As a student, Ellen Hogan ’16 could be expected to perform in most campus musical events. From both chamber and school choirs to Phi Mu Alpha’s Battle of the Bands and Coffee House, Hogan established her broad musical ability. Now Hogan brings this versatility to Nashville-based band Sunset East as its frontman and newest member.
When Hogan auditioned, drummer Harrison Doyle and bassist Kyle Robert were reviving their band. But they didn’t have a singer or a guitar player. They sent out a notice for auditions, but nobody lived up to expectations.
“Except for Ellen,” Doyle said. “Ellen was actually one of the few that I was able to find, and she was absolutely phenomenal. We were so happy with the way that she sounded. Right after the first audition we were like, ‘I think that’s the one.’”
Robert and Doyle had cultivated a style with rock and Southern influences, Robert having played with The Band Perry, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Chase Rice. Hogan, however, loves pop — especially Ed Sheeran. With the three working together, their style is a mix of country, pop, Tom Petty, The Eagles, and “a big blend of everything,” Hogan said.
With Hogan’s stylistic influence, Robert said the band now appeals to a broader audience. The band adjusts its style depending on the audience, bringing out the country influence for some crowds, while adding a pop twist to country songs for others.
Each member brings a different skill to songwriting, creating a strong team and playing to their strengths, Robert said.
“We all write together, which we balance out really well,” Hogan said.
Robert writes lyrics, Harrison works with the chord structures, and Hogan creates a skillful melody line.
“Ellen’s influence in pop has really vocally and melodically taken us into that commercial direction where we’re able to utilize the harmonies of The Eagles, use the jam sessions of Dave Matthews, and still have a pop feel that’s viable to almost any demographic,” Robert said.
While Doyle did not have much previous interest in pop style, he said it was a welcome change.
“Just the way that the style blended into what we already had, it just worked so well,” he said.
A music major at Hillsdale, Hogan said she did not expect her classical training to help her as much as it has. She also gives input to her bandmates, helping with tonal quality and harmonizing. As a member of the student band The Biting Goats at Hillsdale, she said she learned to manage a band, applying her business classes to organization and logistics.
“Everyone in the band is professional in a great way,” Robert said. “And every decision is made with everyone in mind and together, which is what I’ve always envisioned.”
Senior Jacob Hann, a member of Phi Mu Alpha and friend of Hogan said when visiting her in Nashville, he could see her love for its energetic music scene.
“I know she’s very passionate about it,” Hann said “She’s doing what she ultimately wanted to do.”