‘Borne and Raised

‘Borne and Raised

The first notes of Airborne Charlie’s eponymous debut album, out today, materialize like raindrops on water, delicate and rippling. Luscious harmonies and pillowy bass soon sweep through, filling out a melancholy meditation on time and love that feels like the ride home from a camping trip somewhere near a lake.

This is a record that recalls the memories you’ve forgotten. Listening is like stumbling onto a Super-8 reel of your formative moments, rendered with the intimacy and pathos of a Bildungsroman. Some of those moments whisper, as with first track “Until,” and others shout, especially on irrepressible second track “Arbiter,” which croons to a lover and, occasionally, a river. Each of the seven songs is distinctive and yet part of a broader spirit, diving headlong into the melting pot of Americana music and bringing a few ingredients too.

sponsored by

United Way of Greater New Haven

But who is Charlie, and why is he Airborne? Longtime friends and musical collaborators Hans Bilger and Eli Greenhoe, the band’s two members, chuckle at the question. Greenhoe explains that Airborne Charlie refers to a real person, transformed by hindsight into a sort of totem. “Charlie is a guy, a rambunctious old man that we met at our first ever show in Austin, at Dozen Street on East 12th Street. He was one of the only members of the audience, and he was the most engaged and kindest heckler I’ve ever had.” Austin locals reportedly call Charlie “Airborne” in recognition of his past military service.

Greenhoe, a doctoral student at the Yale School of Music, and Bilger, a Germany-based PhD candidate at UT Austin (and a former Yale undergrad), have a history all their own. It dates back to their middle school days in Brooklyn, where they bonded over Wilco while riding the bus. Memories from the ensuing 20-odd years of listening and playing together—Bilger reminisces about sharing a headphone splitter shaped like a cow’s butt—tumble out frequently as they discuss their musical influences, citing Elliot Smith, Bill Callahan, Gillian Welch, Dave Rawlings. “Hans and I have a big penchant for bedroom folk and bedroom pop,” Greenhoe explains. “It’s often quite lo-fi, stripped down, often quiet vocals, intimate production, and with an ear towards using the means at your disposal at home as opposed to a recording studio… I just figure that I love so much music so intensely and feel like I want to write music for people that love the same stuff as me.”

He and Bilger wrote and recorded Airborne Charlie in 2018, in Austin, Texas. They were recording their own separate albums at the time, but even so, Greenhoe says, they made it a priority to collaborate. “We had never made good on the things we wanted to do, and one of those was to commit to being a band, being co-songwriters, and making records.” Collaboratively indeed, the pair shared songwriting and singing duties. Meanwhile, Bilger occasionally put down his bass, both electric and upright, and picked up a guitar, while Greenhoe started with guitar, both acoustic and electric, and garnished with organ and other instruments.

These days, with Greenhoe living here in New Haven and Bilger pursuing research in Berlin, their relationship is a long-distance one. Practicing together is a challenge, as the lag inherent to remote video conferencing makes truly synchronous playing untenable. So for now, they’re sort of like pen pals. “We’ll send each other voice memos of things,” Bilger says, “and we’ve made one split-screen cover video, of Whitney Houston”—specifically, the song “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”—“and that was fun. Eli recorded himself playing through the whole thing, and I came up with a bass part and we put it all together.” Of course, it isn’t ideal. “I miss being in the same room and all that back and forth,” Bilger says.

As if the physical distance weren’t enough to deal with, COVID-19 scuttled plans for an album tour and made it impossible to arrange future performances. Things are well and truly up in the air—but if anyone can adapt to that environment, it ought to be the members of Airborne Charlie. “On the one hand, this eventually will be over, and things will return to some semblance of normal,” Greenhoe says, “and on the other hand, you have to keep sane. You have to keep making music with the people you love.”

Airborne Charlie by Airborne Charlie
Where to Buy: Bandcamp
Where to Stream: Spotify

Written by Allison Hadley. Image, featuring Eli Greenhoe and Hans Bilger, provided courtesy of Airborne Charlie.

More Stories