote together when they were younger, Eli began writing music more seriously within the past year. In this timeframe, Eli has written a number of songs, including “Scared to be Alone.” This piece draws upon the experiences of a friend of Eli’s, as is typical of Eli’s writing. He often tries to put himself in the shoes of those around him and write from a place of empathy. Yet, his favorite song of his own creation was written quite differently. Eli composed “Coconut Tree” while at the beach with his extended family, sitting with a baby on the porch. “It was just super vibey,” he recounts, “I was just sitting there writing and having a great time.” On days like these, Eli can just sit down and a whole song will just flow out of his mind. But, more often, Eli will write out some ideas and related sentiments, and pull songs from these exercises. Regardless, Eli advised me to take his description of his writing process with a grain of salt, modestly reminding me that he is relatively new to writing.
In general, Eli relishes the little things in life. His perfect Friday night consists of “sitting at home, reading a book, and smoking a pipe”, an aesthetic that is only complete with a wool cardigan, in his opinion. The self-described “old man” exclaims, “Oh, man, it’s such a vibe.” Similarly, Eli’s fondest memories involve simply jamming in his music room with friends. “It was just fun because we knew each other well, and we weren’t worried about impressing anybody,” he elaborates. This community-building element of music is what draws him to the art form. He contends that music is an “equalizer,” helping people to connect despite specific situational differences. Speaking of his own listeners, he comments, “Hopefully, they can relate to [my music] because I think a lot of people go through the same things in one way or another.” Beyond the lyrical content, Eli also hopes that listeners “either have fun, or [do] not have fun and have emotions.”
As he begins his journey with Limelight Records, Eli looks forward to making new connections and playing new places. He aspires to produce an EP because, as he phrased it, “No matter what happens in my life, this is a season of it and this will always be here” in the form of an EP. Look out for Eli Wheeler performing at our Limelight Showcase at Taphouse on October 20 at 10pm!