Nashville quartet Daniel Ellsworth & the Great Lakes hit a high note (or two or seven) in New York last Friday. Their latest album, Kid Tiger, is a melodic and at times raucous experience, lush in your headphones but more appropriate blasted out the windows of your car. It’s clear why DE&TGL are known for upbeat live performances– one look at Daniel’s face last night and you knew he was ready for Broadway. We sat down with Daniel, Timon Lance, Joel Wren, and Marshall Skinner before the show for talk of production, bears, and brown honey.
AMBY: It’s my understanding that you guys all wrote songs for this album. How did you manage to keep it cohesive?
Daniel: Well, the songs weren’t written by different people, we basically built the songs from the ground up together, as opposed to one person writing it, as opposed to just me writing it. That’s why it is cohesive, because it was the four of us.
Marshall: When we started writing songs for the new record, we happened to be in northern Minnesota. A friend of Dan’s family had a cabin, so we just went up to the cabin and Dan had a bunch of song ideas. We stayed there for a week and just started hashing out songs. I think that helped us really get focused on writing the whole album. Some people write different songs, at different times, and they just kind of sound scattered. We had a lot of really great ideas, initially. Even if the songs weren’t completed, we knew where they were going. We had recorded everything with basically what you have [indicates voice recorder]. Set it in the middle of the room and just wrote, wrote, wrote, all day.
Dan: I think you hung it from the ceiling.
Marshall: [laughs] so high tech.
AMBY: Did you see any bears?
Joel: I almost hit one with the van.
Marshall: That’s why Joel doesn’t drive anymore.
Joel: I was passing somebody, and there were these two, big, dark black things in the road, going across. I didn’t slam on the brakes. And then I realized, those are two black bears. I feel like I drove for maybe two hours, and there was that, a cow crossing the road.
Marshall: A dog that chased the van for… four miles.
Joel: I was like, ‘I’m DONE.’
AMBY: One of the things I like about this album is that it is catchy, but there’s a lot of raw emotion behind it. How did you keep that feeling?
Daniel: When you track stuff live, it’s like playing a live show, and there’s so much energy in our live shows. The core of the album was tracked in five days. We had five days to track 17 songs, then I had to go back and sing lead vocals on 17 songs.
AMBY: You were chugging honey.
Daniel: It was not honey. I was chugging–
Joel: It was brown? Brown honey.
Marshall: There was something about the pace of it. I think [producer] Vance Powell originally thought we were doing a much smaller amount. We showed up, and he was like ‘so, you’re doing five songs.’ And we were like, ‘we’re doing seventeen songs.’ and he basically said, ‘I’m ready if you’re ready.’ But the pace was just, bam!
Daniel: He said still, to this day, it’s still the most songs they’ve ever tracked in that amount of time.
AMBY: Were there any songs that gave you difficulty?
Marshall: There are two songs that I for sure know the very first time we played the songs all the way through, we used those for the record. Waves and Static. For Static, we did two [takes], but after the first one we were like, ‘we’re not going to do it better than that.’
AMBY: Being so rehearsed, how do you keep it different every live performance?
Joel: Brown honey.
Dan: We wrote songs that we love, and because of that we love playing them every night. On top of that, we wrote a super high energy record.
Timon: I can listen to the record, and my heart rate goes up. I feel like I’m going through the motions of playing it. Marshall and Joel and I were in the same room, Daniel was through a little window, tracking the vocals. We were just as excited as playing a live show. We were all sweating.
Dan: It sounds like it should be an easy thing to do, it’s not. It’s really fucking hard to make it actually feel like your recording is a live show.
Timon: We’re playing for Vance Powell, you either shit or get off the pot.
AMBY: So, if you had to pick, what would you say Kid Tiger is about?
Dan: One of the songs was written almost entirely after watching four episodes of Mad Men.
Marshall: I didn’t know that, which song is it?
AMBY: On a lighter note, who came up with the air fresheners?
Marshall: Just from traveling a lot, being in truck stops and crappy gas stations, we kept seeing these buff dudes on air fresheners, and we were like, ‘we should just put our faces on them.’ So we got a camera, we took pictures, we sent them off. And we had air fresheners. We were playing a show one time, and somebody bought my cherry air freshener. You know, when you buy an air freshener, you just open it a little bit. So the car smells a little bit. They just pulled it out, in the middle of the gig. It was probably 50 feet from the stage, and it smelled like it was right in front of us. They should put a warning on that thing. And it’s distracting!
Dan: Guys, we have to be there in like, 5 minutes.
AMBY: My bad. Thanks again!
Marshall: So tell us about your thing with Justin Bieber…
Thank you Daniel Ellsworth, for giving us your answers!
Interview by Julia Cook |