Interview: Luke Elliot (USA) chats about the making of his debut album, Dressed For The Occasion

Germany’s Rolling Stone has compared Luke Elliot to some of the greatest sonic storytellers of our time and it’s easy to see why when you listen to his debut album Dressed For The Occasion. Recorded in Norway by John Agnello (Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., Kurt Vile), it has a real spaghetti western country feel. We spoke to Luke about the making of the album and his love of music.

Your album seems to be getting a fair amount of good reviews.

We’ve been very fortunate with the reviews for the record. People really seem to like it.

Is it different releasing an album compared to an EP?

Well those EP’s I practically produced myself, I didn’t have a proper producer, I didn’t have a budget, we didn’t really have a release plan. My manager and I started working together at the tail end of that. We hired a publicist, so this album has been an entirely different thing; we’ve released in Europe and America and now Australia so it’s been like a whole machine behind it, which is quite different to what I’m used to.

How did the choice of studio in Norway come about?

Basically my manager, Krista made me quite my day job working sales. The day I quite my job I moved up to Jersey City and my friend, who would become my producer, John Agnello, invited me to go to a concert in the city. At the concert I randomly met a Norwegian journalist and next thing I knew he had written on us in the largest publication over there and we got asked to come over for a tour and by the third show we had an agent and somebody randomly asked me if I wanted to cut an album there. I said I didn’t have any money and they said that wasn’t a problem and he just happened to own a studio with all this amazing analogue equipment. It’s a really coveted place, so it was fortuitous.

From my perspective the music is very earthy raw and analogue, so I can imagine the recording process would suit your style of music. Did the recording process influence the sound of the album?

We did as much live as we could possibly do. That’s how I wanted to record and that’s how John wanted to record. I lived in the studio while I was recording. They have living quarters there. It had an analogue feel to it, putting everything to tape, so I think it certainly added to the sound.

I was reading that the opening track “Get ‘Em While They’re Hot” is a re-release of a previous track. Is this something you do much of?

It’s funny with that song; I didn’t want to put it on the album. What happened was that we started playing it live all the time. It had such a different feel that the song became something else. The first EP I cut I had maybe five hundred dollars to spend on it. Everyone really liked the song and my manager and the producer was really on me to put it on the album, so I kind of conceded and I think it really works, but no I’m not a fan of going back. I like to move forward as much as possible. But for this particular occasion it was necessary.

It’s a strong way to open the album and it’s also been released as a single.

Well you can’t really argue with that violin opening. It was just the right way to open the record.

The album is full of stories; do you find it difficult to open up personally with the stories?

No, I think that’s actual song writing. If you’re not willing to be vulnerable you need to get another job. I think that’s what the audience relates to and that’s when good material comes forth, just throwing it out there.

You have a wide range of influences from Mink Deville to John Coltrain. How do these artists influence your song writing?

I intentionally don’t listen to music when I’m recording or writing. I stay as far away from listening to anything as I can. I’m in my own world writing songs back and forth. Those guys are all stuck in my brain somewhere so I can’t really get them out. But I don’t consciously bring them to life with my material, but they’re inevitably there, there’s nothing I can do about that. In fact I try to avoid them as much as I can. If it starts to sound too much like a Cramps song I’ll try to do something else. I try to avoid that as much as I can but they shape who you are and how you write anyway.

Do you have a favourite track on the album or do you like them all?

Well some days I like them, some days I don’t, but my favourite track on that record is probably “People Like You”. I really wanted to put that on earlier in the record, because I like it so much and was afraid it might get lost, but I think the placement works, if I had to pick a personal favourite then it would be that song.

The story telling is strong in the album. Is music the only way you release the stories inside you or do you have other ways as well?

I think it’s just through music; I don’t seem to have other outlets to get that out. I kind of focus all of that into music if that makes any sense. I don’t know how or why I do this sort of thing, but I feel it.

I feel that these songs would translate into a live performance quite well.

Yes, it’s a live album with songs that are supposed to be performed live. The recording is just one small piece of these songs. I like to be able to recreate them on stage, play them different ways, with different bands, hard, soft, but I feel that’s what the music is, it’s a live experience. We love doing this live. I would tour every single day for the rest of my life if I could. I love being on the road.

Did you always think that you were going to write songs?

I really thought I was going to be a musician, whatever that means, from the time I was thirteen or fourteen. I knew that’s what I was going to do; there wasn’t a question about it. I liked going to school because I enjoyed reading but I never thought I would have any vocation. I remember people wanted me to go to college to learn, to become a teacher or something, but it never made any sense to me. I was going to school to supplement the song writing. That was just how I looked at it. I never had any plans on doing anything else. I worked different jobs, I worked in sales, in cigar shops, restaurants, delivering pizzas, but I never considered them careers or anything like that, it was just something to support what I really wanted to do.

So how do you feel now that the album has been released? Do you look back and feel a sense of achievement?

I’m pretty restless. I want to make the next record. I haven’t really looked back on anything. I haven’t had too much time to do that. There’s an upcoming US tour, Australia, Japan and doing the next album. I want to keep moving forward. Maybe I’ll look back in ten or fifteen years.

So you’ve got plans to come to Australia?

Yeah we’re setting up a tour now and it looks like it’s gonna be late March or early April.

Are you writing songs for the next album or is that something you set aside a period of time for?

I’m writing constantly. I think you’re pushing your luck if you wait until you go into a studio to write. I’m pushing my luck if I think I can have this magical inspiration. I think there’s a lot of writing that happens in the studio and that’s certainly true of this record, and I know things will get finalised there, but I want to have a whole bunch of material that I’m walking in with. The songs come from everywhere. I’m always trying to write and get new stuff down.

Luke Elliot’s debut album Dressed For The Occasion is out on September 22nd.

Cover photo by Jorn Veberg