Interview: Elliot

by michael bushman

All ages gigs aren’t really my thing. Great for the kids. Bad for alcoholics. Plus I gotta say, the kids in San Diego are just too damn polite. I show up to the Epicentre and it’s dark with a ballpark and playground right out back. But there are no huddles of kids drinking from brown paper bags. No revolving circles of lighter flicks beneath the bleachers. No make-out sessions under the trees. Rather, all the emo kids are politely chatting and behaving themselves waiting for swoon and croon indie rock perfectors Elliot. I’m sure the Epicentre appreciates the manners of the kids, but in my day, we just couldn’t be trusted with all ages venues because all of the above always accompanied such events. Not sure why, but the powers that be always seemed to have a problem with kids doing the bad things they themselves did when they were young.

So I’m at a teen center. Fully. Lovelight Shine are playing and slowly bringing solemn looking kids closer and closer to the stage. This used to be most of JeJune. But have now gone with a sort of Brit-pop-alt-rock approach. Kinda sloppy this night, but mostly got their idea through and when it clicked, it worked. Same with their CD. When it works, it does so pretty well. I think they will suffer some not so favorable “pale in comparison to JeJune” jabs before they fully develop. Enthusiasm was there to make up for some of the bumps (and broken string which really seemed to throw the guitarist). The singer (who was pleasant to chat with after the show and I’m too lazy to look up his name off their gracious gift of a CD) is the main focus here and commands the bands presence on stage. Some times legitimately bug eyed and dramatic, other times looking like he’s trying to hit his Mick Jagger stage swagger a little to intentionally. But I mostly enjoyed their set and look forward to hearing more.

The JazzJune was very energetic warm stuff right up in that emo vein that was the genre de jour of tonight. More members equals bigger layers. And when all are strumming on that clean guitar bounce laid against a singer who can challenge the already thick melody, you get the JazzJune. Not really familiar with this band aside from their name being dropped with a lot of other bands that are respected in their own circles, but tonights tight performance shows the JazzJune are worthy of any reputation that precedes them.

Elliot are the cream. The inside of your second bite of a twinkie. The stuff marshmallow melts into when dropped into hot chocolate. Super sweet and good when you’re buzzed. Since the tempos are all really slow and dreamy with such pretty melodies, it’s best to just draw a deep breath and close your eyes and drift against singer Chris Higdon’s voice. Think Radiohead if they were really much more happy with things. Bassplayer Jonathan Mobley is standout and responsible for a lot of the mood shifts behind the unique coo of Higdon. Not sure how Kentucky has bred such swelling ether pop, but its got atmospheric overtones and romantic sweeps. The guitarist kind of prances around the stage like a really really bad dancer, but the sounds that trickle and spill forth are truly a lot of the musical personality of Elliot’s songs. He just looks rather peculiar in those moves. Nothing personal guy, love the music. Elliot utilize a track of keyboard textures and other samples so they sound a lot deeper than your traditional 4-piece. Tonight’s set was mostly tracks off of their recent release “False Cathedrals” which I recommend to all sappy couples looking for some cool emo stuff to bond to. Elliot are always very patient in the development of their songs so patience is required to fully absorb their music. And live, they were pristine with Chris Higdon’s voice keeping me in constant admiration. I normally gravitate toward music with a little more aggression, but talent is talent and these guys delivered a full sound.

When the show was over… all the kids politely went home. What’s with this emo nice guy attitude anyway? I like the music, but it’s destroying my faith in the kids to be complete fuck ups (thus justifying the complete fuck up I was when I was that age). After the show, singer Chris Higdon had some words to share with Modern Fix.

Ether-rock? (Like taking a big hit of Ether and then rocking?)
Chris Higdon: I think that’s what they were doing tonight. They (some kids) offered me Valium in the middle of the set.

Do you get offered Valium a lot?
No that’s a first. There’s been a lot of firsts on this tour.

