A few songs into watching Good Morning Bedlam play, and it’s easy to see why fans of the Minnesota quartet call their music “furious folk.”
Frontman Isaak Elker plays kick drum with one foot and a combination of hi-hat and tambourine with the other, all while strumming his guitar at a vigorous pace.
His fellow musicians sway almost violently in arches as banjo, bass and violin quickly match his tempo. Tight harmonies soar and swirl as the music shifts from breakneck to a deathly crawl and back again.
“We’re kind of like an aggressive folk-pop band,” Elker says when trying to describe his band, which plays a show at The White Hart this Sunday.
Elker and his longtime friend Sophia Mae formed Good Morning Bedlam as a singer-songwriter duo in 2015, the frontman says.
Now the group, which has played South by Southwest twice and released its second studio album, “Like Kings,” in July, also includes Elker’s wife Victoria Elker on bass and Benji Flaming on banjo.
Their music “reminds me of summer,” says Brittany Etheridge, White Hart’s assistant manager and events director. “It’s bright and sunny, but it has this emotional depth to it that I really appreciate.”
Before the show at The White Hart, Elker talked about their “furious folk” label and the importance of storytelling.
“We’re not purists,” Elker says. “We love the old and we love the new. And if we can find a way to combine those things, we think that’s really special.”
Let’s talk about the term “furious folk.”
“I feel like one fan posted that somewhere and then some venue started posting that and then eventually it just made its way into our bio. That was definitely given to us, not something we came up with, but we like it. It definitely touches on kind of how wild we are live.”
How do you think the band has evolved musically?
“When we started it was definitely the very singer-songwriter vibe with the guitar and the violin and the two vocals. … The addition of the bass to keep that time, to give you that low end, and that banjo to give you that driving force has just been so much fun to add in. You can just have so much more dynamic in the band because you can go so quiet and then you can really build it up.
“It’s so fun to be able to do a really dark, quiet blues song and put our own spin on that, because we’re not really blues musicians, and then do a fit-stomping, banjo-driving, three-part harmony big bluegrassy song. But we’re not really bluegrass musicians either. To kind of tip our cap to different genres and dip our toe in different things.”
In listening to your music, it’s clear that tempo is an important element. How do you consider pace when composing?
“The main factor is that I get bored really easily. We’ll start something in a song and I’ll be writing and be like ‘It feels like it needs something. Let’s pick it up.’ … Honestly in arranging stuff, dynamics have become the most fun piece of it for us. It makes recording a nightmare, but when it’s live it’s so much fun.”
How does your songwriting come into play?
“Some people love playing guitar, some people love singing, some people love putting out a recorded album. … I think for me first, even before performance, is the writing of it. Just to be able to put your words to a melody is so interesting. How you can create your own story using words and using tempo, using major versus minor key. I just love putting that together. A lot of what I write about is my experiences, and I think the reason I love it is [because] I so badly want to connect with people.”
Do you consider yourself first and foremost a storyteller?
“Yes. I think spoken music as a tradition started out as just storytelling, and I think that is the way we stay most true to folk music, is storytelling. And that’s what we’re there to do. Stories bring people together and they connect people, and that is so important to us. At the center of what we do is tell stories. The performance aspect is just there to help the storytelling along. It’s just another piece of it.”