Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Our Interview With These United States' Jesse Elliott: "Rock. Beauty. Life. Death. Love. Heat. Combustion. Redemption."

It's a good time for These United States (the band, not the country).  They've got an ambitious new self-titled album, out on June 12th, featuring collaborations with members of Deer Tick, Phosphorescent, and Langhorne Slim (watch a cool little trailer for the album here ).  They've received high praise in the New York Times.  And they're on a major summer tour with Heartless Bastards.

The band hits the Granada next Tuesday, May 29th, for what's sure to be an absolute barn burner with Heartless Bastards.  Check out These United States' page over at Big Hassle here for a lot of info and all the links you need to familiarize yourself with the band prior to next week.

We chatted with front man Jesse Elliott about his Whitmanesque vision of America,  Tupelo vs. Wilco, concept albums, and those disagreeable music critics over at Pitchfork.  To paraphrase Mr. Whitman, we can't wait to hear him "sound [his] barbaric yawp over the roofs of [LFK]" next week!

Richard:  We like the following New York Times description of These United States : “a rambunctious alt-country band with story-songs that are both tangled and aphoristic.”  How would you describe your own sound, ideally using some highfalutin’ terminology like ‘aphoristic?’

Jesse:  Well, I'll admit, I had to look that one up in the dictionary - a sign of good writing, if you ask me - something that stretches your brain in some new direction.  And that particular word shares a history with "horizon," another one of my favorites, so we'll take it.  I'd slip in just a little something extra to that formulation - maybe "exuberant bordering on mystified balderdashery"?  You know, like the good kind of bullshit - like uncles telling stories around the bonfire.

Chip:  Your press material describes your upcoming self-titled album as “a concept album that acts as a panoramic snapshot of numerous American musical styles over the past century, but still looks forward to the weird new world at the completion of the Mayan calendar.”  We’re simultaneously thinking:  “awesome” and “what the hell?”  Can you tell us more specifically about the “concept” of the album?

Jesse:  It's not so much the different American styles we were going for as it is the people and places beaded out all along this big strange beautiful new world necklace.  Again, just stories around bonfires, facts, fiction, dreams.  I was down in southern Mexico when our press person called, so maybe something got blurred on the phone.  It's a good year for that, according to my sources outside Palenque.

Chip:  So you’re collaborating with folks from Deer Tick and Phosphorescent for this album.  We’ve seen both of those bands in action, and their shows were gloriously raucous and drunken.  Can you share any tales of debauchery from the recording sessions?

Jesse:  Can I or should I?  It's like science, and morals, and thinking about what's best for future generations. Just because you can, you know?...

Richard:  Like a lot of scenesters our age, we’ve personally been huge alt-country fans since Uncle Tupelo, but it seemed for awhile like the genre might be fizzling out, at least in terms of popularity.   Do you feel like it’s undergoing a resurgence lately with bands like Deer Tick et al?  And which other new twangy bands should we keep an eye on?

Jesse: I'll be brutally honest with you here - I'm more of a Wilco than an Uncle Tupelo guy, same way [Deer Tick's] McCauley's got just as much or more of the Cobain spirit passed down through him.  But that doesn't really matter.  People focus a lot on how to parse out this or that moment or movement, trying to put a conceptual limit down, very natural, make the universe that's just too wide for any one mind just a hair more understandable. It all sounds like garages and yawps to me.  

Chip:  Those dicks over at Pitchfork have given you guys the business in the past with critiques such as this:  “Elliott gets carried away with his grand vision of America, packing his songs with look-at-me allusions to Mark Twain, Cain and Abel, Dionysius, and Babe the Blue Ox (the blue ox, not the band).”     Personally, we love ‘look-at-me allusions.’  And what’s wrong with a “grand vision of America’ anyway?  Pitchfork would probably give Whitman’s Song of Myself a 3.2.    Anyway, what’s your reaction when you get scathing critiques of your work?  

Jesse: The one you're referring to, I actually thought that was not an unfair assessment.  Deusner's a smart guy.  I rarely agree with his takes on music, and I'm not sure he's the first person I'd call up to take me on a tour of the bayou or the badlands, as they say - but there's no harm, and occasionally even great beauty, in people dancing about architecture.  It's not his fault or Pitchfork's that we all forget he and we and they are each just one more desperate human voice trying to make sense of the infinite swirl.

Richard:  We’re pretty hyped for your show at the Granada with Heartless Bastards?  Tell our readers what they can expect from the evening?

Jesse:  Rock. Beauty. Life. Death. Love. Heat. Combustion. Redemption. Probably a free souvenir wristband or a stamp, too, I imagine.

Here's the new album cover and a photo of the band:



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