DANIEL ELLSWORTH & THE GREAT LAKES
- October 2014 -
HAVE A BEER WITH DANIEL ELLSWORTH & THE GREAT LAKES
You could say that Daniel Ellsworth & The Great Lakes finish a gig and leave everything they have on-stage: hip horn-rimmed glasses broken in half, buttons undone, hair disheveled. To see them live is to experience the crux of who they are: a high-energy indie rock band set on producing the best live sound they know how.
Formed in 2010 in Nashville, Tennessee, Daniel Ellsworth & The Great Lakes released their first full-length studio album, Civilized Man, in 2011. Recorded and co-produced with Mark Nevers (Andrew Bird, Yo La Tengo), Civilized Man went on to be listed in the top 100 albums of 2011 by Amazon, with the pop-rock single “Shoe Fits” debuting at number seven on Amazon’s top 100 songs of 2011. Most recently, Daniel Ellsworth & The Great Lakes was named one of the 15 bands to watch in 2014 by Esquire Magazine, and their sophomore album, Kid Tiger (released March 4, 2014), was recorded by Vance Powell (Jack White, The White Stripes, The Raconteurs).
In August, the band dropped their single “Phantoms,” and in September, Conan O’Brien’s Team Coco premiered the video, which features a slow motion reverse food fight. They recently hit the road with a fall tour, which included stops at CMJ Music Marathon in New York City and Chicago's Beat Kitchen.
We drank some whiskey and beer with the guys in the greenroom before their gig and discussed the creative process behind Kid Tiger, stories from on the road and the powerful influence of Britney Spears.
The Show: Daniel Ellsworth and the Great Lakes at Beat Kitchen // Oct. 11, 2014
Drinks of Choice: Marshall Skinner, bass (Old Rasputin Imperial Stout); Joel Wren, drums (Blanton’s bourbon neat or a Bud Light Lime); Daniel Ellsworth, lead vocals/piano (Schlafly American IPA); Timon Lance, guitar (Blanton’s bourbon neat or Short Jackass Ale by the Camel Brewing Company).
Kristen from A Beer with the Band: Do you all live in Nashville?
Joel: Dan, Timon and I all live in the Woodbine area, in south Nashville. Marshall's actually currently in Columbus, Ohio. We're spread out at the moment, but three of us live in south Nashville.
Kristen: Do you have like a local watering hole in Nashville?
Timon: Twin Kegs is one of our favorites.
Daniel: Its tagline is “International Famous.”
Joel: Yeah, it’s a dive bar has been around for years. They never corrected the sign to say "Internationally Famous".
Kristen: If you guys had to come up with a band tagline, what would it be?
Marshall: “Thanks for the bread.”
Kristen: What? That was such a fast response. Had you thought about this before?
Timon: We were in Brooklyn and Joel and I had just finished loading in the gear. We were standing outside …
Marshall: Like usual …
Timon: We were standing on the street and a guy got dropped off across from us. He walked really slowly up to his door and was about to put his keys in, when he turned around to the car that dropped him off and goes, "THANKS FOR THE BREAD!" Joel and I were there to witness this.
Joel: A lot of stuff that we joke about is from touring. It wasn't funny at the time, but then the next day when you talk about it, it’s like, “What the hell was that? Why did he say ‘thank you for the bread’?” It was just really strange.
Kristen: Have there been other moments like that?
Joel: Oh yeah, remember that guy …
Marshall: At the Dunkin Donuts ...We were at a Dunkin Donuts in New Jersey early on a Saturday morning. We were having our coffee, eating a donut, and this guy walks in. His buddies were already there sitting in a booth, and he just walks in and just points. Doesn’t say anything, just points like, “I'm here!”
Daniel: He was like Norm from “Cheers.”
Kristen: That's awesome. Let’s talk music. Your record Kid Tiger came out in March 2014, and you recently released a single.
Daniel: Yeah, we released a second single off of Kid Tiger called “Phantoms.”