From where do you command your sense of melody?
As far as song writing, the music comes first, and Kevin creates a lot of that and gets kind of a structure or melody line of the actual song. When I come in vocally, I let the line flow first and I don’t really concentrate on specific vocals or lyrics. I just let the sounds come first that are natural and let them form into themselves. That way, it gives me an idea of what the song’s about. I get more of a feeling first before I get the actual content and I’m able to work off that feeling.

Kentucky? Seems an unlikely breeding ground for swelling, pretty indie rock.
I don’t know. We’ve always had this underground kind of punk rock and hard rock scene. You just get a lot of misfits in Kentucky. We are kind of on our own little island. Kentucky and Indiana is pretty much farmland, but Louisville is an island within itself and we just kind of feed off each other. There have been great bands for such a long time that started the underground. It’s always kind of bubbling there.

Emo tag? Comfortable with that or any tag?
I think most artists are uncomfortable with having any kind of genre being stuck on them. But I won’t fight it. If I fought it, it would probably be more emo. I’m not really gonna complain. As long as it doesn’t stop people from coming out and seeing us, I don’t care what people call it.

You’ve been praised critically for the subtle use of electronic elements, but you almost have to look to notice them on the album. Do you think it’s the toned down usage that sets the appeal? (As opposed to bands who utilize the element heavily, but to a lesser degree of impact).
I think mainly with that, it’s because we concentrate on the songs first and allow the other stuff just to come up gradually, a little more natural. We wanted to be very tasteful because we knew we could take it too far and damage the songs if that’s what we relied on totally. If we needed to, I would love to be able to take these songs to an acoustic guitar and still be able to get something across. And I think a lot of times, bands relying on technology and electronics…if they don’t have it there, there’s nothing there at all.

What put you on the path to being a musician?
I guess I had a guitar when I was like 6 or 7. But they didn’t tell me or show me how to tune it. So it was a just a complete waste of time for so long, and I’d get so mad and finally, I just destroyed it. That probably led me into coming from punk and hardcore into what we are doing now (I finally learned how to tune the guitar). I think just hearing music and really falling in love with it from day one. And vocally, I would always follow horn patterns or the string sections rather than the vocals. My dad was a big fan of Men At Work in the 80’s, so I would like follow the sax in the solos and stuff. That kind of led me into my love for music, sad to say, 80’s rock music.

What’s the most important rock band ever?
The most important one for me, at this point, and just for me and not anybody else in the band, is Queen. I love Queen. From the theatrics to the songs and his actual singing and what they tried to do.

Any up and coming bands you’d like to give some props to?
Coming up really fast is this band called The Weakerthans. Definitely try and get a hold of it. It’s amazing stuff. We played with them for like 10 days on the east coast and they are the nicest guys and just like the best road music. Ever since we’ve been listening to the CD wishing they were on tour with us.

What’s your favorite way to feel good?
Playing music and just being out here. Being able to talk with people and share what we are doing. Everything else is just one notch lower than when you are up there and people are actually getting what you are doing and enjoying it.

What’s the psychology of a touring unit?
Give people their space. And that’s a really hard thing for me to do. I’m always like, “What’s wrong? What are we doing? Blah blah blah”. When I’m two steps up on somebody, I try to take three steps back and give everybody their room to be themselves.

What’s the most messed up thing you’ve seen on this tour?
We had a couple crazy things happen. In Orlando, a girl flashed us (which was a first). And we almost got arrested in Arizona for public nudity and trespassing.

How do you envision your fans listening to your music?
That’s a good question. The way I enjoy music the most, I’m not sure if it’s because of all the traveling and touring I do, but it’s in a vehicle. Driving down the road or driving through a city. And that’s when sometimes things really sink in. I have a hard time just sitting at home and turning things on and just sitting there and listening and soaking it in that way. I have to be out and let all these visuals things compliment the music. So I guess I see them either doing that or just sitting back with their eyes closed.

Who is a Saint?
My friend Jonathan.

Who is a Sinner?
That would have to be myself.

What is the coolest?
Sailboats.

What is the lamest?
Black vans. We were traveling in a black van for like 4 years. It had no AC, no trailer, all the equipment and stuffed with 5 guys.

Messages to the masses?
Just to check it out and give us a chance and listen to what we are doing and I hope they come and check it out.