Many parts of our lives are concealed in a fog of mystery. Local singer-songwriter Elspeth Summers sees patterns emerge, connections between man and nature, and a distinct clairvoyance concealed by what others see as reality. Some might see her foray into the supernatural as merely a gimmick, but her commitment is earnest.
“I believe it all,” said Summers. “I believe in oracle card readings, being connected to Mother Earth, the spirit world. I mostly keep it to myself. I’m happy with letting people interpret that as they will.”
The mystery of it all, however, is just as confounding to Summers as to anyone else. Recently, while browsing the demographics of traffic to her website, she discovered a considerable chunk of her fans are from Russia.
“I have no idea why,” she said. “I don’t know anyone from there. They seem to know me, though.”
Summers lives in Gardnerville, a location that’s provided a lot of inspiration for the open-prairie side of her aesthetic. As far as the spiritual side, which draws her interest towards the paranormal, that can be ascribed both to her upbringing and to her own natural curiosity.
“My parents were super hippies,” Summers laughed.
Summers said she has her parents to thank for her becoming a musician in the first place. Her father is a guitarist, introducing her to the instrument when she was 15. Since then, the guitar has become her primary totem for channeling her revelations, her musings and her emotions. She also plays ukulele and banjo.
Summers’ voice is like a neo-pagan echo of Stevie Nicks. She remembers the first time she heard all the “power females” of the ’60s—a category in which Summers includes Janis Joplin, alongside Nicks—coming from the stereo at home as a kid. She didn’t take to it at first, writing it off as old fogey music. These days, Summers turns to these Boomer goddesses for inspiration.
Summers spent a good part of her adolescence learning to sing and play guitar, before trying her hand at writing her own songs. She attended an adult music camp, where she met Eric Slone, a producer based in Nova Scotia. Two years ago, when she started to put together a catalog of songs, she got in touch with Slone about arranging and recording her first EP.
The EP, Recollections, came out in December, after two years of work. An ethereal and passionate collection of songs, Recollections dwells equally in the spirit realm and in the vast Great Basin desert. The title track contemplates past lives, and memories that might bridge the gap through the process of reincarnation. “Mythos” discusses the appearance of ghastly apparitions. Summers describes the final track, “Bluegrass Tunes,” as her take on a country love song.
The heart of Summers’ songs are country in nature, but their unconventional lyrics and structure give them a dreamlike quality, like the soundtrack to Dolly Parton’s fever dreams. Country music is the setting, rather than the aim of Summers’ music.
Now that Recollections is complete, her goal is getting a live show together. Summers’ band includes former members of Reno/Gardnerville folk acts such as Handsome Vultures and Very Pretty Pigeon. She has her sights set on traveling, with her band, and as a part of Loud As Folk in March, through various cities in California. She hopes to make folk festivals a regular stop.