Kristen: Where did you record the album?
Daniel: We recorded it in Nashville.
Marshall: With Vance Powell. He's worked with Jack White, The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather...
Kristen: How'd you get hooked up with him?
Daniel: We just called and set up a meeting.
Marshall: Yeah, and he said he liked our music. We were meeting with a bunch of producers and engineers to try and figure out the route that we wanted to go – to see who we gelled with and liked.
Daniel: We all went in and sat down with Vance and we were just like, "Yeah, this is it.” We're huge fans of his, but immediately he was on the same level as us as far as how we wanted to record and his sense of humor … It was immediately comfortable. He’s just so cool. He’s got this big long beard, a Harley Davidson T-shirt...
Marshall: Yeah, he’s an intimidating looking guy, but then he's the funniest person you'll ever meet.
Kristen: You said that you gelled with Vince in terms of the way that you record. You recorded to tape. Why did you choose to do that, and is that something you’d like to do moving forward?
Marshall: Yeah, the school of thought I come from is that – if you can – if you’re capable of creating the sound you want, then do it.
Daniel: I wanted to capture how we play live. For us, that's what a band is. That's what our favorite records are. Our favorite records aren't made with computers. Not that there's anything wrong with that; there's some great music that's made that way. But our favorite records and stuff that we love are bands in a room and playing their shit live like you see them at the show.
Daniel: So that was part of it. But we do love production. We love added production. We love being able to sit with the set for a little bit and add our own thing. We tracked everything live basically, and then we'd spend a couple weeks really focusing on creative composition – adding different sounds and textures and things like that.
Kristen: Was there a particular song on the record that was a surprise or something that you weren't expecting – either in a good or a bad way?
Daniel: When we were writing this record, “Little Light” was the only song that I played guitar on. There was no piano, no keys or anything – even when we tracked it. And then Vance was like super in the moment and he wanted to do this crazy effect and have me play piano. He was like, "This is going to be cool; just play whatever you want.” He said, “You'll be fine, just play.” And the piano riff became the core of the song, which was totally unexpected.
Timon: I remember when that happened. I was out doing an interview for this documentary – a short documentary film on the making of the album. We were out talking with the filming group and Daniel came out and was like, “Timon come in and listen to this real quick.” It was amazing.
Kristen: I was going to say … It’s kind of awesome when something like that happens because it makes you realize how valuable an outside perspective can be. And not only an outside perspective but a perspective of someone you gel with and who understands where you’re coming from.
Daniel: Yeah, totally. I love that spontaneity of it, and for him to just trust in the song and say, “Just play. It will be cool.”
Kristen: Which one of you has a jazz background?
Marshall: All of us.
Kristen: All of you do?
Daniel: Kinda, yeah.
Kristen: How do you feel like that influences your sound, or does it?
Joel: I'll say it does not influence the drums at all.
Daniel: Essentially I played jazz piano, and I definitely think about it with chords. It makes things a little more interesting.
Marshall: One of the very first things my jazz bass teacher taught me, or told me when I first started taking jazz, "Okay, we're going to learn all this stuff, but when you leave here, I want you to forget everything you learned." I didn’t get it at the time, but now I understand what he was saying. He was basically saying this: you're going to learn a bunch of stuff; you're going to learn school stuff and a school way of thinking about jazz, but you have to make it a part of you. Somebody who learns how to paint, for example, might be inspired from a Picasso and learn how to do that style of painting. But they don’t strictly replicate it. They’re influenced by it and they make that a part of their process.
Kristen: I think a lot of creative stuff starts with imitation first.
Kristen: And once you figure out how to imitate than you can branch out and figure out your own technique.
Daniel: If you don't imitate anything than you're just going to be painting a square. If you're not listening to something and imitating it, then you're just going to be reading book shit.
Kristen: Do you guys have any bad habits on the road?
Marshall: I'm up and down with my snoring. Sometimes I'm terrible and sometimes I'm fine. It's weird.
