Led by a modern-day Linda Ronstadt, Granville Automatic writes songs the Associated Press calls “haunting tales of sorrow and perseverance.” With influences as diverse as Emmylou Harris, Ryan Adams, The Smiths and Dawes, Granville Automatic has created a one-of-a-kind sound that revolves around their passion for storytelling. The duo, comprised of Nashville songwriters Vanessa Olivarez and Elizabeth Elkins, is named after a 19th-century typewriter.
The girls’ devotion to the project has proved a chaotic road of back-breaking touring, interpersonal tension, former-day-job balancing, other-band leaving, and a love-hate dynamic that brought them from Atlanta to Nashville. Theirs is a creative partnership reminiscent of Lennon-McCartney, a dreamer-doer, accessible-obtuse, country-rock collision of two polar opposites. What the two share, however, is a love for nostalgia: old records and antiques, tarot cards and dusty books, ghosts on battlefields and lost stories from the past. That common ground has produced three historically-minded albums widely praised from The New York Times to an Editor’s Pick in No Depression.
In early 2018, the band released four non-history-related singles, beginning with “A Little of Both” – an anthem for girls who really want it all. The singles have more than 500,000 streams, and have been featured on Apple Music’s Hot Country Tracks and Pandora’s New Country.
On November 2, Granville Automatic is releasing “Radio Hymns,” a 13-track concept record mining Nashville’s lost history from the two wives of city founder Timothy Demonbreun to the day in 1974 that the Ryman Auditorium was saved from the wrecking ball. The album features guest appearances from Jim Lauderdale, Kevin Griffin of Better Than Ezra, Ben Fields and Matraca Berg. Elkins and Olivarez self-produced the record, using some longtime Granville players and some of Nashville’s legendary studio musicians (and studios). The album rocks and rolls, haunts and soars, and pays true homage to the mystery of Music City.
“Stories always find their way to us,” Olivarez explained. “For our last album about the Civil War, those stories were usually very sad ones about love and loss. But for Nashville – we kept discovering stories of deception, murder, trickery, drugs and debauchery. It’s a very different beast, but one often with redemption at the end of the road.”
“This is my favorite recording project I’ve ever done,” added Elkins. “The stories are insanely intense – and really reveal the character and heart and depth of Nashville’s past. Much like Music Row has its secrets, the city is full of incredible stories of affairs, God, war, love and ghosts. We spent hours looking for the greatest stories, many long buried as the houses or streets where they happened have vanished. I think we found some good ones.
“As writers in Nashville, we often write for the radio with hopes to make a living. But we came here because songs are our hymns – they save us. That’s why we called this ‘Radio hymns,’” the girls agreed.
Elkins and Olivarez have written songs recorded by country stars Billy Currington (the single “Drinkin’ Town With A Football Problem”), Sugarland, Kira Isabella, Wanda Jackson, Angaleena Presley and numerous others. Their songwriting led them to a coveted Composers in Residence spot at Seaside, Fla.’s Escape to Create program. They’ve appeared on PBS’ Sun Studio Sessions and WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. You may have heard their songs on ABC’s American Crime and The Lying Game, as well as Netflix’s The Ranch. Their tour schedule has been as frenzied as 200 shows a year, including stops at SXSW, the Key West, Island Hopper, Red River and 30A Songwriters festivals, CMA Fest and Tin Pan South. They’ve played at venues from the legendary Joshua Tree roadhouse Pappy & Harriet’s to Texas’ haunted Gruene Hall to listening rooms such as The Tin Angel (Philadelphia), Club Passim (Boston), Eddie’s Attic (Atlanta), The Station Inn and Music City Roots (Nashville) and Rockwood Music Hall (NYC).