Sarah Elstran of The Nunnery
Imagine walking into one of our local music venues… there is a crowd at the stage. Ambient and percussive beats cascade off the walls, and in-between them is a heavenly alto voice… a little beatboxing, some straight lyrical singing. Who is playing this, where is the band? The band is one woman, sitting on stage in front of some digital hardware, creating modified loops and electronic musical effects, aided by her voice and a hand drum.
This dreamy and futuristic musical instigator is Sarah Elstran, who created her style through chance and fortuitous meetings and events. First of those was probably being born in Eau Claire, the new mini-mecca of alternative indie-folk and ambient music, thanks to Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and a variety of intriguing musicians who have sprouted up and around his music.
Elstran did not start out in this vein and credits her musical emergence to her guitar being stolen. At the time, she was living in Minneapolis and already a writer and folk singer, the theft left her without an instrument to accompany her songs. Her new venture started with Jam Band software, a microphone, and a reverb pedal that a friend had gifted her. She started getting asked to play live, “In the beginning, it was a nightmare. I had always played in bands and here I was all by myself on stage and still trying to get familiar with live looping equipment,” she recalls. Over the past three years, she has gained more confidence as people have continued to invite her back. The music has evolved too. “It started as a mainly meditative thing,” Elstran adds, “but then I added the drum and it has helped create a more rhythmic dimension to where I started.”
Sarah started performing when she was thirteen and credits Daredevil Christopher Wright (which was the inspiration of JE Sunde) and Megafaun (which included Phil Cook and his brother Brad – both part of Vernon’s first band DeYarmond Edison). “Those two bands really blew my mind when I was younger. They were playing different kinds of instruments and going for weirder sounds and it just sounded really good, and they were friendly and approachable for a younger person,“ Elstran said. “There was a real DIY scene in Eau Claire when I was growing up and a lot of the music was being shared at house parties.”
She credits these music scenes with giving younger artists the confidence to experiment in front of a crowd of accepting friends and confidants. “A lot of the people that showed up at these house [shows] and more intimate shows went on to create music,” said Elstran. While she doesn’t credit Justin Vernon for her original inspirations, she does credit him with helping foster the scene and working with many people in the area on side projects to help move their art along.
People have tied her work and sensibilities and even the sound of her voice to Amelia Meach of Sylvan Esso. A Midwesterner as well, Elstran remembers running into her and producer Nick Sanborn (also originally from the Midwest) on the street in downtown Eau Claire during the Eaux Claires festival. “It was funny, we started talking and we had a bunch of friends in common. It was one of those ‘it’s a small world’ moments,” said Elstran.
Elstran has also helped foster the artistic development of other artists through co-producing a video series, Pony Rug. Elstran has created this series to mimic the intimate setting of the living rooms where she first gained her inspirations. She is joined in this work with her videographer husband Erik Elstran, co-producer Michael Gay (of Almighty American), and audio engineer Justin Muffett.
Ocooch Mountain Music