Jesse Elliot, the mastermind behind the elegant and eclectic blend of psyche folk and alt country that is These United States, dabbled in several non-musical arenas before settling on music as a viable option. “About two years ago I kinda ran out of other options,” Elliot told Listen Up Denver! in a recent interview from his home in our nation’s capitol. “I got disenchanted with politics, journalism and international law and this other stuff that I had been thinking about doing with my life and I was like, ‘I guess there’s always music, I could try that.’ Writing songs at the end of the day had always been some kind of solace for me, but it was kinda my last resort.”
All of that end-of-day writing had produced a big collection of songs in various states of completion. “I was like, ‘Maybe I should do something with these.’ However, I didn’t actually really know anything about the music business and my performing experience had been limited to performing for my dog and cat on my nylon string guitar when I was younger and then, like everyone, I had a bad high school band with a really bad name. It was called Dr. Niceguy,” Elliot said.
Since the days of Dr. Niceguy, Elliot has gotten serious about music, learned as much he could, and toured “all over God’s green earth.” In a culmination of sorts to all of this effort, early this month, about the time that his debut album is released, Elliot will embark on a tour that fits the grandeur of his band’s name. He is scheduled to play 40 shows in 42 days in markets across the country, including several he has never visited before.
To complicate matters, he is planning on having a different local band join him on stage at each of the shows. “We are actually going to play with a different band and as a different band in every city after just an afternoon of practice,” revealed Elliot. He then went on to state that “for the benefit of the audience if for no one else, my drummer Robby and multi-instrumentalist Tom will be joining me for the tour to keep the wheels on. That way, the members of the other band can focus on adding to the music rather than holding the song together.”
In an effort to chronicle the improbable events that are sure to take place over the course of this momentous tour, Elliot has invited a documentary film team along for the ride. “We are going to have our buddy who is a filmmaker along to capture all of those moments and everything in between. He’s shot some live stuff for us before and has an amazing eye. I’d been talking with him a while ago and said, ‘You should really come out with us on tour one of these times.’ I guess we figured that if there’s gonna be a fun tour to document it’s probably going to be this one,” laughed Elliot. “We’ll see where it goes; some story always intervenes that is more interesting that any story you could plan in advance. We are going to let him wander where he wants to and it will be a little slice of life out there on the long and winding road.”
Though there are no definite plans for a release of the film, Elliot’s dreams of releasing an album have finally come to fruition. Clocking in at just over 35 minutes, A Picture of the Three of Us at the Gate to the Garden of Eden, may have a long and wordy title but the directness and simple beauty of the music more than makes up for it.
The record is a layered affair that has just the right amount of pop hook to sell the listener immediately on songs like “First Sight,” “Kings and Aces,” and “Business.” After several listens it becomes clear that there are also several songs that slowly creep their way into your consciousness. Simply put, it’s a wonderful ride and the excellent production value only enhances the most subtle elements of the songs’ structures.
With over 300 performances on two continents under his belt in the last two years, Elliot and his band have had plenty of time to effectively translate the beauty of the album to the stage. The added element of having new personnel on stage with them every night will add a dynamic to the performance that is sure to keep songs alive and evolving. Given this format, These United States will not be able to fall into the trap of just going through the motions on stage and the challenge will enhance each and every performance.
Check Out These United States if You Like:
- John Vanderslice
- Bright Eyes