Vanessa Olivarez (left) and Elizabeth Elkins of Granville Automatic
Courtesy Granville Automatic

Granville Automatic sings stories of the past on their new album.

Ziggy Marley once sang, “If you don’t know your past, you don’t know your future.” If that’s true, the ladies of Atlanta alt-country act Granville Automatic hold the keys to their future.

Named after a 19th-century typewriter, the duo — Elizabeth Elkins and Vanessa Olivarez — joined forces in 2009. Vocalist Olivarez, an American Idol finalist who co-wrote three songs for Sugarland, was looking to start a country band. Guitarist Elkins, who divided her time between fronting Atlanta rock band The Swear and songwriting in Nashville, proved the perfect partner.
Within a year, they’d written more than 100 songs, with a sound that recalls iconic ­artists like Emmylou Harris. But while Granville Automatic’s music draws its influences from classic country traditions, the lyrics are rooted in true stories from American history.

The band’s self-released third album, An Army Without Music ($15), out this summer, finds them delving into Civil War stories. The project was inspired by the band’s pench­ant for visiting Civil War ­battlefields while on tour. They realized many of these sites had been covered up by interstates and strip malls.
“We wanted to write these songs to help people remember their history, but they’re all personal stories,” Elkins says. “The new record has songs sung from the perspective of a little girl, a piece of furniture, a doctor and a ghost.”

In partnership with the Civil War Trust, a nonprofit devoted to saving battlefields, the duo traveled to more than a half-dozen historic sites ranging from Chicka­mauga, Ga., to Perryville, Ky. In each locale, they made a field recording of the song inspired by the region, shooting music videos as they went. The final album is divided between these acoustic recordings and studio versions recorded in New York with producer Gary Maurer.
“In our modern world of cellphones and tablets, when nobody talks to each other anymore,” Olivarez says, “I feel like people really do long for a sense of tradition. I think we provide that in an unconventional way that’s not like reading from a dry history book.”