Teaming Up With Elana Nelson

Elana Nelson has been playing music for over nine years. She was introduced to music in a pretty conventional way—via involvement with her childhood church. But her current music project, Teem Up, is anything but orthodox. Nelson and bandmate Randy Johnson use every cent they make as Teem Up toward philanthropic causes.

It only takes a moment of conversation with Nelson to sense her warm, compassionate aura. She’s confident and humble all at once. Nelson began singing in gospel choirs when she was 12 years old, and played in a church band as well. Outside the church, she played bass in two non-secular groups (which were called Icy Action Team and Without Faith We Fall.) Upon graduating high school, dropping the church acts, and eventually moving to Denton, she found herself in a bit of a creative lull. She stopped playing for awhile. “Because everyone here is so talented, I was genuinely intimidated and I thought, there’s not really a place for my novice musicianship here,” she says. “But there actually was.”

That place ended up being No Touching, a band that pumped out danceable, lo-fi pop punk tunes with Elana on bass and vocals, Philip Gage on guitar and vocals, and Jesse Gage on drums and backing vocals. No Touching’s success made Nelson comfortable in asserting herself in the Denton music scene. Nowadays her focus is in two places: Teem Up and the LiberDIY House, home of Liber-DIY Records, where Elana is currently a resident.

Teem Up—which might be described as post-90’s pop rock with a punk rock edge—has been making noise in DFW for about the last year and a half. Nelson and Johnson began playing shows at Spiderweb Salon showcases before the band’s concept came to fruition. The two musicians are Teem Up’s bass/guitar/vocals backbone, but they never know who else will jump in (on drums or a different instrument, for instance.) The lineup fluctuates depending on who is available and who Nelson and Johnson are working with at the time. But Teem Up’s ultimate goal of music-as-philanthropy has never wavered. “We don’t want to keep any of our money, basically,” Nelson says. “If we do things like buy equipment or go somewhere to play shows, we want it to be from our own work.” Every bit of money they receive as Teem Up is donated to a cause the two are passionate about.

And passion is self-evident in Nelson’s writing. “I consider human behavior, human interaction with nature…[the way those things] interact with each other both politically and socially,” she explains. Nelson’s musical influences are varied and colorful, and indicate how she came to play her chosen style. She cites acts like Animal Collective, No Doubt, Aaliyah, TV On the Radio, St. Vincent, and more—“but I want to be concise,” she notes. (Her mother is also a name on this long, lovely list.) Teem Up is currently in the process of recording their first EP with local musician Joe Stack, who will play drums on the record. Joe’s brother Jeff is working with the band as sound engineer. Elana says they took their time with the recording process, as they didn’t want to churn out a project that was shoddily conceived. Though she can’t give too much away, she says that the finished product will probably involve three total vocalists, and that we can expect a first listen pretty soon.

Nelson says that life at LiberDIY House makes for a great creative environment. The LiberDIY residents share Nelson’s philanthropic spirit, and they’re all musicians as well. “Everyone in that house is a musician, so we kind of just mix it up—everyone is in, like, five different bands with each other,” she laughs. (Actually, four of the house’s five tenants work at Seven Mile Café, which makes scheduling practices a simple process.) As a venue, LiberDIY House has hosted about four shows so far. Elana says that the most recent show—a punk showcase—was one of her favorites. “For a house venue that popped out of nowhere, the turnout was amazing. The crowd was amazing, the music was amazing,” she says with a smile. “It was odd seeing people I’d never met in my own house, but when I think of it as a venue space it’s really exciting.” One thing that sets LiberDIY apart from other house venues is that the tenants aim to make load-in, load-out, and the playing experience easier for visiting bands: they try to provide equipment for groups as needed. If a band is missing a microphone, or if a group doesn’t own a PA, the house is always willing to share theirs. (Rumor has it that LiberDIY even acquired an organ recently, which should make for some pretty sick future shows.)

Though Nelson’s focus is her music, she creates in other mediums as well. She tells us that she dabbles in graphic design and is open to performance of basically any kind. In addition to writing songs, she also writes poetry and prose. She’s finishing work on a chapbook entitled Psalms For Psinners, which she describes as a coming-of-age project that will include visual art she’s done over the years. If that sounds like a lot, that’s because it is: “My creative goals are basically whatever I have time to finish before I die,” she explains.

Elana has a busy fall ahead of her. Denton can expect Teem Up’s album sometime this fall or winter, and she tells us that they’ll be playing out several times in the next couple of months. Nelson also says that she and Johnson are planning a special Halloween show—Teem Up will play for one night as a Cake cover band. Although there isn’t a set date for that just yet, you can bet we’ll be there, and you should be too. In the meantime, we’ll be on the lookout for Nelson and her unmatched energy, hoping for a high-five or an electric performance.

Header image design by Jason Lee