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Meet Elison - a new band that wasn't planned

An image of Marissa Kephart and Scott Yoshimura at night with amber lights behind them.
Jennifer Palmer (@j.e.palmer)
Marissa Kephart and Scott Yoshimura of Elison are preparing to release their first EP in 2023. They're IPR's Artist of the Month for January.

At the beginning of the pandemic, all of us suddenly had a lot of free time. Many of us hoped to use our time stuck at home to finally get in shape, tackle a home improvement project we’d been putting off or any other number of things. For one Des Moines duo, the pandemic was the pause needed to create something new.

Marissa Kephart and Scott Yoshimura, both of Des Moines, began their own independent musical journeys in the spring of 2020. During the pandemic, their separate journeys came together, and the result is Elison, a band that Kephart and Yoshimura never planned to form.

Meet Marissa Kephart

Kephart has always loved music. Her father is a longtime musician who’s played jazz since the age of 16, so there was always music in the house. As a teenager, she’d frequently go to the now-closed Vaudeville Mews to hear bands play.

“I wouldn’t necessarily need to know what band was playing,” said Kephart. “I just knew there was music, and I wanted to see it and experience it.”

Through her visits to Vaudeville Mews, Kephart became aware of Yoshimura and his band The Envy Corps, and was enough of a fan that she asked him to provide the music at her wedding in 2011.

“We had run into each other through shows at Vaudeville Mews. We didn’t know each other too well, but we were definitely acquaintances,” said Kephart. “We hired him to play music at our wedding, and that was the most interaction I had with Scott (before 2020). He played music as I walked down the aisle with my dad.”

2020 is when the story of Elison began in earnest. Kephart decided the time was right to get back into playing music, something she hadn’t really done since before college.

“I played guitar for about a year in high school, and was in choir,” said Kephart. “I never wrote songs back then, and I really went away from playing after I got to college. I traveled a bit and started a family, and never found the time. When the pandemic hit, like a lot of people, you’re questioning what’s important to you, and what are some things you’ve always wanted to do. So I took the opportunity to pick that up again.”

Meet Scott Yoshimura

Around the same time, Yoshimura was starting to get serious about honing his skills as a producer.

I was finally in a place where I could finally tell other people I was trying to do this thing... Before that time, I probably would have said no...
Scott Yoshimura

“The pandemic offered me time to experiment and learn new sets of skills within the musical sphere that I didn’t have prior,” said Yoshimura. “One of those was having the facilities and know-how to do my own actual recording. I’ve been a musician doing recording as a player in studios for most of my adult life, so I have a lot of experience in studios as a musician. But I didn’t have any real experience as an engineer. I had dabbled in producing, but that was more like a musician overseer, giving ‘shaman-like’ perspective. It wasn’t anything that you would necessarily consider similar to what modern production is. A lot of modern producers are more ‘hands-on.’”

After spending some time learning these new skills, Yoshimura felt comfortable enough posting on social media to offer his services working with musicians. Kephart was among those who responded.

“I was finally in a place where I could finally tell other people I was trying to do this thing,” said Yoshimura. “Before that time, I probably would have said ‘no’ if someone asked me to engineer on a record, because you kind of have to understand what you’re doing with these programs. But the pandemic offered me time to learn enough, and I posted. A couple of people reached out and one of them was Marissa.”

Elison is formed

“When I saw that post, it just happened to be the time I was pursuing music again and wanting to write for the first time,” said Kephart. “I reached out to see if that was something he could help with, and he was more than happy to help me on that journey.”

“We didn’t know each other super well, but we knew we’d get along at least,” said Yoshimura. “I knew a lot of her musical tastes from what she asked me to play at her wedding. I was like, ‘Wow, this is cool music! She has a good taste here.’ So I figured let’s give it a shot.”

“I had one demo that I had put together, and I said ‘I want to write a song.’” Kephart said about their first meeting. “And (Yoshimura) said, ‘Well, you already have one. So let’s record it and produce it, so you have this for you.’ He ended up producing that first song, which was ‘Meet Me Halfway.’”

I kind of just creatively throw everything at it, and then Scott has this great way of shaping it and cleaning it up and tightening things that need to be edited. I’m not necessarily the best editor. We’ve found a really great partnership in that creative process.
Marissa Kephart

“In that process, we both said ‘This is a lot of fun! Do you want to keep doing this?’” said Kephart. “Around this time I’d signed up for a songwriting class online, so I was starting to write more and had more to record. It kind of snowballed.”

Kephart planned to use Elison as a musical alias for her own single release (“My maiden name is Cornelison, so if you remove the ‘corn,’ you get Elison,” said Kephart), but it soon became apparent that it wasn’t quite Elison without Yoshimura.

“That was definitely a conversation we had: ‘Are we in a band now?’” said Yoshimura, as both he and Kephart laughed. “It was more of a question and an admission, than it was we were trying to do it.“

“This band just so happened to be a very organic process in its infancy,” said Yoshimura. “When we started to recognize it was already happening, it was kind of nice. It didn’t feel contrived in any way. We just sort of organically admitted to ourselves that we were in a band and decided to take that admission seriously and pursue it with a little more intent after that point.”

According to both, Kephart is Elison’s main songwriter. “When we were starting to work on songs, I was bringing a lot of ideas or songs of my own, but having no expectation,” said Yoshimura. “As we were listening through and trying to define what Elison’s vision or sound is, we kind of came to the conclusion that Marissa’s perspective on music is almost entirely essential to it feeling like Elison.”

“I think I write intuitively because I don’t have the years of knowledge that Scott comes with. There’s a sloppiness to it,” said Kephart. “I kind of just creatively throw everything at it, and then Scott has this great way of shaping it and cleaning it up and tightening things that need to be edited. I’m not necessarily the best editor. We’ve found a really great partnership in that creative process.”

More music from Elison on the horizon

Elison have released five singles, along with a cover of a Polyphonic Spree song. They’ve begun work on their first EP, which they’ll be releasing this year.

“Thus far, we’ve only released singles one at a time. It sort of legitimizes a band a little bit more when you have music that’s not just a single,” said Yoshimura. “Something that could be released physically as well, on vinyl or cassette tape. I think it sort of legitimizes the artistry of your musical endeavor.”

“We spent that entire first year getting to understand Elison, and finding the voice,” said Kephart. “Being new to songwriting, and then collaborating with someone else, we have two creative approaches. What does Scott bring to the table, and what do I bring to the table? We really were working through the kinks, and now I think we’re ready to present more songs.”

Elison was IPR’s Artist of the Month for January. Their music is available on Bandcamp and streaming services. Click here to learn more about and apply for the Artist of the Month series.

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Tony Dehner is a Studio One Host