Kristen: Is it when you're driving?
Marshall: No, at night when were all sleeping in the hotel.
Kristen: Is it an open-mouth breathe or is it a full-out snore?
Daniel: It's a deep snore.
Marshall:At least I know that about myself, so …
Daniel: And Timon won't sleep in a bed. He thinks the floor is more consistent.
Timon: Yeah, when we're on long tours, all the beds are changing and my back goes crazy. So, I sleep on the floor. It's the same hardness across the board.
Daniel: The thing is, we’re all pretty different people, and we often get asked if we get annoyed with each other. But we all get along really well. There are a lot of friends of ours that play in bands, and they’ll complain about one guy in the band being smelly... like really smelly. Like, crazy smelly.
Kristen: Doesn’t shower smelly?
Timon: Yeah, something. How do you deal with that? How do you ride in a van with that? We don't have to worry about that in our band at all.
Daniel: We all shower.
Marshall: We may need a haircut or a shave from time to time, but we're clean people.
Kristen: What’s your favorite city you’ve played on this tour so far?
Daniel: One of our better shows from this year was in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Timon: It was our first show back there in a while. We had been playing house shows and did a small non-venue show, then, we put this record out, went up there and played for a huge crowd. It was really great and everyone was super awesome.
Kristen: What’s the least rock-‘n’-roll thing you've done in the past year? You can only pick one.
Timon: I feel like every day that I bend over and pick up my dog's shit, then put it in a bag, that's one of the least rock-‘n’-roll things. Just carrying around shit in a bag.
Marshall: When we stack up our suitcases on the sidewalk outside of the van, and basically everything we own is sitting there, then someone cool walks by …
Kristen: That's also kind of cool, you know. They're probably like, “Who are these guys?”
Daniel: They'd probably be more like that if somebody else was loading or unloading the stuff for us.
Marshall: I was going to say ordering a pumpkin spice latte this fall, but I haven’t done that yet. Every time I go to Starbucks I’m like, “Maybe I’ll get something crazy!” And then I just get coffee.
Kristen: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Marshall: I'm going to go with my high school jazz teacher again. He would always say this any time we’d talk shit about other music or famous musicians. He would always tell us, "Hey, you know what? They're not talking about you." I was like, fuck that shit. Even if they sucked, it was the idea of, “They don’t give a shit about you. They’re not saying your name. You’re talking about them.” Essentially, it comes down to this: don't talk shit about people.
Kristen: You can apply that to life, too.
Marshall: Yeah, like what does that do for you? Obviously they're doing something right if you're talking about them at all – whether it’s good or bad.
Daniel: Both of my parents were musicians. My dad taught me how to play guitar, and he always used to say that everything on that piece of paper, those are just notes on a page. Learn that, whatever. But at the end of the day, music is 90% how you feel it, not how you play it. I think about that all the time.
Timon: I wouldn't say this is the best advice I’ve received, but something I think about a lot. There was this incredible guitar player Dave Tronzo, and he said something like, "If you think there is any difference between playing for Britney Spears or for Miles Davis, you're in the wrong business." He was saying that if you play music, you play your ass off no matter what, every time. He’s a really smart guy and a very special player. He’s as serious as it gets, so for him to say that means a lot. I think about that all the time.
Kristen: I had the song “Sometimes I Run” stuck by Britney Spears stuck in my head.
[Band sings “Sometimes I run, Sometimes I hide"]
Kristen: It's such a cheesy song, but I love it.
Marshall: When I was in high school a Britney Spears article came out in Rolling Stone and that high school teacher I was talking about earlier read the entire article in class. She said something about what it feels like to be an artist and it was so ludicrous. But I remember him saying, “You know what, it doesn’t matter what you think of her music. She’s doing something right. She’s successful.”
Kristen: So, what I’m getting from all of this is that Britney Spears is the biggest influence on Daniel Ellsworth & The Great Lakes.
Timon: Especially in the way we look.