When singer/songwriters Josh and Nicole Johnson got married, their married friends in Nashville gave them a piece of advice: One musician should entirely give up his or her career to support his or her partner, or the two should form a duo.
Good thing the Johnsons opted for the second option, forming the duo Elenowen, winning a spot on the premiere season of NBC’s “The Voice,” collaborating on a multi-artist album, co-writing their new self-titled EP and launching the current Drifting Closer Tour.
What: Elenowen with Matthew Perryman Jones
When: Saturday, May 18, 7:30 p.m.
Where: 1427 Williams St.
How much: $7
The tour kicked off at the beginning of May in Grandview, Ohio, and is booked through the end of the summer in Alabama, all the while relying on the intimate, personal connection between husband and wife—the very thing most couples keep private—to flesh out the duo’s lyrics and melodies.
“Everything we write stems from something we’ve experienced,” Nicole said. “They’re honest and vulnerable songs, and we are willing to be that way on stage—we hope people connect to it.”
The story of Elenowen—a moniker created from the middle names of Josh’s mother and Nicole’s father—is really their love story.
The fast-forward version is as follows: The couple met through Josh’s cousin when he was 15 years old and she was 16 years old; she traveled to Knoxville to visit him; he moved to Nashville for college; he attended Belmont University while she worked as a barista and a caretaker; they married his sophomore year; and it was a single song—“The Storm,” a haunting barnburner—that inspired the once-solo musicians to establish their duo.
The choice to go out for the 2011 season of “The Voice” hinged on being able to sing as a pair and the option to sing original material.
Fast-forward again: The couple made it past the row of backward chairs, landed on Blake Shelton’s team and (barely) adapted to the reality TV show’s filming schedule. And though they weren’t able to make it past the first round, Josh and Nicole did come back to Nashville with enough exposure to ditch the side jobs and focus solely on music.
The duo’s former coach even announced their first single on iTunes via Twitter.
“It was a great launching pad for our career,” Nicole said. “We’ll forever be grateful for that experience.”
The recently released five-track EP is a departure from their 2010 record, “Pulling Back the Veil,” and the collaborative work Nicole and Josh have done with other Music City-based acts. Yet the content remains entangled with their experience as a married couple.
Now past the first few years and further into the work of a partnership, Elenowen’s music takes on new territory, from the heady, visceral undertones of consuming attraction to the lingering questions of what if those childhood dreams had come true.
There are easy parallels to draw between Nicole and Josh’s work and that of bands like The Civil Wars, which Josh noted has changed more than a few minds regarding the potential of two voices and an acoustic guitar.
But again, the marriage at the root of Elenowen steps in as the distinguishing mark.
“There's a lot of duos coming out, not just in Nashville,” Josh said. “We’re different in that we’re not as dark. We have pain and struggles, but the fact that we are married—the content of the music has an upbeat flair with folky elements.”