Even serious musicians need a good laugh every once and awhile, and after a year filled with touring, recording and releasing a fifth studio album, it must be refreshing to let loose. For Jesse Elliott, this release came in the form of an interview…with me.
The These United States front man was nice enough to take time from life on the road (the band is touring through October) and get a little goofy with me as we chatted about his newfound obsession with Alaska, dreams of being an astronomer, and the band’s next step…a tour of the moon with ZZ Top.
Katrina Nattress: Your band is called These United States, have you been to all the states?
Jesse Elliott: I just got to my 50th a couple weeks ago, actually. It was also the band's 47th -- Alaska. We really need to find someone to help us carry a pedal steel to Hawaii.
KN: You recently released your eponymously titled fifth album. What made you decide to self-title this one?
JE: That's what the album is about, all these different but somehow weirdly united states. You gotta call your album what it's about -- otherwise, people won't believe you.
KN: This album is arguably your most upbeat to date. Where did this change of musical energy spark from?
JE: It sounds like the second most upbeat album to me, next to our third album. But maybe our least upbeat, next to our first, was our fourth, in which case we're just talking here about a basic pendulum movement, so like a lot of things we can just credit this one to the natural mathematics of the universe?
KN: These United States features collaborations with a number of great bands including Deer Tick, Cotton Jones and Phosphorescent. How was it to work with so many different musicians?
JE: It was inspiring, just to spend a little more time around all these people we've loved musically and personally for a long time now. Josh of Revival and Laura of The Mynabirds and the fine folks at Backwords and Frontier Ruckus and Ben Sollee and Jefferson Hamer. You just can't argue with voices like these. If you do, it just immediately turns into a very productive conversation.
KN: You have played so many shows in so many places, and you’re currently on the road. I’m sure you have some pretty crazy stories. What’s the weirdest thing that’s happened on tour?
KN: What’s been the most memorable show you’ve played thus far?
JE: The Taproot in Anchorage.
KN: Where is your favorite place to play?
KN: What’s your favorite song to play?
JE: We haven't had time yet to write a song about Alaska, so for now it's probably “Let the River In.” Sometimes it's “Vince” -- but only if we really nail it, which is a tricky thing to do.
KN: You began recording your second album just 6 weeks after your debut was released. Why the urgency?
JE: Life is precious, and we are not.
KN: It seems as though you jumped in head first at the beginning and then took a step back, taking two years between your fourth and fifth albums. What was the reason for this?
JE: Time is stretching as parts of the universe explode outward from one another, so we were trying to account for this and stay in line with the naturally expanding rhythms of things.
KN: Since your inception in 2008 you have been a busy band! You’ve released five studio albums and played over 800 shows across the world. Does it ever get overwhelming?
JE: Yes. Time is stretching as parts of the universe explode outward from one another, which is very hard to keep up with.
KN: Do you even have moments where you question your career choice as a musician?
JE: Sometimes we wish we'd been astronomers, or something that keeps it all in perspective a bit better.
KN: What keeps you going?
JE: The fact that all these things we're talking about are made of vibrations anyway, so a firsthand understanding of sound and frequencies and movement and coming together and exploding back apart becomes very important again to living a good life.
KN: What’s next for These United States?
JE: A tour of the moon with ZZ Top.
These United States is currently on the road in North America, not the moon (unfortunately). Check out a full list of tour dates here.