[Read Grant Walters' review of Elliot Root's debut album Conjure here]
Nashville-grown alternative rock quartet Elliot Root is just days away from releasing its first full-length studio album, Conjure, which arrives on August 25 via E.R. Recordings/Thirty Tigers. Their forthcoming set follows two EPs the band released in 2015, Thoughts From Yesterday and II.
In a short amount of time, Elliot Root have drawn noteworthy praise from audiences and critics in their adopted hometown; local site GoodBAMMSho described them as having "such an electrifying energy and captivating stage presence that the audience can’t take their eyes off of them." Their national reputation is also rising, having recently toured alongside X Ambassadors, Lord Huron, the Zac Brown Band, and Michael Franti & Spearhead. This fall, they'll accompany Rainbow Kitten Surprise as they support Conjure on the road, with an October 1st kick-off in Memphis.
The band, which features Scott Krueger (vocals, guitars), Melissa Mattey (keyboards, drum programming), Sean Truskowski (drums) and Todd Bond (guitars), is already receiving an impressive response to the tracks they've previewed ahead of Conjure. Lead single"10,000" received over 400,000 streams on Spotify shortly after its release, while its latest, "Lost Man Running,” was spotlighted by long-standing entertainment site PopMatters. Krueger and Mattey also share the album's songwriting credits as well as serving as its co-producers, along with Tony High of Nashville's Blackbird Studios.
Conjure may very well give Elliot Root a bona fide breakthrough, but the band's intent focus on creating expressive music that reflects its members with uncompromising honesty is undoubtedly what will steer them there. Lead vocalist and founding member Scott Krueger and I conversed recently and took a deeper dive into the album's origins and the creative process behind it.
Grant Walters: Much of the press I've been reading talks about the band's work together. But I'm curious what each of the members were doing before Elliot Root took shape in 2011?
Scott Krueger: I think the normal response to this question is we were all waiting tables or something like that, but we actually were all working with music in some way. Sean was working as an audio engineer in Nashville. Melissa was also working as an audio engineer and producer in Nashville. Todd was working as a gigging musician and he also worked at a music shop. I was working on developing as a songwriter and doing different studio and writing work for a small publishing deal.
GW: Your lead vocal is an important vehicle for the emotional impact of these songs. When did you discover that ability and how did you develop it over the years?
SK: I was pretty late to the game in the music world. I didn't really start singing until I was 18. I suppose I was always singing for fun as a kid but I never really had a musical upbringing, so I didn't actually try to sing in a professional or intentional manner until much later. Once it occurred to me that I had some sort of natural ability to sing, I spent a lot of time imitating styles of voices that I liked until I eventually developed my own comfort zone and natural singing voice.
GW: You mentioned in an interview recently that the band's second EP was the tipping point in terms of a unifying vision. What were some of the things that happened or evolved during that project that clarified your collective identity?
SK: The Thoughts From Yesterday EP was the beginning of everyone feeling comfortable contributing something unique to the recordings. A really big part of that process though, was the development of my relationship with our producers Melissa and Tony. They brought a new sonic palette and a high level of experience to the process, and that really pushed my ability to write in new ways.
GW: Conjure is a really compelling record from a melodic standpoint, and I love that each of the tracks ebb and flow in surprising ways. They're memorable, but not formulaic. How do you explore those nuances as you write?
SK: We really tried to not block ourselves in the songwriting process. We didn't want any preconceived notions of how things needed to sound or thoughts on what song form we needed to stick with to get in the way. The whole process was just a willingness to experiment and let different melodic ideas and vibes blossom into something naturally. I think the record was two thirds art rock aspirations and one third pop sensibility operating in the background, keeping things in check.
GW: You've discussed how writing and recording this record was an exercise in honesty for the band. How did you all unplug from whatever noise was happening around you to create something that was truly “in the moment?”
SK: I think the key to unplugging was making sure we didn't put any pressure on the situation. It helped that we really didn't have much outside pressure either. We are a young band with a short track record so we are still able to exist in a really inventive space. There aren't a lot of expectations as to what our album needs to sound like and that helped to embolden a comfort in doing what felt right in the moment.
GW: I'm curious about the Nashville music community. On one hand, it seems really collaborative and welcoming. On the other hand, it must be crowded and even competitive. How has the band managed to nestle into a comfortable place there?
SK: You’re exactly right, there is a definite duality to the Nashville music community. In a creative sense, you are surrounded by some of the best musicians and artists in the world. When you are surrounded by that much talent all the time, it can only inspire you to want to be better. The downside is that it is a town that was built on a lot of success on the business side. Whenever there is a need to maintain a bottom line, things can get competitive for some of the wrong reasons. I think that is even more reason to be authentic though. We are most likely not going to be the best musicians in a room or the most technical band ever, but we do have the ability to be uniquely us. If we are going to cut through the fray somehow, I think it's going to be because we created a sound that only we could.
GW: One of my favorite tracks on the album is "Wicked Lies.” It has a little bit of bluesy swagger that's quite irresistible—I've been playing it all day today. What's it about and how did it develop?
SK: Thanks! Glad to hear you like it. It's one of my favorite songs from the record. That was one of the songs that Melissa and I co-wrote together. It started off with a key bass/synth line groove that Melissa came up with. We started with the verses and locked those in pretty quick. The rest of the song took longer to come up with. It actually might be the song that took the longest to finish from the time we started it. I liked the song so much just as a verse without the chorus, that it took me a while to find a chorus melody that felt like it fit the song. The main idea behind the song is the feeling I get, that we as people are getting more and more comfortable with living behind a wall of secrecy or lies. Whether it be in a relationship or on the internet or with strangers. Sometimes even with those we love the most we can find comfort in telling half-truths because the full truth is a bit to heavy or scary to admit.
GW: These soundscapes that you created so carefully in the studio—what form do they take on stage when you're in front of an audience, when there must be an overwhelming sense of energy there?
SK: I think that live, the album becomes a bit more raw and intense. There is always a new energy that the tracks take on live. It's not that the sonic thought process isn't still intact, I think it just becomes a bit less careful and certainly more emotional. When you get to share your emotions in concert with so many other people and their emotions, everything evolves.
GW: OK, last question. What, if push comes to shove, are your five favorite albums of all time?
SK: One of the toughest questions to answer, and it gets asked a lot. I'll speak solely for myself on this one, because everyone in the band would have a different list. Ok, my top five for now (these are subject to change every once in a while) are Bon Iver’s Bon Iver, Coldplay’s A Rush of Blood to the Head, The Cure’s Disintegration, D'Angelo’s Voodoo, and The Postal Service’s Give Up.