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These United States Write ‘Autobiographical’ Record About US Travels

Published: Friday, August 24, 2012

Updated: Friday, August 24, 2012 14:08

These United States

Shervin Foto

Jesse Elliott is a self-described troubadour. On his own and with his rock ‘n’ roll band, These United States, Elliott has traveled all over the country making music with the talented individuals along the way. Their fifth studio album, These United States, is a collection of songs crafted in different cities with different contributing artists including Deer Tick, Langhorne Slim and The Mynabirds.

More importantly, the album is about their actual travels and inspiring people they encountered on the road. Phoenix even gets a detailed shout out on the album. Elliott recently chatted with College Times about his adventures and nomadic lifestyle.

College Times: You’re on a break from touring right now, aren’t you?

Jesse Elliott:Yeah, we just got done in Alaska. I actually just flew back to the Lower 48 yesterday so now we have a couple weeks off before we start it back up again. It was my fiftieth of the 50 states. It was very exciting for me on a personal level. I think it was the forty-seventh state as a band, but it was a pretty epic week-long journey with all the crazy Alaskans.

We did a benefit show for musk oxen. Do you know what those are? You’ve probably seen a picture of them at some point. They look like prehistoric cows with gigantic curving horns that somebody dressed up in a shag carpet from the ‘70s or something. They’re these really beautiful, strange creatures and they’re endangered in Alaska.

What started this quest to go to all 50 states?

I think a lot of it started when I was young. My parents were really good about packing up the family station wagon and driving us all over the country. I had actually seen all of the Lower 48 states by the time I was 14. It took me another 15 years to see the last couple so I guess I was kind of a slouch compared to my parents. It gave me a serious love of the landscape and the people, and music, and the culture, and all the crazy shit this big ole crazy country has to offer. It’s much bigger than I think most people realize. It blows my mind every time we go on tour, and we’ve been doing this for six years or something. It’s still exciting every time.

Do you feel comfortable on tour?

Yeah, especially in the last few years. At first it feels strange to be gone from home and not have a home but after a while you get so use to going to all these different places and everywhere starts to feel like home. I stopped paying rent on a place four years ago, so when we’re not on tour I’m still kind of on tour making music with people in different cities. It starts to feel like home on the road after a while.

So, this album is all about those travels?

It’s in some ways the most autobiographical album as a band. I don’t really think about it being about ourselves but about the places and the people, so we tend to think of ourselves of authors of some small atlas. The important stuff is not us but the maps of the places and the people contained within the atlas.

I was surprised there was a song about Phoenix (“Vince”).

Yeah, I was surprised too. That was kind of a surprise song that came from an old friend who I grew up with in Illinois called Vince Gonzales. I didn’t see him for 10 years and he popped up in my life pretty randomly in a show in North Carolina and we had this great catching up. He lived in Phoenix for several years before this and Vince wrote me this funny note that started off, he said, “If you find yourself in Phoenix, I’m sorry,” and it continued from there with directions that are actually in the song. Most of the song is sort of a direct quote of that note Vince wrote to me. It obviously takes some other twists and turns from there and I decided I’m really not all that sorry to be in Phoenix after all.

These United States w/Yellow Minute, Avery, Sundressed, The Rhythm Room, August 27, 8 p.m., $10 to $12

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