Playback STL – 25 January 2006


The Elected’s Blake Sennett | You Can Trust Him

 Written by Sean Moeller. Wednesday, 25 January 2006 05:58

The Elected’s Blake Sennett makes you believe that you can trust him.

Example numero uno: He’s in Los Angeles, spending the afternoon answering his phone and talking to complete strangers about his blissfully addictive sophomore record Sun, Sun, Sun, after having returned a rental van to the Ford dealership. He’s speaking to a woman from a Chicago newspaper—getting asked thoughtful questions like “Who are your influences?” and “How’d you get your band name?” and “How would you describe the way your music sounds?” (not fictionalized at all, according to Sennett)—when a representative from the dealership beeps in and tells him that he hadn’t given them back the keys to the van. He pauses his interview with the woman from Chicago to call one of his Elected bandmates to bum a ride to practice, before returning to the probing. Then I beep in for another interview, an accidental overlapping of conversations that Sennett takes full responsibility for. He tells me, “This interview is going a lot longer than I thought. When I get done, I promise I’ll call you back.” There’s so much conviction in the way he says it that I’m as assured as anyone could ever make me feel. He’s a stranger to me, but he sounds just like the dude I know from the record I’ve been committing to memory (perhaps long-term), and there’s earnestness in that sleekly mustachioed guitarist he is in Rilo Kiley.

Example numero dos: That new record. Every velvety, lip-smacking note of it. Oh, sure he can spin a tale, but anyone who writes a song (“Beautiful Rainbow”) without blushing—a song that blubbers on about a girl who makes him feel as if he’s seen a rainbow and sounds just as naked as a skinny-dipper—is trustworthy enough for me.

He calls back just as he promised, apologizing profusely. I tell him there’s no need. It was no big deal. Water under the bridge. And even though I’d just read Chuck Klosterman’s Spin piece about the delightful Jenny Lewis, mentioning the volatile relationship Sennett has with his former girlfriend and the lead singer of his day band, that kind of insensitivity couldn’t be in his nature. That’s if his songs are to be believed. If they are, then he portrays himself as an upstanding man with impassioned, fusty ideas of how a love (a woman) deserves to be treated. The songs could be wrong…but he sounded courteous on the phone.

Sun, Sun, Sun is a superior work to 2004’s Me First, if only because is carries a genuine sense of cohesiveness that glues together this general feeling of taking huge, sucking breaths on a cold fall morning in October as a disquieting urge for companionship or comfort creeps over and tries swallowing you. It holds onto the sentiments of a tuckered-out era—Great Depression times and others, touching on them ever so gently with a wholesome attention to nature (the sun all over the place, trees in the front yard, rainbows, vines, dawn, ponies, etc.) that borders on a Walt Whitman infatuation. Enamored with beauty, Sun, Sun, Sun begins with a fading in of chirping birds.

“The birds were just outside the venue Rilo Kiley was playing in Lawrence, Kansas. I just decided to record them; I didn’t know what I was going to do with them,” Sennett said. “I hadn’t really thought of all the connections to nature on the album until you just brought it up. That’s interesting, though. I am a guy who sort of gravitates to the outdoors. I feel close to nature. Some people like camping and I’m one of those people. I indulge in that.”

Most of the new record was recorded during afternoons on the last Rilo Kiley headlining tour, before they headed out with Coldplay to play in front of ungrateful crowds there just to squint out whatever it was that Chris Martin had scrawled onto his audience-side hand that night. The band would oftentimes rent day rooms at hotels, where they could shower, lie down on something other than a bus bunk, and watch some television. Sennett wasted no time upturning the room and getting all his recording gear plugged in for one of countless sessions to dub the dozens of layers of vocals and other tiny sounds. None of the neighbors minded, but Lewis occasionally threw a fit.

“We had to do the recording on the road. It was a matter of scheduling, I suppose. I really wanted to release it in January and a lot of the things we wanted to do on this record—all the different layers of vocals—that kind of stuff takes a long time. It’s painstaking. In order to do all that stuff, we sort of had to work overtime,” Sennett said. “We’d go into the motel room and immediately build a vocal booth out of the beds. Believe it or not, we didn’t get any complaints and we did a lot of screaming. But we were pretty conscientious about when we were doing it. We never did it at night. Once we heard it from Jenny, though. We’d taken apart the room and she was pissed. It kind of bummed her out because I think she just wanted to be able to watch TV.”

Often, when production was lagging behind, Sennett was forced to deprive himself of the enjoyment the rest of the members of Kiley were having. He was writing “The Band & Trust” in Belgium. Another song was recorded outside the First Avenue club in Minneapolis, and others in Europe while on tour with Bright Eyes. He remembers every city and what song it coordinates with. Mostly, he remembers what he missed when he was making them.

“We were in Idaho and everyone went swimming in the Snake River and I couldn’t go,” he said. “The pictures looked so beautiful.”

It was the love of song and the desire to make more of them that kept him in detention.

“This is our life’s work, so we definitely talk about songwriting all the time. It’s all of our favorite subjects,” Sennett said. “I remember talking to Elliott Smith for a long time about this one song he recorded and how he did it, and I was just enlightened. I’m blessed to be around a lot of fucking great songwriters. Not everyone has that. I think it’s hard not to, in some small way, have that rub off on you, or at least have it inspire you. Hopefully, I can just keep making music that moves people. I feel humbled and gracious to be able to do that.”