These United States Emerge

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

While he doesn't want to admit it for fear of jinxing the whole thing and watching it go down the tubes, singer/guitarist Jesse Elliott knows that something is about to happen to his band, These United States. He doesn't know what, but anyone who speaks with him knows he can feel it coming; something's going to happen. “Something about this record – God – where do I start,” beams the singer breathlessly. “I mean, with each one we've made, every record becomes the sum of all the stuff we've done before, so I just think of this album as a conglomeration of all the stuff we did on our other records, but there's more to it than that too. The further we moved along, the more we sort of grew into a proper and tight sort of rock n' roll band as we have been more recently. I feel like this record was the marriage of those two sides of These United States, as well as a step further that I think is really exciting.

“The last album was a very personal one and was very centered in a lot of ways because it was made just by the five of us in one particular place over the course of a few weeks,” continues the singer. “In that way, it was a very logical record, but this one was more an exercise in taking the brakes off a little and being a little less concerned with how the results were going to end up looking when it was all finished. In that way, it was definitely more of a free-wheeling process and certainly a little looser, and I think we're all pretty happy with that; because everything was looser this time, it gave us a little bit of room to mess around and shake things up.”

In listening to the results on the band's fifth album, there's no way to argue that the shaking up hasn't done These United States a tremendous amount of good, and that the brakes being off has only taken the band to some marvelous places this time out. From the opening of “Dead & Gone,” the hooks fly fast and furiously as the band erects a dense and vibrant wall of sound in front of listeners, and they'll find it hard not to to stare wide-eyed into space as they listen. “Dead And Gone” just blazes with the sort of grandeur which caused thousands of people to fall in love with The Flaming Lips (read: a little drugged, a little playful, a little sweet and with the chops to present it all without just sounding sloppy and derivative) and also with the sort of gypsy soul power that could make everyone who hears it feel a bit of warmth, sunshine and love. It's an energizing start and the band doesn't slack off after they've made it; from there, they keep pushing through songs like “Born Young,” “Miss Underground,” “Two Gods” and “The Park” and ends up totally winning listeners over because, as ambitious and high-concept as the album so obviously is, These United States never slip or succumb to the temptation of becoming “the band of aesthetes” they very easily could be and keep things reasonably simple for listeners. There's no big-dollar production nonsense on These United States, just a bit of practical magic and awe-inspiring moments borne of fine composition and the band makes it sound so easy in practice – but it was a very involved affair according to Elliott. “You know, I think for any band when they're making a new album, they can only go one of two directions,” says the singer philosophically. “You can either look at the last thing you did and consciously go deeper and further into it, or consciously go in the opposite direction – and I think we made a concerted effort to go in as many different directions from the last album as possible [laughing]. We really went a lot bigger than we ever have before in a lot of ways on this record; like, for example, I think from a contributors standpoint, twenty-five or twenty-six people chipped in to add some music to this album and, in some cases, it would just be something like two measures that got added because our friends would stop by the studio where we happened to be working while they were in town, record something and then be off on their way. I think stuff like that was really good for us because it made us work to keep up with our own music and guaranteed that it would never get stale.

"It helped too that a lot of this record was done while we were also working at other things,” continues the singer. “I'm not sure, but I think we spent last March through last November doing the album, so it was probably a seven- or eight-month project, but that was broken up by a couple of tours so, within that stretch of seven or eight months, there was probably only about two months of actual work where we'd sit down in a studio and record. In addition to that, we didn't stay in any one place for very long; the recording was split between studios in New York, near Kentucky and Toronto that our friends who were charitable enough to make time for us own. After we'd gotten it all done, it was funny because then we had to stop, sit down with all the stuff we'd recorded and figure out what we had and how it could fit together. It was kind of like a giant jigsaw puzzle and I think there was a lot that didn't make the cut because they just didn't fit – not because we didn't love them. It might sound like it was a weird way of working, but we really ended up getting exactly what we wanted in the end.”

As satisfied as Elliott maintains the group is with the results of the recording process, the obvious question becomes how the band plans to present These United States live. Even with a slightly augmented roster which features a new rhythm section, the basic restriction of numbers versus sound and performance still applies. Happily though, the singer says These United States have long-since found a solution to that perceived problem. “For better or for worse, we're not the kind of band who really tries to make our shows sound exactly like what we can do on a record,” concedes the guitarist, “but I don't think most people want to get exactly what they heard on the record played out on stage. It might be possible or even likely that they want something comparable, but I don't think they want something that is identical. I know that's what I like to see in a show, so we try to mix it up a little because that's what we'd want to see. That might work to our detriment sometimes [chuckling], but I've never heard anyone complain and working that way keeps us creatively invigorated.

"Not only that, but our live show has changed again in some ways which are really exciting for us,” continues Elliott brightly. “Over the last couple of short tours that we've done, we've recruited a brand new rhythm section added to the three core members who have been at it together now for about four years: me, Justin Craig and J. Tom Hnatow have been joined by Anna Morsett and Aaron Latos for the last couple of tours. It has been pretty exciting to play with them; it has really brought in a new angle to what we're up to, and that has been really exciting and inspiring for us; I mean, we've loved and have been really good friends with everyone we've ever played with, but something really seems to have locked in now. our last rhythm section had a lot of punk and classic rock dimensions in it. Now though, with Aaron and Anna, it's kind of exciting because Aaron's a serious jazz head and Anna's this amazing singer and melodic bass player. It's all really exciting for us because I think we're going from an energy that we all loved quite a bit – just this sort of energy which was focused more on rock n' roll – into some more melodic territory with Aaron and Anna. That has really come out now in some of the songwriting we've done recently – we've been doing some writing again, over and above the new album – and it has been exciting for us because it feels really fresh. The people who have heard it have picked up on it right away too; somebody who knows us very well said we're going from “Uncle Tupelo” to “Wilco” now with these changes [laughing]. As much as we hate being put in a box, that's a pretty good place to be slotted  in. I'm not sure we're on Wilco's  level quite yet, but I was really happy to hear our friend who knows us well say that because it feels like we're doing something right.”



These United States are currently touring North America. Click here for an updated list of shows.

Further Reading:
Ground Control – These United States – [CD Review]


These United States' self-titled album is out now. Buy it here directly from the band.

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