Q&A with Blake Sennet, lead singer for The Elected
by Patrick Caldwell
S&B: How did you make the transition from television and film to doing music?
BS: Because I picked up the guitar and started writing songs, and then started writing songs with my friend Jenny [Lewis], and then made a record under the name Rilo Kiley, and then started touring, and wasn’t really a conscious choice, it just happened, but followed what I preferred.
S&B: Did you guys have any problems when you first started trying to get record deals, since you were both known as actors at the time?
BS: I guess people didn’t know us that much as actors, it’s not like we were that well known, so no. The music we preferred was the kind of music that didn’t have much on an emphasis on image, you know, mainly indie-rock, or what have you, whatever they were calling it at the time. So we would send our records to indie labels.
S&B: What made you decide to start The Elected when you were already in Rilo Kiley?
BS: I guess we just recorded the first record and I sent it to my friend Tony at Sub Pop, and he checked it out and liked it and wanted to put it out. Maybe one day The Elected will go away. I don’t know. We were only signed on to do two records with Sub Pop, and we did our second one. Who knows, maybe we’ll be finished.
S&B: Since The Elected is your solo project, do you feel closer to this than the work you do with Rilo Kiley?
BS: I don’t know, that’s a good question. I probably feel closer to Rilo Kiley since I’ve been doing it longer, and it’s become more of my identity, that that’s who I am and what I do. This is probably a more ancillary endeavor.
S&B: Since you started The Elected, when you write a song to go in thinking that you are writing a song for The Elected versus Rilo Kiley or do you write what you feel and decide afterward?
BS: You can kind of tell halfway through a song which way it’s probably going to go. But still I’ve offered up songs to Rilo Kiley that I thought were for Rilo Kiley that ended up Elected songs. And then I’ve played Rilo Kiley what I thought were Elected songs that have ended up Rilo Kiley songs. So you never can tell, can you?
S&B: What different music influences have you had for The Elected and Rilo Kiley?
BS: Well, I guess a big fan of Gram Parsons and the Byrds, early Grateful Dead, fucking Eagles. I don’t know, stuff like that. Neil Young. I guess that’s stuff that has a voice in me that I’m trying to speak to when I’m making these records.
S&B: How has your sound evolved throughout your career, and the differences between Me First and Sun, Sun, Sun?
BS: Well, I think the production was a lot dirtier, obviously. We went from, kind of, built a lot of songs around drum machines, beats and stuff. And on the second one we tried to just make it sound like early to mid-’70s American folk-rock. So in both cases we kind of went for a conceptual thing. The first one just kind of materialized that way, and the second one we kind of made more of a conscious effort. A little cleaner on the second one. I think I like the dirtier production, but I think the song writing was stronger on the second one.
S&B: So I’ve heard some strange theories, especially for Rilo Kiley, about where the name came from. Where did the names for Rilo Kiley and the Elected come from?
BS: Well, my friend Tony at Sub Pop made up the name for The Elected. It was going to be called The Senate, sort of like a joke at myself. Rilo Kiley…came to me in a dream. Heard that one?
S&B: So what was the dream?
BS: Pretty much what you said. Just some dude, from Scotland in a dream told me some stuff about Jenny. His name was Rilo Kiley, I woke up and wrote it down. We made a band a couple years later and I remembered that I had that dream so I told them about, and that’s what we named the band.
S&B: So what’s in store next for you, with both Rilo Kiley and The Elected?
BS: We’re going to make a new Rilo Kiley record, it’s about eighty percent done right now, and it’s going to come out in early spring next year. And The Elected, I don’t know. Maybe break up, maybe play a show in about 40 minutes.
S&B: Throughout your career you’ve worked on many different labels, Basurk, Saddle Creek, and now Warner Brothers with Rilo Kiley, and Sub Pop with the Elected. How have your experiences been working a lot with indie labels and switching to Warner Brothers, especially now with Rilo Kiley at a major label?
BS: I guess having our own label Brute/Breaute through Warner Brothers has been the best thing, because you get to decide exactly what you want. Sub Pop is a little different, they kind of work like a mini major label, like they have their machine and they kind of have their equation and you’re the variable and they stick you in and hope for the best. Saddle Creek is a little more flexible. On Barsuk we were so young at the time, as far as understanding how labels do what they do that, I can’t remember, but I surely like Josh, the guy who runs Barsuk.
We’re on Warner, but through Brute/Breaute, so we don’t have to put up with a lot of bullshit that other bands do. They don’t get to hear the music until it’s time to get put out, they don’t get to tell us when it’s time to make a record. A lot of other bands have to wait. There’s a lot of bullshit that people have to put up with, but we’ve been lucky enough to skirt. I’ve heard that being on majors can be a nightmare, but it hasn’t yet been so for us.