Interview: Craig Elkins
Known for his witty stream-of-consciousness lyrics and deep inviting voice, self-described singer/songwriter/melancholic geek rocker Craig Elkins says his latest outing, I Love You (due out August 7th, 2012), was inspired by his struggles to be a functional Dad, husband and contributing member to society. “You know, you get to be a certain age, all of these responsibilities just sort of sneak up on you and you have to try to keep your shit together but you have nowhere to hide or escape—no one to talk to.”
His previous band vehicle, Huffamoose, was a Philly rock band with a cult following, a main stage gig at Woodstock ’94, a Horde tour and three solid albums. The single “Wait”, fromWe’ve Been Had Again, charted on Billboard at Modern Rock, AAA and college radio and the band appeared on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” followed by a documentary titled “Here Comes Huffamoose.” The film follows the band as they make their way from being “The next big thing” to their ultimate dissolution. Cameron Crowe claimed the documentary as “one of the greatest rock movies ever” in a 2004 issue of Premiere magazine.
Elkins had briefly retired from the music business after the demise of Huffamoose, but now settled in Los Angeles, CA, he’s assembled an all-star band for I Love You, comprised of bassist/co-producer, Marco Fox, Dave Immergluck on guitar/mandolin and Charlie Gillingham on piano/organ (both from the Counting Crows), pianist Neil Larson (Leonard Cohen), drummer Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello), with added help from Jason Karaban, Steve Patt, Eno Fox, Jaimie Hovorka, Jeremy Levy, and some vocal lendings from Rynne Stump.
Is this your first solo outing since the breakup of Huffamoose?
I’ve had 2 earlier releases under pseudonyms (both available on iTunes): Craig Craigstofferson, A Final Blaze of Glory and O.L.D., I Live in a World.
Whatcha been up to between then and now?
Just looking good and trying to keep the ladies at bay…. But seriously, we moved to Southern California about six years ago with my now 9-year-old daughter, fabulous wife and three (now five) cats.
How would you describe the music to someone that might not be familiar with the band and with you as a solo artist?
Obnoxious, challenging, funny, sad, quirky.
How much of a departure is it from the inspired sounds of the band? Was it hard to reinvent yourself as an individual artist… Or not?
I don’t see it as a departure from Huffamoose. If we had these tunes back then, we might have approached them in the same way. I did have a sort of songwriting epiphany shortly after my move to Los Angeles—I started writing less stream of consciousness and more to the point. As far as playing live is concerned, Huffamoose never played the same tune the same way—or at least tried not to. I get super bored playing the same arrangements and my new band, The Craig Elkinses, is headed in that direction, too. I’m not sure if they all want to head in that direction, but they are all so cool and flexible that they’re rolling with the punches!
What was the impetus to make “I Love You”? Is there a driving force, underlying theme or statement you’re hoping to make with the songs as a unit?
I Love You is a collection of tunes that I wrote over the past few years about what’s really going on, for me, behind the words “I Love You.” I mean, from a real, non-yoga place. Letting friends down, struggling with your relationships, ignoring, judging, looking down on folks, not listening. That kind of thing.
Let’s talk tech… Where did you record and how long was the process? Do you have fully realized songs when you enter the studio or just sketches that evolve during the recording process?
Most of this record was recorded in 2 days at The Pass in Studio City a couple of years ago. The cool, non-tech thing about it is that there are almost no overdubs—all my vocals were recorded live with the band except “I Wanted To, But I Didn’t.” My friend & band mate, Rynne, added some background vocals, one or two other things, but most of it is live. It was mixed primarily on Marko’s iMac.
Any interesting anecdotes about the making of the record? Did you adopt any unusual techniques or use any offbeat gear to get sounds on a particular song?
Well, we did manage to be one of the last acts to record at The Pass before it shut down. The record was recorded with drummer Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello), Dave Immergluck and Charlie Gillingham (Counting Crows), and Niel Larsen (Leonard Cohen). Jason Karaban, a fellow Philly ex-pat singer-songwriter, put the musicians together. It was actually part of a bigger project that included his tunes as well but then we couldn’t keep the whole thing together. Jason is releasing his record on the same date, too, and it contains a track called “Tumbleweeds” that we co-wrote and that is also on my record.
Favorite songs or album standouts you’d like to draw attention to? Any interesting stories about their creation or inspiration?
I really like the way the first song “Offin’ Myself” is followed by “Tell ‘Em My Story,” a song about my funeral. I really dig “I Wanted To, But I Didn’t,” but haven’t heard anyone else mention it yet. It’s a song about letting friends down… A pretty universal theme.
In general, what inspires you as a songwriter? Where do you draw inspiration?
That’s a complicated question. Basically, it’s a quirk in my brain, a place to escape to and to express my opinion. Also, I want my daughter to see me doing something that I love.
What’s on the horizon in the immediate future for you?
Trying to pay my rent, then the IRS… or vice versa. Getting this record out to the masses. Oh, I’m about to embark on a “outside the venues 2012″ tour where I set up and play outside of the venues that I can’t get into. It’s gonna be great, selling t-shirts, etc.
Can you speak to the benefits (and perhaps the downsides) of being an indie artist in this day and age… as the state of the music industry continues to ebb and flow? Are you excited about the opportunities you have to broaden your base through the vastness of the Internet, or is it a challenge to rise above all the noise?
It’s definitely a challenge to rise above the noise. It’s very easy to just send out a Facebook event and hope for the best or email someone a thousand times and never get a response. We can hide behind our technology now. I really think the best way to connect with people (and I’m about to test this theory with my “outside the venues” tour) is to actually talk to them—at least over the phone if not face-to-face.
What’s on your iPod, turntable or car CD changer in regular rotation? Any guilty pleasures you’d cop to?
Recently, I re-discovered a French artist named “Dave” that I’ve been listening to. The car is my daughter’s domain. I recently brought home a Butterfly Boucher disc that she listens to non-stop. We’ll listen to the same track 10 times in a row. I’ve also been trying to get into the new Fiona Apple record.