Interview with Jesse Elliott

Hey Jesse, how are you?

I’m well. Really well. Feeling well. Really feeling it today.

What’s the concept behind your latest album ‘What Lasts’?

If had I to pick one, I’d say death. Everything else’s just a sub-concept.

You guys recorded the album at Sound Mine Studios in eastern Pennsylvania, have you tracked there before?

Never. Incredible place, though. Way up high in the mountains and woods and snow — just the kinda place you wanna be buried for the worst blizzard to hit the east coast in years. And this famous German metal woman, Doro, of the band Warlock, was recording in the next studio over. So it was a very bizarre and a very beautiful 3 weeks. We got to sing back-up vocals on a German metal DVD.

Do you guys all go into the studio together and hit the material out in a few days?

Yes. Kind of. We talk a lot about it before, play through it a few times, though never live for some reason. Not sure why we haven’t gone that route yet. Maybe [for the] next album.

How would you describe the recording process for ‘What Lasts’? (i.e. stress-free, overwhelming, enjoyable, frustrating)

Yes, those.

Where were most of the songs written?

On the shore of Lake Michigan, in the woods, on a porch, looking out over a big fat body of water that tried to kill me. That’s where I got all the first impulses down, brought ’em to the band in various
shapes and in different places later on, polished ’em up good with the whole gang.

Spin Magazine said your last album “captures the overwhelming joy of simply being alive,” how does ‘What Lasts’ compare to ‘Everything Touches Everything’?

I think it was actually “the overwhelming JOLT” – though I’ve heard it both ways. Regardless, ‘What Lasts’ is a little more about the overwhelming jolt of simply being nearly dead.

Will These United States be playing some new material out on tour?

Yes. The album. ‘What Lasts,’ that is. We’ll still play stuff from the first 3 albums too, of course. But, definitely new stuff.

You guys are playing with some cool bands while out on the road. Have you toured with any of them before?

Yeah, this’ll be a great summer for us, just enjoying other amazing musicians and bands while we’re out on the road ourselves. One of the perks of the job. We’ve never played with Fruit Bats before — which we’re thrilled for, of course — or Lady Gaga. There’s some old workhorses and best friends mixed in there too — Deer Tick, Or the Whale, Langhorne Slim. We know and love these bands and ideas and people. Cypress Hill, Yo La Tengo, those will be firsts.

What’s the tune “Life&Death She&I” about? The title sounds pretty deep.

Whew. Yes. It goes too deep. I can’t find it. It’s down there though. I’ll give you the words, quick as possible:

I went to see a painting.
I only found a frame.
I entered the way I’d later leave, and left the way I came.

I left under a crumbling arch – I walked right through the stone, my one
foot following the other, the only way I know.

I’m just biding my time.
I’m just biding my time, til I die.

Still there are many things I’ve learned to like about life.
I said to her: I’m just a momma’s boy, aching for a little affection.
She said to me: I’m just a daddy’s girl, dying for a little direction.
How’s that for traction?

And now, we’re just biting my tongue.
I’m just biting my tongue – useless and young.
Still there’s a certain relief when you’re under the gun.

I said: I’m just a momma’s boy, talking towards a possible treasure.
She said: I’m just a daddy’s girl, looking for a meaningful lecture.
Let’s get together!

You know, we’ll just bide all our time.
We’ll just hold all our tongues, like we knew how to die.
Do we know how to die?

Kid, that’s a corner to turn at the end of the line.

You go to see a painting.
You only find a frame.
You enter the way you’ll later leave, and leave the way you came.

Looks like you’ll be touring throughout the summer, which cities are you looking forward to hitting?

I mean, always Denver – everything in the mountains, really. Ever seen Boise? Whew. Chicago, all that out on the great wide open plains, too. Big Sur, the coast. Maumee, a perfect people if ever there was one. First time through a few places, too — Hoboken and Las Vegas and Kansas City and Joshua Tree — and so there’s always that magical first glimpse of anywhere that stays with you. That’ll be there.

With your laptop stolen on tour, did you have to start everything over from scratch?

Yes. 300 songs. The whole new album. Not a fun week, that first week.

Are any of the songs off the new album about that frustrating experience?

Only indirectly. Well, yes, directly, yeah. They’re all about loss. It’s all gloom and doom, you know, loss and death and destruction and re-birth and re-death, over and over.

What is the message you’re hoping the fans will grasp from ‘What Lasts’?

That something does, maybe. And if you find it you should call us.

Pick up These United States’ new album What Lasts