In the Spring/Summer 2016 edition of Scribe, ESK features several alumni who are doing great things in the Knoxville community and beyond. We will bring those same stories to the blog here at esknoxville.org.
Today, we continue with Eli Fox, a member of the ESK Class of 2013. A rising senior at Webb School of Knoxville, Eli released his first solo album, “Nothing to Say,” the first week of April. The album has six songs, including “Nothing to Say” and “Mountain Dew.”
We spoke with Eli about his time at ESK and the experience of recording his first album:
How did your time at ESK prepare you for high school?
At ESK, we learned the basic things we would need in order to succeed in high school. They prepared us to think and challenged us to come out of our comfort zones, whether it was rectifying a poem or writing an eight page paper. When I got to high school, I had already done some things that many people were just learning to do and that gave me an advantage.
Was there a teacher (or can you think of a story) that captures what makes ESK special?
Every teacher made ESK special in their own way. We were taught by Mr. Secor how to formally greet guests and wield a bow tie the correct way as well as many other things you would not get in any other school. Each teacher at ESK was willing to help you and that’s what made ESK special.
Where did you develop your love for music?
I developed my appreciation for music really when I was a seventh grader at ESK. I had always liked music like Zeppelin and Aerosmith but never thought anything more of it than something to listen to in the truck with my family. My brother turned me on to modern roots musicians like Alison Krauss, and I decided to take banjo lessons. I had always had the desire to play banjo because it looked cool, but never actually did it. When I was told I could play AC/DC songs on banjo I finally started taking lessons. After playing banjo for a while, I bought a guitar, then a dobro, then some harmonicas, then a fiddle and my ear became stronger. I could hear and appreciate more things in the artists I was listening to and that’s what makes music very special to me. It’s not just something you listen to when you want to dance or drive to the beach, it’s something much deeper and emotional that you can connect with and interpret in your own way.
What did it mean to you to be able to come back to ESK and perform at the string band concert?
It was a very special moment for me. To see how the school has changed so much since I’ve been gone and that people like Mr. Ed Wing are now teaching banjo at school! That seems like it should be illegal, but to see the string band program grow from a project I did in eighth grade on the history of the banjo to something full force and quote unique is very special.
Can you tell me a little about the process of recording your album and what it has been like since it was released?
At first these recordings were just for fun, with little intent to do much more with them. ESK’s headmaster Mr. Secor put me in touch with Jon Hersey who was working at ESK in the tech department for a bit and we discussed recording some songs. We set up in my house with just one microphone going into Jon’s laptop. The first song we did was Mountain Dew and then I starting writing the others during the process often the night before our recording “sessions”, not because I felt I needed to but because the source of inspiration for those songs just sort of hit me at that time. We met once a week from around the end of July until the end of January and I’d record one instrument and then add additional ones later that I felt sounded nice. We ended up with six solid songs and sent it out to be mastered and I got all of the artwork ready, which was just some pictures I took out at our farm with my dad’s old 64′ Ford custom. The record has been out a little over two months now and so far the response has been positive. There was no intent for it to sound any one way, but it came out nicely and I have only gotten good feedback from it. They’ve been spinning it on WDVX some and I’ve played some shows to promote it. It’s been a whole lot of fun!
What has been the most rewarding part of the process thus far?
The most rewarding part of the CD is that it’s finally done. I had been thinking and talking about it for quite a while, so for it to be a tangible object that is not “almost done” and available to tweak is fairly rewarding. It’s nice to finally share some of my original work and see the response of it and be able to share my stories with new audiences.
I know you will be a senior next year, but have you thought about your plans for college? How will you balance school and recording?
As far as college, I’ve visited a few schools in-state and I’m still thinking about where I’d like to be. Playing music seriously like this is just like any other extra-curricular activity, be it baseball, or horseback riding. Recording is the tail end of the work in one way, but also the beginning. The writing has to be strong and confident and your performance has to be good. School is the focus now, to get into a good school and walk the classic path of success, but recording and performing music is the same amount of dedication just in a different way. Most of my free time I’m playing music just because I want to and I always end up with some type of instrument in my hand no matter what I was going to do before, so the music will just happen organically and I can’t really prevent it.