These United States’ fifth full-length (since 2008!), and best yet, is hitting shelves on June 12th. However, if you’re interested in getting a sneak preview of the self-titled release, the Americana quartet will be at Union Transfer tonight, supporting Trampled By Turtles, likely previewing a handful of tracks from the upcoming release. The album was inspired by bandleader Jesse Elliott’s travels back and forth across the US in 2011 and includes a shockingly impressive bevy of collaborations, including Deer Tick’s John McCauley (who will be gracing the stage of Union Transfer this Sunday) and The Mynabirds’ Laura Burhenn, along with members of Cotton Jones, Phosphorescent, and Langhorne Slim, among many others. It manages to capture pretty much every possible definition of “Americana” and provide a seminal example of each. Opening track “Dead & Gone” rings of the jangle of the Delta by-way-of garage hero better than Jack White could ever dream of carrying out, “Let the River In” is a Southern Rock ballad fit for night moves… or the final scenes of Dazed and Confused, and “Miss Underground” casually blends the sounds of the South with the most pretentiously genius that we know (see: “girl groups”-meets-psychedelica-meets-the-origins-of-punk). However, half-way through, the self-titled release strikes absolute brilliance with “Two Gods,” an equal blend of traditional country and blues reminiscent of Tom Petty, except with a certain authenticity and badassedness that would likely be inaccessible to the kind of person who could afford to go to a Tom Petty concert. This is followed-up with “Not Gone Tonight” and “So Sweet to be Back,” likely TUS’ sassiest numbers to-date, which have no reservations about explicitly infusing their sound with a punk aesthetic that is both crass and silly… but in a very self-aware and “time-to-let-our-guard-down-and-get-goofy” kind of way. And then the album ends with three ten-ton-trucks of ballads (“The Park,” “Vince,” and “Never Stop Falling”… the best of which is “The Park”), which are all equally uplifting and existentially honest… that may be an oxymoron, but have a listen and see if you can’t hear what I mean. If any of this sounds at all appealing and you don’t have something to do tonight, or if you’re a Trampled By Turtles fan, come out to Union Transfer tonight (a little early) to catch a preview of one of 2012’s best releases. I recently had the privilege of chatting with Jesse about the writing and recording process of his band’s latest, and what I consider to be their masterwork. Here’s what he had to say.
Izzy Cihak: I understand that the inspiration for your upcoming self-titled release was a literal journey across the country. What were your personal highlights, whether they made it onto the album or not?
Jesse Elliott: Well, yeah, not just one journey, but a year or so of running circles and figure 8s and mountains back and forth. I think my favorite moments – up in Bellingham, on the banks of the Susquehanna, at a bar in North Carolina, talkin’ with a good old friend about a very specific place in the desert, very far away, that I’d eventually make it to – I think they mostly made it into the narrative, actually. Some names were changed to protect the guilty parties.
IC: The album contains quite an impressive collection of collaborations. Are there any musicians you’d particularly love a chance to collaborate with in the future… whether entirely realistic or not?
JE: Let’s just put all my eggs in one basket on this one and say Beck.
IC: Since digital music has become the norm, a lot of acts seem more prone to a steady flow of mini releases, and the art of the LP seems to be dying a bit. Yet, These United States have managed to put out five full-lengths in four years (something that has been an oddity since the end of the 1970s). What is your take on LPs and current trends of music consumption?
JE: I love all kinds of compositions – epically long, epically short, whatever it takes to communicate an idea just the way you’re thinking, I’m all for it. Especially love multi-media kinda stuff, whether that takes place in the context of an interactive video game or a massively choreographed live performance or whatever. Albums just seem to be the language I speak best – or at least have the most interest in learning how to speak best, slowly but surely, someday.
IC: United Interests, the company that serves as your record label, has a pretty interesting take on music. What is it about their somewhat unique approach that you find so well suited for These United States?
JE: They’ll try anything. They’re in it for the fun and the art and the experience – especially the live performance – and there’s very little they take as given. That gives us incredible freedom to tour how and when we want to, and make the albums that we want to make as a band.
IC: You’re currently on tour with Trampled by Turtles. How did that come about and what are your thoughts on the Minnesota outfit? What can fans and potential fans expect of the evening?
JE: TBT’s amazing. Virtuosic musicians, essentially playing some of the best-written progressive- and classical- influenced pop and rock songs, and they do it all with acoustic instruments. The range of sounds and arrangements they can make collectively from just an acoustic bass and guitar, a banjo, a mandolin, and a fiddle – it’s really just a joy to get to see live in front of you every night.
IC: What are your plans for the rest of 2012?
JE: When we get done with TBT, then we’re headed out with Heartless Bastards for a few weeks in the Southeast. Then we put our fifth album out June 12, and basically just keep touring behind that until Thanksgiving, I’d guess. Think I’ll finally get to make it to the single state of all 50 that I haven’t been to – Alaska. That’s probably gonna blow my mind apart, re-start the whole thing from zero, Mayan style. Long live the pan-American dream.