Grateful Web’s Interview with Elephant Revival
I feel absolutely terrible and I never want to drink again.
My head hurts, my throat hurts, my stomach feels like it’s been eating itself all day, and I am woozy and afraid for my future financial situation. I just threw up for the second time (and this time, I remember it), and now my roommate wants me to rent a Rug Doctor that I can’t afford in order to eradicate the beef stew-like vomit stains from the carpet.
Everything seems wrong, and it’s thanks to the booze I imbibed last night with one of my favorite local bands, Elephant Revival, in their red green room at the Fox before they went on to perform a show I never ended up seeing.
I was surprised when I told that bespectacled roommate of mine—a geek chic Boulder native who has lived in town all of her life, went to both Boulder High School and CU—that I was going to cover an Elephant Revival show and she didn’t know who I was talking about. I maybe have only been in town for a little over a year, but seems to me that the Revival has the best chance of becoming the next Devotchka, less in style—though ER seem to be just as protean in their instrumentation and genre bending as their fellow Boulderites—and more in local popularity, in being one of the ones with the prodigious potential to break out of our small-town scene and actually get “big.”
I guess it doesn’t much matter anyway, as when I actually spoke with the five folks from ER, turns out that though they’re considered a Nederland band (close enough to Boulder, folks), there’s actually only one official Boulderite in the group. Everyone else is a carpetbagger from across the country, though two of them together hail from haimish Oklahoma.
Their country-spanning roots and young age range (26-29, although one weathered groupie on the couch tried to convince me he was 23 despite his salt-n-pepper hair) make this quintet of new school alternafolk/blue grass punks (who don’t listen to punk rock music, I’d later learn) truly transcendent in their music stylings. In fact, if one were to investigate the band’s various press releases, websites, and MySpace page—as I had—one would be sure to find the phrase “Transcendental Folk” more than once in reference to the band’s eldritch, intoxicating style.
When I asked the folks of ER just what “Transcendental Folk” means, they more or less blanched, probably tired of answering the question. Turns out “someone else made it up,” as they informed me. “We’re still trying to figure it out.” From here on in, it was difficult to ascertain whether the fivesome were being sarcastic or not with me, especially as they all—particularly the girls—punctuate a lot of their sentences with adorable chortles and always have sly, sardonic smiles on their faces.
“It has something to do with unicorns, we think,” said Dango, the bass player who showed up a bit late to our tête-à-tête. “It has to do with the supernatural,” cherubic Bonnie—a chick washboard player, if you can believe it—noted with a beaming smile that gives her perfect chipmunk dimples. She reminds me also of the lead actress from The Journey of Natty Gann, but when I brought up the film, no one seemed to know what I was talking about, even when I put it into the context of The Neverending Story, Dark Crystal, and The Secret of NIMH.
“So, it’s from the 40’s?” asked one of the ER when I told them it was a movie about a young girl trying to find her father through various mining towns with the help of her unlikely wolf companion. “No,” I corrected her. “I said it has John Cusack in it, remember?” They all nodded their heads like obedient schoolchildren. It just takes place in the 40’s. I think.
I believe it was Dango who then brought up his own interpretation of “Transcendental Folk,” especially after we changed our conversation from elegiac Disney movies to actual Transcendental writers like Whitman and Thoreau. “It’s genre-transcending,” he told me, half-joking. I think.
Seemed as though the phrase “genre-transcending” came up enough times—all be it in jest, it must have been—that I eventually declared a moratorium on the phrase, and ER kindly agreed. I’m sure they’re tired of hearing it, too. And it became clear to them all that I wasn’t there as a conventional journalist to merely regurgitate same old tidbits in their more recent press release. I wasn’t exactly there to ask them about their musical influences either, but Dango went on with his statement about “transcending” and “Transcendentalism” to tell me that he does feel those authors were a big influence at least on him.
“It’s sort of about self-indulgence,” Dango went on to say. “Civil disobedience. All that stuff.” Everyone else nodded his or her heads again in kind. I don’t recall ever speaking to any one member of the band, and they would always answer as one mind connected. It would have been eerie and strange, especially as they all had those pleased, “transcendent” smiles on their faces, watching me as though they were about to initiate me into some kind of weird cult. At one point, I even noted, “It’s funny: right now, I have all of your attention. But, later, when you’re up on stage, you’ll all have mine.” Of course, that would never happen, but more on that later.
I think it was Dango who then remarked, “Yeah, maybe we should interview you.” Again, the “we.” It wouldn’t be Dango interviewing me. It would be the band. Altogether. As one unified body. I needed a drink.
I took a swig of the Wild Turkey stashed in my back pocket, and continued. Time to ask the band about yet another nomenclature that comes up often in their press material. “What does neo-acoustic mean?”
“It means doing music that’s old and new,” said fiddler/vocalist Bridget.
I didn’t really know what that was supposed to mean—and from all appearances, the band at this point were only some of them drinking O’Doul’s, although Bonnie tried to convince me she was also drinking “fake” Tequila. So, I asked if they knew anything about the nascent Steam Punk movement involving folks who also combine “old and new,” taking turn-of-the-century sci-fi to a whole new level of aesthetic (read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, etc. or watch that horrendous Wild Wild West movie).
Once again, no one had any idea what I was talking about.
I took another drag of my Wild Turkey and explained that it has something to do with “reinterpreting the past in order to reinvent the future.” Everyone seemed to like that idea, and went with it, agreeing that that was what they meant by “old and new” and/or “neo-acoustic.”
“Maybe ‘new’ is too presumptuous,” piped in Bonnie with her chipmunk smile. “It’s all original music.”
“We’re all appreciators of good music and like to make good music,” said Dango. And that’s really what it comes down to for Elephant Revival or really any great band with interests that span the spectrum of everything from folk to hip-hop as do they. I asked them if indeed they listened to any old punk rock music, and they all made it clear that they had not and do not. Which is surprising, because they really all do seem like punk rockers, only dressed a little differently and a bit more cheerful. I think.
“To play one genre would be boring,” they told me. “This way [incorporating so many variegated musical stylings] our repertoire can continue changing.”
They’re also all “fixin’ to live,” said Dango—I believe—and to this I had to turn my head to him and go, “Did you just say ‘fixin’’?” Ostensibly, no matter which qualifier one puts in front of it—experimental, transcendental, neo-acoustic—Elephant Revival are nothing if not pure folk.
Coming to this conclusion at last, I decided it was time to get into Bonnie’s “fake” Tequila that turned out to be Patron. I started pouring shots and enjoyed them with some of the groupies and roadies, and—“I think”—even a few of the band members themselves. But, soon it was time to be ushered out so the guys could really “transcend” before heading up the stairs to the stage.
By the time that would happen, though, I would already be shambling home, knowing that it would probably be best to be near my toilet. As it would turn out, I wouldn’t end up quite near enough.
I may not be able to remember much of what happened last night after hanging out with Elephant Revival and maybe scaring them with my weirdness as much as they scared me with theirs, but I will always remember our conversation discussing just what it means to truly be genre-bending and “folk,” unicorns and all. I also hope I’ll remember that, next time, I should try to take it easy on the booze and stick around for the show.