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Forming that crucial bond between bandmates seldom comes easy and usually takes a lot of time. If that connection isn't there, then recording and promoting a single album can create enough stress to break up the group completely.
Illinois alt-rockers Elsinore not only created such a bond effortlessly - they started within a week of scheduled studio time.
Three years ago this August Elsinore underwent half a lineup change, just before recording their positively upbeat debut LP Yes Yes Yes. The album received critical acclaim and commercial play; tracks were featured in NBC's Deception and in a month-long, back-to-school ad campaign for Kohl's. Hailing from Champaign, Ill., the group creates heavy alt-rock tinged with soulful pop. Ryan Geoff, Elsinore's singer and primary composer, delivers positive reflections of self-examination and humanism. We were able to catch Ryan on the phone for a quick Q and A just before Elsinore wraps up their Midwest tour. See them Saturday, May 17 at the DO317 Lounge.
NUVO: Yes Yes Yes came out about three years ago now and you guys have been very busy since then. What's been Elsinore's focus since then?
Ryan: Once the record came out it was completely tour focused. We did 60 days of touring, did the whole country. I think we played 50 shows in 60 days or something. Once we were back home we decided to dive head first into writing new songs because we definitely felt like we had toured significantly to the point that we would continue to do some shows here and there. But we've slowed the shows down and just kinda gone into song writing mode.
As a few months rolled by the first licensing thing happened with the So You Think You Can Dance show. We found out via our manager Dan talking to our label, Parasol, that NBC wanted to pay us a couple of thousand dollars to use the song "Yes Yes Yes" in one of their TV shows. OK! That sounds really good! You can totally pay us to use one of our songs in your TV show. So that was great! It was a big step for us because all of the sudden it wasn't just playing shows and touring and working hard in that respect, it was this new level of, "Ok, now we're in song writing mode and not even thinking about shows at the time." And then we did this cool burst of free promotion, and we get paid off it. That was really, really cool.
There was never a real sense of anything negative happening in general. But of course there were always little personal chemistry issues that were always popping up. We were always trying to figure out how to just be friends and be bandmates, which can be really tricky. Nothing ever happened where the band was on the verge of breaking up or any horrible, violent fights or anything. Two brothers who felt one thing, two brothers who felt another thing, is basically what it felt like.
We continued writing new songs and then the next licensing thing happened: the month-long Kohl's ad campaign. That was huge and it really gave us another boost both in terms of our motivation and energy, and also financially. We've been in song writing mode and we're playing a few shows here and there that were generally bigger local festivals or bigger local plays. We opened up for St. Vincent a couple of times, which was really great.
Right around the time that the first licensing happened a friend of ours in Chicago told us that he had passed on Yes Yes Yes to this producer that his band had worked with. Six months after he had given him the record, that producer emailed me, said that he really loved the record and wanted to get to know each other and talk about making our next record with him. Turns out that it's Beau Sorenson, who has worked on the last three Death Cab For Cutie records. In terms of musical direction, influence and career mindedness they seem to be the band that I've always gravitated towards the most. So that of course was really exciting because it wasn't like, "Oh I'm the guy who produced the last Puddle of Mudd record." It wasn't some totally random producer, it didn't feel like, why is this guy messaging us? It was a very, very welcome call.
NUVO: You guys are concluding your Midwest tour in Indy Saturday. This is the first time this lineup has been to Indy, is that right?
Ryan: Yeah. Friday and Saturday will be our seventh and eighth shows together as a band. Literally five days before Beau was scheduled to fly in from Portland for us to go into Pogo Studio here in Champaign for two weeks, the drummer and bass player decided that they weren't ready for the next step and that they quit the band.
NUVO: Just like that?
Ryan: Yeah, totally. There wasn't an argument and there wasn't any name throwing or blaming. The drummer started it, he like, 'I don't think I'm cut out to do this. We've been together for eight years and I feel like we're about to take another really big step and I just don't know if I'm ready for that and I don't know that I'm supposed to do that with myself. I feel like I need to go figure out what I'm supposed to do now. I'm not supposed to continue in this band'. So it was nice that he did it in such a mature way that wasn't dirty and messy. The bass player followed and said, "I feel like I have loyalty to him. He and I have always been a team, and you and Mark have always been a team, so I feel the same way. It's a good choice for both of us to leave. Ryan, you and Mark can go forward and figure out what to do."
Thankfully, it was exciting for that to happen because it did mean a fresh start for Mark and I. Basically for the last two years I had had one bass player and one drummer in my head who I remember thinking, I feel like, it the situation were different, I'd wanna be in a band with that guy. I never vocalized it: it was always just a response to chemistry issues and everything that I'd mentioned.
Soon as those guys quit, Mark, my wife and I sat down and talked about what had just happened. I told Mark that I though Brad should be the bass player and James should be the drummer. So we decided that I would call them and let them know what was going on. We went over to the drummers house, told him the whole story, asked him if he would learn the songs and record a record and be in the band, and he said yes. Not too many days later we did the same thing with the bass player. Being in a group with the two people that I had sensed chemistry with before, felt like it was totally meant to happen.
NUVO: Is Elsinore anxious to release new material?
Ryan: The way that the studio recording went, a lot of the songs that were the oldest ones that are going on this record, we totally tore them apart and put them back together. Thankfully we don't have any songs now that I'm tired of playing. We as a new quartet have picked this nice, big fat repertoire of songs that we're all really excited about. We've even left a couple off the list that we all agree we just aren't as excited about. It's cool that we've been able to cement that side of the group dynamic already.
NUVO: If you had to explain the new album to someone who doesn't have a clue how to even talk about music, how would you describe it?
Ryan: I think the word that keeps coming back to me is that the album is very cinematic. We really went for making a tiny little three-to-four minute movie that despite there being no visuals, you have the lyrical side and you have the musical side. I think we did a really good job of making this album of 10 little movies which you get to just sit there and let them happen to you.
NUVO: You guys are billed for the Pygmalion Music Festival in September. What are guys doing between the end of this tour and then?
Ryan: We'll do a big outdoor show here in Champaign. It's in the middle of campus town, on University of Illinois campus. Seth, who is Pygmalion, puts on a lot of Pygmalion sponsored events throughout the year, so this is one of those. I know we're gonna plan on hitting St. Louis, Chicago and a lot of other Midwestern cities in June and July.
NUVO: Is there any time frame we can expect to hear the new album?
Ryan: It looks like October. September feels a little ambitious, so October feels like a safer bet. Gives us enough time to make sure we've given it the proper treatment and we've put everything in order before we just say, 'Okay, here it is!' It's been really hard to sit on it since it's been finished and re-mastered. We all couldn't be more excited about it.