|Photo by Shervin Lainez|
As good-humored as he might come across in the following interview,
there's something unmistakably studied and serious in These United States frontman Jesse Elliott. When listening to TUS, it's easy to get the feeling that,
like Jack White, whose voice he often evokes, Elliott has spent more than a little bit of time in record stores, dusting off everything from Delta blues
to the Rolling Stones' more country-centric material to modern-day Americana like Dawes and Wilco. But, at the same time,
comparisons aren't exactly in order when describing TUS, a band that
derives far more from classic American songwriting principles and
traditions than from any one band or sound.
These United States' new, self-titled album is, in
probably every way, a new peak for the band, which formed in 2006 and has released five LPs. On it, Elliott's singing sounds
more confident than ever, and the musicianship among him (guitar), J.
Tim Hnatow (guitar and pedal steel), Justin Craig (guitar and piano),
Anna Morsett (bass), and Aaron Latos (drums and percussion) comes across
as tightly wound but still free enough to sound far from contrived or
meticulous. In Elliott's own endearingly sarcastic words: "I think it's
safe to say, conservatively, that our new self-titled album has changed
the way people on planet Earth think about their lives, each other,
love, death, music, the meaning of it all." Sure, why not.
In a recent conversation with Gimme Noise, ahead of
TUS' show tonight at 7th St. Entry, Elliott spoke about touring, playing
with Willie Nelson, covering Bob Dylan, and more
The band has been touring more or less nonstop since April, and you're
scheduled to stay on the road until the middle of September.
Oh, yeah, there was April and May before the album's
release, wasn't there? I think we're actually out through October. Maybe
November when the album comes out in France. No rest for the wicked.
These United States is one of those bands that gets
labeled as a lot of different things. Your Wikipedia page, for instance,
says you play everything from psych-rock to alt-country to pop. What do
you refer to your music as?
Yeah, we get called a lot of nasty things. We just say rock 'n' roll. That's the nastiest, after all.
think are many, many bands that you guys could conceivably be compared
to. Who do you see as TUS' antecedents and influences?
As with pretty much any band, I'd guess, there's just
way too many between the five of us to even start listing. Sometimes I
wonder if a band's music actually comes from the negative space left out
of the Venn diagram of each individual member's differing and often
antagonistic musical influences. Is that a double negative? Times five?
My math is rusty.
The new album dropped about a month ago. How has the response been so far?
think it's safe to say, conservatively, that our new self-titled album
has changed the way people on planet Earth think about their lives, each
other, love, death, music, the meaning of it all. That's what our
yes-people tell us, at any rate.
These United States features guest appearances
from Langhorne Slim's David Moore, Deer Tick's John McCauley, and
Phosphorescent's Matthew Houck, among others. What makes you want to
collaborate with someone, or, more specifically, what drew you to those
Music itself begs to be played with other people.
That's where music comes from. And these are the people whose music we
You opened for Willie Nelson on June 18 at New Haven, Connecticut's Shubert Theater. Please describe how mind-blowing that was.
That was very, very mind-blowing. It kinda came out of
nowhere, too, which made it all the sweeter. Willie wears New Balance
shoes, he's 79 years old, and he sings a song with Snoop Dogg called
"Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die." What could I possibly tell you that
those simple facts do not already tell you?
Brooklyn, North Carolina, Denver, and D.C. have all been
listed as either the band's origin or its current location. Could you
clarify what those locations actually mean to the band currently?
Those are the places where members of our band call home,
more or less. I guess four of the five of us don't actually pay rent
anywhere. But we do know the mountains and the cities and the
people we most love to return to when we have a week off the road.
You did a great cover of Dylan's "To Ramona" in 2009. I
know that was actually recorded for the French compilation Dylan Mania,
but did you ever consider putting it on Everything Touches
Everything, which was released a couple months after Mania?
Bob Dylan put that song on an album [Another Side of Bob Dylan], and it was a very
good album, and we had lots of songs of our own that needed a home. So I
guess it just comes to how you feel about the issue of orphans.
I love and am fascinated by the artwork of the new album, that sort
of Where the Wild Things Are look. How did that come together and what
was the inspiration behind it?
Yeah, Ben Russell
of the band Cartwright did that, the cover. And Todd Roeth did the
inside map-like artwork. We've loved what these guys do for so, so long,
it just made sense to have them along for the ride this time around. We
can't stop stumbling across inspiring people all around this continent.
It's exhausting. No rest for the orphaned.
These United States at 7th St. Entry tonight.