Inspired by the psychedelic sounds of the '60s while adding some lilting folk-rock and the occasional bit of classic country to the mix, the Essex Green were part of the Elephant 6-affiliated scene of the late '90s.
The band shared members with the Ladybug Transistor for a few years, and like that group, their take on chamber pop was gentle and richly arranged. After recording an album for Kindercore, they released two albums for Merge in the early to mid-2000s, then, after long break from working together, reunited without a hitch and released Hardly Electronic in 2018
The group was formed in mid-1997 after four members of the Burlington, Vermont-based indie pop band Guppyboy -- singer/guitarist Chris Ziter, singer/keyboardist Sasha Bell, guitarist Jeff Baron, and bassist Mike Barrett -- relocated to Brooklyn, New York to start a project that incorporated psychedelia and cosmic music into its sound. Completing the lineup with drummer Tim Barnes, the group appeared at various New York City clubs before touring the East Coast with Aden and Saturnine. The band's first release was an early-1999 split single with its alt-country alter ego, the Sixth Great Lake. Also in 1999, the Essex Green issued a self-titled EP for the Elephant 6 label and their debut full-length for Kindercore, and Bell and Baron joined the like-minded Brooklyn group the Ladybug Transistor.
Their time spent with that band meant less time for Essex Green activities, as did Bell's work on her solo project the Finishing School, whose debut album, Destination Girl, came out in 2003. By this time Bell had left the Ladybug Transistor and Baron had downgraded to contributor, which meant more time for the Essex Green. The band, now a trio following Barrett's exit, signed to Merge Records and began work on its second album. Toning down the eclectic psych-pop of their debut recordings in favor of a more relaxed folk-rock approach, The Long Goodbye was released in 2004. After some time spent touring the world, the bandmembers headed to the Manhattan studio of producer Britt Myers, where they began sessions for their third album. Cannibal Sea, which cut out any remaining traces of country-rock from their approach, was released by Merge in early 2006. The band spent a solid year touring behind the record, then hit a snag when Ziter moved to Cincinnati. Bell then moved to San Francisco and Baron to Pittsburgh.
With the three members in different cities and their real lives getting in the way, it took nearly a decade before they worked on music together again. Bell had even stopped playing music entirely for a few years until she moved to Montana and, with the help of some friendly record-store clerks, started playing shows as the Sasha Bell Band. Meanwhile, Ziter and Baron had both moved back to Burlington, and the trio decided the time was right to reunite. They played some shows in 2016 and began seriously working on another album. The trio members traded song ideas across the country, then Bell went to Vermont for some sessions. A couple of years' work led to their third album, Hardly Electronic, a richly arranged slice of chamber pop that was issued by Merge in mid-2018. ~ Jason Ankeny & Tim Sendra, Rovi