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Elliott | False Cathedrals | interview | Chris Higdon | indie | alternative | rock | Lollipop
False Cathedrals (Revelation)
An interview with guitarist/vocalist Chris Higdon
by Tim Den
With two new EPs and an extremely polished new album, Elliott has taken a hatchet to all preconceived notions about who they are, what music they play, and most importantly, laid to rest the ever-haunting "ex-members of Falling Forward and By the Grace of God" tag. Abandoning every characteristic but the elongated jams and "tortured soul" vocal style of their previous full-length, U.S. Songs, the band is now bordering on the line of ambient rock as opposed to post-hardcore. No more layered guitars or emo arpeggios, but instead dreamy backbeats and soothing pianos litter the ears. The band sensibly released the If They Do (which includes bonus tracks and the entire debut 7" In Transit on CD format) and Will You EPs before the full-length, False Cathedrals, to give their audience an in-progress peak of the new sound, making the listening experience between all three records a well-rounded and informative one. With these three sonically-enhanced diaries, fans are able to follow along as Elliott crosses the post-hardcore boundaries into a whole new world. The new sound doesn't just signal the full-on acceptance of electronic elements and non-rock instruments into hardcore, but the next chapter in the genre's evolution.
Are you guys home? Getting ready for the road?
Yeah, we're in Louisville (KY). We're holding down the fort. We're getting ready to go out in September. I went out of town last weekend to Initial Records' office, hung out... just preparing for the album to come out.
Is the band a full-time job for everybody?
We still hold down things here and there. The band is definitely able to take care of itself when we're out there touring, but I think everybody still has a job, so the band isn't the only thing... so we won't go crazy. Kevin (Ratterman, drums/piano/samples) has his own studio, so he makes his own hours. I go back and forth between odd jobs.
Kevin recorded the two new EPs.
At that point, that was one of the first things he'd ever done for release. The first thing he really recorded was this solo project called Balance and Starstruck, which he released himself. It was a benefit comp. He got into recording more and more from then on, and now he's doing really well here in Louisville. Recording a ton of bands... there have always been a lot of great bands here. We've got a strong history, and a lot of young bands are coming out. That's where Kevin gets most of his business from. His price range isn't out of hand, so it really helps out a lot of the up-and-coming bands.
You all didn't lose your marbles being locked away in that warehouse (writing and recording for months), like the bio says?
No. We live here (in the warehouse). It's nice. We recorded the EPs here, then demoed everything for False Cathedrals, and reworked the songs over and over again. When we kinda got what we were going for, we went out to L.A. with producer Tobias Miller and recorded the album out there. (Living in the warehouse) just really helped the process of it. It's a compound of sorts. We don't have to leave unless we really have or want to... just to get food and what not.
All four of you lived together?
Three of us did for a while. Jonathan (Mobley, bass) never lived here, Jay (Palumbo, guitar) lived here for a while, one of the first people, but he moved out because he started a family. Now it's just me and Kevin and an artist that lives upstairs from Kevin. It's pre-Civil War, and it was some type of barracks for years. It's been everything since then: a meat house, a carpet factory, and now we share it with a couple of different guys and businesses. There's a guy that makes window shades, a construction company on the first floor... It's an interesting place.
How does a building survive two hundred years in downtown Louisville?
I don't know. (laughs) I'm sure every thirty or forty years it gets a facelift. You just take care of it. We put on a new roof recently. We don't own it by any means, we just rent some spaces, but we refurbished it so we could work out of it.
How long did that take?
Um... it's one of those things where you're always doing stuff to it, but it took me about three months when I moved in. I did it by myself. Kevin and Jay did the third floor - it took them about the same amount of time, but they had twice as much room to work with.
A friend told me someone left the band?
Well... Jonathan has a daughter, and he has a second child coming in September. So he's an honorary member where any time he wants to write or play with us, he's completely welcome. It's just up to him. But Jay is the one who left the band. He left right after we toured with Hot Water Music. His reasons were family situations and also wanting to go - musically - in a different direction. But everyone's on a civil level and we're all friends. Both Jay and Jonathan played on the new records and helped in the writing process, so it was definitely a big "ouch" when it all went down. But it's really turning out for the best. You make the best of the situation... We've got a new guitarist and a touring bass player at this point. It's molded well, because now we know more about what we want to do and what we're going for, so we can find someone who wants to go in that direction with us. When you're with people for five years, you grow and sometimes you grow in different directions... It's a sad thing, but it's natural. We have no bad feelings about it.
Did you know about their departures before or during the recording?
Jay was after the recording, but with Jonathan, we always knew that the more touring we did, the more the possibility that we were gonna have to find a touring bass player. It was constantly "Can you do this time?" "Yeah, I think I can pull it off this time." And that was when we were touring maybe two months out of the year. But when we wanted to up that, we knew it was going to be harder. Once he found out he was going to be a father a second time, even two months was too much.
What did Jay want to do?
I don't know, and I don't want to put words in his mouth. But I think that he was probably going toward something more aggressive. Maybe something where he plays the main role in writing the songs. He's also started a family. He has a step-daughter, a wife, a new house, so it's like putting your life on hold many months out of the year, which is a really difficult thing to do. And when you have those types of responsibilities and you want to do those things right, it takes a lot out of you.
It seems a lot of bands are breaking up because of these "responsibility" reasons rather than "artistic differences." It's hard to chose - when it comes down to it - between a stable life and one that's always moving around.
You have to find the balance. I might be naive, but I think there's one out there. That's what I'm striving for. When it gets to the point for me to make those decisions, I'll have to make 'em. It's really sad to see things happen the way they happened because I think we're getting to the point where we can make things a little easier for everybody; become more of a steady band. We've done a lot of the hard work, but you have to let everyone make their own decisions.
Who's the new guitarist?
His name is Benny Clark. He's an old friend and exactly the person we wanted to come in when the situation occurred. He plays guitar and bass and has filled in for Jonathan on other occasions. It was perfect; it was just a matter of convincing him that we were on the same musical page. He brings a completely different sound to the band. There's no way we could replace the people that were in the band, and we really didn't want to. If there's someone new coming in, we want them to be themselves and have new insights and push us to write differently.
Who does most of the writing?
We've always said it's split 25% each way; completely collaborative. But a lot of the skeleton workings of the songs, a lot of the ideas and focus of the beats and the other stuff, Kevin writes. Once we have all that, everyone else adds the spices to it. The majority of songs on False Cathedrals are based around the songwriters still in the band.
You could tell when Kevin joined, all the in-depth piano/sampling stuff started to happen.
A lot of U.S. Songs was written when Kevin wasn't even in the band. On that album, he was compensating with and concentrating a lot on technical and dizzy drumming so he could have his input in the songs. As he became a member, he was able to put his creativity into the writing of the songs. And yeah, it made a world of difference.
How do you think people are going to take this - pretty much a straight rock album with lots of pianos - after a post-hardcore album like U.S. Songs?
I don't know. We're trying to keep the audience that we've grown with. Hopefully, our audience will continue to grow with us. It's been a couple of years since the last album - we've gone through a ton of changes and I'm sure they have too. I think it'll be okay. We might lose some people, but we'll probably gain more than we lose. We want to reach everyone, but we don't want to slam the door in the faces of people who've helped us and supported us to this point. I've seen so many bands do that. Whether they've grown musically or grew out of what they were when they were eighteen, they go "Oh, we were never a part of that" and "we're not gonna play those clubs anymore," or "we're not gonna tour with those bands." Whatever it is, a lot of people get shut out. Then all of a sudden, where's the band at?
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