The Elected: Interview
Trying Something a Little More Timeless
by F-Troop • January 2006
When Jenny Lewis released her solo debut in late January, it happened to be on the very same day her songwriting partner Blake Sennett and his side project The Elected released its second album Sun, Sun, Sun. This was no mere coincidence. Nor was it some backhanded attempt to break up their principle band Rilo Kiley. It was simply recognition of just how far their musical bond extends. While Lewis and her powerful voice, a throwback to soulful 60s divas like Dusty Springfield, tend to draw more of the spotlight, Sennett has found peace away from the large audiences and the opportunity to indulge in his country rock roots, as well as his facial hair.
Interviewer: I’m going to start with the most pressing question. What’s your current moustache situation?
Blake Sennett: Oh wow… I guess I have to answer no comment… I’m not sure I understand the question.
Well in your most recent press photos, you appear to have cultivated quite a healthy moustache. That’s an important decision in a man’s life. So, I was hoping that you still had one and wondering what made you take such a bold step in the first place.
What made you decide not to go with a moustache?
Believe me, I would definitely grow one if I could. I just can’t get mine to connect under the nose. It looks too sketchy. Maybe one day. In any case, I just wanted to express my approval because those press photos of you and the band on that yacht are really cool. They remind me of a Wes Anderson movie, with the vintage style clothing and stylized poses. Was that the intention?
No, I’m not inspired very much by those particular films. As far as the dress code is concerned, that’s just how we dress, I suppose. And the boat, well, I have a friend. She’s a really great photographer. I called her up and said, “We need to take press photos. Sub Pop wants them.” She was the one who suggested doing them on a boat… So we went down to the docks and met some old man with a boat, who just took us out for free.
Who all is featured in those photos?
My friend Mike [Bloom] and I. He plays lap steel and sings back up and produced the record with me. And the two girls, one named Morgan, she’s in a band called Whispertown 2000. They just toured with Jenny Lewis. The other girl is my friend Emily. She’s in a band called Sweet Chariot. They’re awesome. I guess our thought was well if they don’t turn out to be good press photos then that’s alright. We just had fun hanging out and being ourselves.
I imagine you get asked a lot of strange questions about your childhood, but is there any truth to the Internet rumor that you’re related to jazz great Glenn Miller?
I saw that on your Wikipedia entry.
Yeah, I’ve seen that too. I don’t know who wrote it, but there are a lot of things wrong. It says I was born in ’73, making me a lot older than I actually am, and that I’m related to some famous people. But that’s the nice thing about the Internet. It makes things true that aren’t. Some people just asked me if Rilo Kiley broke up, but we haven’t. Well, now I get to feel what it would be like. Although, it doesn’t feel very good.
Since you don’t have the genes of some great jazz musician flowing through you, what did get you interested in music?
It’s hard to say, I always played music and I tried having other jobs. I guess I just said, “Well shit, I’ll try this. It seems like the best one for me and if it doesn’t work, I guess I’ll try the next best thing.” You play music and appreciate music, so to do what you most enjoy is a great thing… It seems like a real scam that you can make money playing music.
When did it feel like you turned the corner and could do this for a living?
I guess I’m not sure if I have turned that corner. I’m always thinking, “This has to be the last record they’re going to let me make.” Only recently have I felt like “Wow, even if everything I’m doing fell apart I could probably find a way to make it work.”
That is very humble of you, considering Rilo Kiley recently toured with Coldplay. Didn’t that feel like a major accomplishment?
That particular experience didn’t feel like a great success. It didn’t feel like failure either. But that’s not one of the moments in my life where I thought “Oh shit, I’ve made it” or whatever, maybe just because you open for a band like that, you are going to play for more apathetic people. I’m glad I did it, Madison Square Garden and all that, but truth be told, it’s not one of the highlights of my musical career so far. I played a show in Sweden on this tour, and in Sweden, for whatever reason, The
Elected have a lot of fans. So seeing people in another country, who know all the words, is really cool. I guess The Elected gives me an opportunity like that a little more. Most people who hear The Elected don’t know I’m in Rilo Kiley. So I think people take interest based on the merits of the music.
I saw Rilo Kiley play quite a long time ago. It might have been five or six years ago at a very small club in New York with Ozma and Nada Surf.
Oh wow… that was Rilo Kiley’s first tour.
Do you miss that aspect of touring at all, where you are playing with a bunch of other small bands, just trying to make it for the first time?
Yeah, it’s true, there’s something about those little victories in the beginning, like “Oh wow, we sold 30 CD’s tonight” and to feel under the gun and you’re fighting for every inch. It’s a good feeling. Even with The Elected it’s a little different. I know that I have Rilo Kiley, so the desperation isn’t the same. But The Elected does give me some of that.
About the new record, clearly some of the older country rock albums from the ‘60s served as inspiration. Gram Parsons and The Band come to mind. But it also has a more glossy Eagles feel to it. Have you always been interested in that type of sound?
My mom would always listen to the Eagles, and even The Bee Gees too. There are certain songs I wanted her to play over and over again. I wanted her to play “Lyin’ Eyes” by the Eagles. That stuff hits you at an early age. You can’t undo it. I sort of just try to listen to the little voices and try to stay keen to it. There’s a tendency to want to see what that would sound like if you tried something like that, if it would be as cool or not.
Now that the record is done and has been out for while, how does it sound to you?
Sometimes I feel good about it, sometimes I don’t. We made a decent record I suppose. We’ll make another one. Yeah, I’m proud of this last one.
It seems like a lot of artists are sort of hearkening back to an older, rootsier sound, like Bright Eyes on his last album. Do you think there’s anything about that style that’s relevant to today?
Maybe sometimes when you are participants in an indie rock scene, you turn your back on sounds that are typical or trite, and want something that feels more true. I don’t know, really. Certain production elements in the indie rock scene can feel gimmicky or feel very modern and I guess I wanted to try something a little more timeless; something you could put on and not know what era it’s from.
I’m guessing you’ve spent a lot of time with Conor Oberst, especially when Rilo Kiley was on Saddle Creek… Do you still hang out with him much?
Yes, we toured together twice.
Do you still hang out with him much?
I stayed with him the last time I was in New York. But that’s the problem when you’re in bands and your friends are in bands. You’re always on the road and don’t get to spend much time together.
In listening to each other’s music, do you ever feel interested in taking up some of the political elements Conor tends to write about?
No, I’m not very interested in politics. He’s a much more advanced songwriter that most, so he could bring any element into his songwriting.
I saw him perform a few months ago at the Bring ‘Em Home Now! Benefit Concert and he was probably the only artist who really captured the moment. Going in I was very nervous about the whole event turning into an homage to the ’60s protest movement. It seems like our generation has never really found its own message. At one point Moby came out and sang “For What It’s Worth.”
Yeah, I think that would bother me too.
But Bright Eyes put on a great performance that was really moving. Do you think he’s capable of breathing life into protest music?
He’s a very special dude to have out there. I’m proud to live in a time with someone like him who can speak out, as well as he does.
What’s next you for you? Do you take a break from solo stuff and go back to working on Rilo Kiley? Or do you just need a break all together.
Well, I’m home now. The Elected just got back from Europe and we’re planning to tour again in the fall. But right now I’m actually working on a new Rilo Kiley album.
That’s great to hear. How far along in the process are you?
We recorded nine songs, so we’re more than a little ways under way. We’ve got some songs under our belt.
Is this being recorded in California?
Yes, we’re recording in LA for the first time. Well not the first time. We recorded Take-Offs & Landings here, but that was in my house.
Is it too early to ask about a release date?
We’re going to try and put it out early next spring.