These United States' 2008 album Crimes couldn't have had a more positive reception, winning props from Paste, Pitchfork and National Public Radio, and climbing to a very respectable number 30 on CMJ's Top 200 radio chart. This sort of recognition is par for the course for many established rock 'n' roll bands, but for These United States it was an affirmation that departing from the effusive style of their debut was a smart move.
Last week I spoke with Jesse Elliott, the band's leader, about their brand-new album, Everything Touches Everything, and their not-so-secret desire to be characters in a great American novel.
Last fall NPR described your songs as "novelesque." Which novel would you like them to resemble and why?
Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon. We're the Chums of Chance. We've got this great big, beautiful airship that takes us across the land. The Chicago World's Fair, the Industrial Revolution, great advances in science and magic, trains bringing the animals in for slaughter....
Everything's pretty much just a frontier: It's a wild land we float across.
Tell me a bit about what it was like to make Everything Touches Everything. How was the process different from that of other albums?
We arranged the album together in D.C. the last week in January, smack-dab in the middle of that great big historic inauguration they had there. It was wild. We spent 10 hours a day in a claustrophobic, hibernating-cricket-infested basement, sweating and arguing and hashing out the songs. Nighttime comes and we wander out into this freezing, crisp, mammoth, citywide, worldwide party, just this feeling of utter jubilation, people wandering the streets in a dream - not a hazy dream, but a cold, hard, realistic, beautiful most-awake-you've-been-since-who-remembers-when kind of dream. It was a good week to be alive and writing music together.
What's next for you guys?
Next album. We just lost a laptop that had all the demos and lyrics and all that for the next album on it, so I'm trying to re-create it from memory during all these long drives.