V Ellsbury steps into the spotlight with new psych rock project Eleven Moons
It was around 11:00 p.m. by the time Eleven Moons took the stage at Angry Irishmen in downtown Ames. The loud and proud dive bar is a favorite of local musicians and serves as a creative hub for the town’s many noisemakers. The lights were low, the beer was cheap, and the soundcheck was well underway. Two life-sized plastic Halloween skeletons were posed in dress clothes, forever canoodling in their recliner right next to the stage. That night, they were in for a treat.
Eleven Moons is the newest creative endeavor of veteran local songwriter V Ellsbury who has been a part of several area bands including Lionessa, Witch Tiit, and Bitter Canyon. Eleven Moons, however, finds Ellsbury at center stage, flanked by the rock-solid rhythm section of Vedran Surlan on drums, Jonah DeGeest on keys and Will Pett on bass and backing vocals. All of Ellsbury’s projects are woven together by a through line of soulful psychedelia and bluesy folk rock, but Eleven Moons is perhaps the first time that a project feels uniquely theirs and the energy behind the songs really showcases them at their creative best.
“Eleven Moons” band name borrowed from a Jimi Hendrix lyric
That night, the band played a full on psych rock set replete with heavy grooves, soulful powerhouse vocals, and improvised blues-rock-freak-out guitar solos. V would later tell me that Jefferson Airplane’s “Surrealistic Pillow” was the first record they’d ever heard played on vinyl and that every click and pop was burned into their brain. They would also divulge that the name “Eleven Moons” is borrowed from a Jimi Hendrix lyric. Neither of these facts surprise me now. The night of this show, V deftly stomped on 3 or 4 effects pedals and unleashed a wah-wah drenched assault on the entire room while the rhythm section grooved away in unison.
Ellsbury’s signature style are guitar solos that push right up to the edge and pull back just before you feel like you might fall off with them. I looked at the plastic skeletons embracing in the recliner again and thought for a moment that everyone in the audience might look like that soon if the band didn’t let up. All in all, my first experience seeing Eleven Moons was a whole hell of a lot of fun. As the gig wound down, the musicians all hugged. The crowd hugged too. I think I hugged the sound guy, Westley. It started pouring down rain as the bands scrambled to load their vans.
The next week
Several days after the show, I got V on the phone. It was still raining, and it felt like it never really stopped. We talked about the weather for a few moments before immediately pivoting to songwriting, guitar playing and life. V tells me about their influences: Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, David Crosby, Grace Slick. I ask how long they’ve played guitar, and they take a moment to add up the time in their head. “Twenty years,” they say. (It always feels like that when someone asks how long you’ve played – a big math problem, doesn’t it?)
I ask what compelled them to make psychedelic music straight out of the 1960’s despite being so young.
“I feel very out of touch with this modern world. 60’s psychedelic culture and music was my time, and my dream is to keep that echo going, to bring it back again.”
Overcoming a broad sense of alienation is maybe the most important thing to Eleven Moon’s music. V tells me that they were drawn to the Ames music scene because of the love and acceptance they felt after first playing here. They tell me about the love and acceptance they feel with their fiancé, Allisa Van Horn. They stress the importance of love and acceptance in all facets of their life.
“Music is a language and vibration that we can all appreciate if we only listen. Music has taken me everywhere in this life, and I’ve been blessed with a lot of love and acceptance from our artistic community here in Ames, which is not something I was used to. It took awhile to let that healing begin, and while that journey will continue, I’m happy to be on that path and surrounded by a big family that loves and supports me and my dreams. It means everything to me. “
We pivot again to childhood and growing up feeling out of place in small communities. We stumble into a connection over the loss of our respective fathers. We talk about how hard it is to lose someone so important to you. It might seem like a morbid conversation to some, but then V tells me that by day they’re a hospice caregiver. I share my own positive experiences with hospice workers and how much I respect them for what they do. I remark that all of this explains a lot about V’s guitar playing and they laugh. They tell me that they just want to help people find healing and acceptance. I believe them.
I think about the plastic Halloween skeletons again and how comfortably macabre they looked cuddling in their recliner. It suddenly feels very appropriate that they had front row seats to the show and I realize that Eleven Moons means a lot more than just a display of skillful singing or a flurry of guitar licks. Eleven Moons is about love and it’s about acceptance and it’s about healing. It’s about how the world could use a lot more of all three.
Eleven Moons is in the process of recording an EP and will be a featured performer on the IPR Stage at this year’s 80/35 music festival in Des Moines.