Within a week of popping the question, “Hey, wanna start a band?” a group of people who knew each other from church and mutual friends were honing a sound — one that meshes jazz, soul and pop. They call themselves Elephants in the Room.
The two founding members are Daniel Thompson, who graduated from Miami in 2017, and Sharee Nurse, a current graduate student.
After graduating from Taylor University with a degree in music marketing, Nurse told herself she would turn away from making music. Now, she’s the lead singer, songwriter and acoustic guitarist of the band.
Their debut performance was on Aug. 25 at the Ernst Music Festival in Kumler Chapel. At one point, the audience had filled between 75 to 100 seats to hear the band sing jazzy renditions of songs like Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” and Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.”
In three months, Nurse wrote 10 songs that will become the band’s first album. The plan is to finish up lyrics, finalize instrumentation within the next few weeks, start doing regular local shows and record the album within the next year.
All the group is missing is a bass guitarist.
“It’s the thing you don’t know is missing until you hear it,” Nurse said. “It’s like the bass in a car — that low, vibrating part. When you take it out, it sounds weird.”
Despite the missing bass, a few songs have been successfully crowd-tested. Nurse and Thompson played an acoustic version of two original songs, “Brown Skin Baby” and “I Think This is Love,” at Art After Dark.
It wasn’t as packed as the Ernst Music Festival, but the applause of the people filling the few rows of chairs in front of the stage set off a shrill feedback.
“You guys are too excited! The sound system can’t handle it,” Thompson said during the performance.
While the final touches are being made on the album, the band is putting its own spin on mainstream songs. The band never ends a song cover the same way.
When covering a song, the band first tunes it to their own soul-and-jazz pop frequency. They slow down fast songs, and bolster slow songs with the trumpet or trombone. They practice until they trust each other to make their own individual riffs.
“Anything we can do that makes people go, ‘ooh!’— we do that,” Nurse said.
Sometimes the “ooh!” is carried by the lilt in Nurse’s voice.
“It gives me chills every time I hear her sing,” Amanda Gonzalez, a fan and a friend of Nurse, said.
Often the “ooh” is prompted by an impromptu set of notes on the keyboard, the trombone, the trumpet or from the mouth of Thompson, who is the band’s resident brass and keyboard player as well as background singer.
Thompson, now a mechanical engineer in Cincinnati, spends his free time as part of Elephants in the Room, or as the lead for another local band called Just Dandy.
Sometimes the “ooh” comes out when Callie Miller’s fingers get a fresh grip on her jazz guitar. Miller is the youngest of the group, a junior at Miami, although the group often forgets her age.
“Add all of our ages together and Callie is more mature than all of us combined,” Thompson said.
Always constant is Juiquetta Harmon riffing behind the drums. She’s also a highly-rated barber at the Rose Room Salon who has cut the hair of almost everyone in the band. Harmon doesn’t sing, but her facial expressions say a lot from the back of the stage, exuding joy or surprise with one tilt of her smile.
While the last piece of the band, the bass guitarist, has yet to fall into place, Elephants in the Room is still performing at school functions and house shows. You can book them for an event on their Facebook page by searching the group’s nickname for their fans, “Little Trunkies.”