As Elliot Root began recording their first full-length album, Conjure (out Aug. 25 on E.R. Recordings/Thirty Tigers), the Nashville foursome had the rare opportunity to figure out exactly what kind of band they wanted to be. Their answer: an honest one.
“Instead of trying to create something that we thought was middle-of-the-road, or commercial, or whatever, I think we first and foremost wanted to be 100 percent honest with ourselves,” says singer and guitarist Scott Krueger. Elliot Root also features Melissa Mattey (keyboards, drum programming), Sean Truskowski (drums) and Todd Bond (guitars).
Conjure follows a pair of EPs released in 2015, which helped the band find its feet. Working on their first LP in 2016 was a deeper, more involved experience that found the musicians pushing boundaries in a new way. “We were really allowing ourselves the freedom to pretty much just try anything that felt good or natural and not really direct it toward one certain vibe or one certain theme,” Krueger says.
The result is songs like “10,000,” an introspective, atmospheric song that contrasts bright piano with soaring guitars; or “Take Your Money,” which pits gruff guitar against Krueger’s assured vocals as he delivers a message of contempt. “Wicked Lies” has an enveloping R&B flavor, while “Dissipate” is full of synthesizers as Krueger contrasts a vision of decay with underlying optimism.
“We were able push ourselves in a way that felt so natural,” Krueger says. “When you first do something that feels foreign, you eventually realize that if it’s an honest expression, then it’s not really foreign at all. You’ve just uncovered another layer of something that’s been waiting for you to express outwardly.”
What’s the overarching theme of Conjure?
It’s kind of the story of someone examining themselves and the human condition through several different lenses as they live out a year of their life. It’s taking in so much emotion, good, bad, whatever it is, and processing it and trying to find a common thread in everything going on around us. I was going through a lot of emotional changes while we were working on the album, as I think everyone is right now. We’re dealing with a really interesting time. There’s so much opinion, and there’s so many emotions, and everything just feels really raw and sometimes tense, but then there’s also this great positivity and connectivity.
Were you consciously writing about that stuff, or did the theme hit you after the fact?
It’s a mix of both. There were definitely some tracks that were really intentional, where I was feeling a specific thing I wanted to try to translate into a song. But there were times on the record where I was trying to let things naturally come out without a specific intention, and then when I looked back, there was a common thread running through.
You wrote some songs, Melissa wrote others and you co-wrote. How did your styles mesh?
I think we pushed each other in good ways. Mel is very skilled in the sonic landscape of everything. She’s always been great at letting my thoughts and ideas stretch as far as they can go. She can help me get some of the stuff out of my head that I can’t even get out myself. And her writing style is sort of geared toward pulling the band further sonically than I would have thought to do, but because it’s a debut album, there wasn’t really anything off-limits, so we didn’t have to put pressure on ourselves to do a certain thing. We could figure out the space we wanted the band to occupy.
What’s an example of a song where you really stretched out?
The one that sticks out the most is “Dissipate,” which has a cinematic feel to me. It doesn’t have a very typical song form. A lot of times, I think, it’s harder to push forward with a song that has a different sort of form than verse-chorus-verse or whatever most people are expecting to hear, because you have to ask people to take a little bit of a ride with you. The immediate vibe is melancholy, or sinister, and it definitely came from that kind of place, but it turned out to be a song that is sort of hopeful and positive.
What about a song that was very intentional?
“Take Your Money” came from a very specific thought process. I have a personal situation, a family situation, that led me to have this feeling about how big corporations in this country and their influence can push people down paths that sometimes don’t work out very well. I was angered by that because I feel like there are a lot of times when we get manipulated. So I started with the intention of writing about that, and it became a song about finding a way around obstacles or pushing through some of these darker moments.
What about the first single, “10,000?
”That ended up being a really specific song, too. It’s about a certain headspace, and it came from the first parts of creating the record when the band was moving into some new relationships on the business side. There was a push and pull, and a lot of traveling and just having to make big decisions for the first time, and when you put that alongside some of the universal tension that’s happening, it created these moments of reflection I’d have when I would be alone or traveling. I’d just kind of drift away into these daydreams about things that were happening, and I wanted to write about that.
What’s your approach to writing lyrics?
I’m a young writer, so a lot of the time, I feel like I’m still figuring it out. Sometimes I feel like I’m watching myself write a song, like there’s a person behind me whispering things into my ear. It’s like I’m channeling something: I can see the thoughts form in my mind, and then the words will start coming. They don’t necessarily make sense at first, but then a picture emerges and becomes clearer. I sort of surprise myself once in a while, like I didn’t realize I had something inside of me until it comes out.
What are you proudest of about Conjure?
I’m so proud of the whole thing, actually. We really, truly did make a pact within the group that we were going to be honest, and really not let the EPs influence where we needed to be, or what people told us they think we can be. We really allowed ourselves the space to do anything that felt right at the time, and at the end of the day, we’re proud that we were able to have that moment of pure artistry. It really was an honest expression of the best thing we could create for ourselves at this point.
So after writing about the human condition, are you hopeful, or despairing?
A little of both. [Laughs] I don’t think I’ve figured it out yet. I don’t think anyone figures it out, really. I don’t think it’s something to be figured out. It’s just something to live with, and your reaction changes every day.
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CONJURE TRACK LIST
1. Suddenly Everything
3. Take Your Money
4. Lost Man Running
5. Wicked Lies
7. End Of Our Faults
9. Hold On
10. Like The Sun