Can you describe the recording sessions? The album certainly captures the collective’s intentionally loose feel.
We just hung out in Santa Barbara and made the U.S. Elevator album. We took a month to do it. We didn’t use headphones. It was more about, “Here’s how the song kinda goes,” and we would just do it till we got the track. There’s this speaker company in town called Sonos. I know some of the guys that work there and I said, “We’re doing this project and we’re gonna hit the tape, but we’re not using headphones and what I’d love to do is rig up Nate’s house, where we recorded, with these Sonos speakers.” We can smoke a joint, we can walk around the yard. We don’t have to sit at the controls, or the computer or whatever it is, and we don’t have to sit in the same room to listen. We could walk down to the neighbor’s house and you could hear it blasting. We would just pick takes like that.
So Sonos got into it and they brought a bunch of stuff over and it was really fun and they got into it with us. We were basically going with this very old school approach having Sonos kind of just blasting throughout the yard. And that’s how we picked takes, it was a lot of fun, definitely some interesting times throughout trying to get some of the tracks, there’s no click tracks, it’s what you hear on the run. But that’s what happens. It’s still set up, like right now.
Do you plan to do more recording with the setup?
I am planning to dig back in this weekend and I’m glad Tim sounds like he’s doing better. I’m not sure if you guys heard what happened to him, but he took quite the spill and he’s going to be in a wheelchair for about 4 months. We had some shows we were gonna do with the Hips coming up that got cancelled but I just got word that they are gonna do New Year’s Eve in Tim’s hometown, which we are gonna be a part of. It sounds like he’ll be back on that seat soon, and we were talking about doing some more tracks in December. Oddly enough, at the end of that session in February, when we finished the album, we decided to put on a house party at Nate’s. The house holds about 100 people or whatever and we recorded the party on the 24 track. [Laughter.] It was a really fun party. Tim played and Neal Casal was there. Zeke was in town that night so it was a nice little poetic ending to the whole band.
How would you describe Tim’s producer role in the recording sessions given that it was such an unconventional session by 2015 standards?
It was all done on the floor with the guys, but basically what we would do is Tim and I would work on the songs together. I mean, I had most of the songs completed or at least how they were gonna go, we knew what the second verse was going to be as far as the outline. We used a little monitoring system, a little QSC monitor, that I would just use to signal the guys like, “OK, here comes that change that you keep forgetting,” every once in awhile, but it was all just organically done in the house. We made sure to use very small amps, so the amps that you’re hearing on the record, I don’t think there’s any more than 8 watts on them. We were controlling bleed by baffling, it was pretty amazing. There’s one track on the album that Mikael Jorgenson from Wilco kind of extracted and did a remix on. That was the only out of the box kind of thing.
Your original concept behind US Elevator was to focus on the rock side of your sound versus the “home brew” mixture you have explored for 15 years with Sarah Lee. As a musician, what are your takeaways now that you have had a chance to fully embrace one of these ingredient strands, versus trying to mix them all together as you’re used to doing with your patented sound?
I feel good about it. Sarah Lee and I are gonna make a folk record with Mike Campbell of The Heartbreakers soon, so now I’m really having to compartmentalize myself, which I really wasn’t doing before. It was kind of like, “Here’s an idea and here’s an idea” but now it’s like, “OK I need to write a folk record,” so it’s become a little cumbersome to figure out, how to work through that and be a good dad.
There’s only so many hours in a day, but as far as being able to be loud and turn the guitar up and be loud it’s just opened up a bunch of stuff that I’ve been meaning to get to. I just bumped into Bruce Johnson on the street and started singing to him so you never know what’s next.
We just got off a tour with Stone Temple Pilots—it’s been interesting. KCRW premiered a track back in May and then we got this STP tour based on the album because of the band members hearing it through word of mouth, so there’s been no rhyme or reason to what’s going on. I would love to do some more touring with U.S. Elevator. I think we’ll always be a collaborative effort with whoever can be available. I would love for this band to go out and play this album 365 days through the year, but the reality of it is, you know, the guitar player is in strategic marketing for UGG boot company and Nate and the guys have the wood company here, which is amazing, but it’s a little cumbersome to do a bunch of club dates. So the band will do special shows, quiet shows so to speak, and, you know, like the Stone Temple Pilots stuff that was really great. We were at The Filmore for our second band show with like 3,000 people there and the band were like, “How do we do this?” and I said, “Just don’t stop. I’ll look at you when to stop.”
So yeah there’s a lot of talk of doing some touring in the new year. There’s definitely talk of some stuff with my wife, Sarah Lee. Right now she is on tour right now with [her dad] Arlo doing the 50th anniversary of Alice’s Restaurant so we are trying to figure out that whole balancing act of having a 13 year old and an 8 year old and her being gone and me doing US Elevator. So it’s a new era so to speak for Sarah and Johnny trying to do these 2 things at once. Nevertheless we’re having fun, but we will do some West Coast stuff, the album release show is in about two weeks.
I personally love the mixing of genres and blurring lines and that stuff. I love the fact that you can play with folk musician Arlo Guthrie, and then STP the next day, and then The Heartbreakers and the Mother Hips and still come off sounding like the same musician.
[Laughter.] I’m just blessed to be a part of all those scenarios. Sometimes I’m like, “Wow cool.” The Guthrie family is going to be touring this summer. We’ll be doing some select shows, and it’s just a whole different batch of songs. I will be in New York for the 50th anniversary show at Carnegie Hall. It is going to be a family affair.