We caught up with Elway last fall after they played Riot Fest Chicago. We spoke with three of their four members, (singer/guitarist Tim Browne, guitarist Brian Van Proyen and drummer Garrett Carr). Bassist Joe Henderer unfortunately could not be present. We discussed the band’s latest album for Red Scare Industries, Better Whenever, including how it was written and the manner in which it was recorded. The record finds Elway experimenting with new songwriting techniques, while at the same time penning lyrics that represent some of the most personal they’ve written to date. We talked with Browne extensively about the reasons for this, as well as the band’s new outlook moving forward and more.
Bill – You guys spent over two years writing Better Whenever. What was that process like?
Tim – Joe and I moved to Chicago, and Brian and Garrett were still in Colorado. I kind of was writing songs on an acoustic guitar, living in a basement in Chicago. We didn’t really write them as a band because we weren’t practicing very consistently. Then I moved back to Colorado and we sort of put it together from there. It was mostly me and Garrett putting them together as a matter of fact. When I got back, Garrett and I kind of arranged the songs that I had written. And then we kind of coalesced and wrote them only when we were already in the middle of recording them. So, it was way less of a collaborative writing process than it usually has been. Wouldn’t you agree guys?
Brian – Yeah, I mean it was so easy for me because they basically just sent me a bunch of songs and were like, “Here, learn these.” I don’t know. I didn’t have a huge part in writing the songs, but it was really fun just experimenting with the songs that Tim had already written and adding my parts. It’s definitely not how we usually do it, but it was really fun actually.
Bill – You recorded the album at Dead Pigeon Studios in Fort Collins, CO. How would you describe your time there and what do you like best about how the recording turned out?
Tim – Well, so Dead Pigeon Studios isn’t really a studio. It’s like our old practice space that we share with a couple of our buddies’ bands in Fort Collins. We recorded with our friend Jason and it was such an informal recording process. We were just working with our friend, recording it very slowly and incrementally, trying to get everything the way that we wanted it to sound. The thing that I like the most about it is that with our recordings at Atlas Studios, they’re real well done recordings. They’re very clean and very glossy and crisp, and we’re just so not that band. I’m glad that those albums turned out the way they did and I feel privileged in a sense that we got to record them at a nice studio like that, but the new album is imperfect the way that it’s produced. It’s imperfect the way that it’s performed and recorded, but that’s fine because we are such a shitty band. We’re not all that tight. We don’t necessarily play perfectly in key or on time. There’s push and pull and we’re just a sloppy mess, but it’s who we are. We can’t really pretend that that’s not what we are. And that’s what I like about the new record.
Brian – It was a breeze to record it. We know Jason really well and it was really comfortable hanging out there. We did a lot of one takes. We’d kind of be like, “I don’t know. It wasn’t the most perfect take.” And he’d be like, “Yeah, it sounds good to me.” It really felt like this is who we are and that’s what is getting expressed on the new album.
Tim – One of my pet peeves about Leavetaking in particular is the drums are chopped up and edited so much at Atlas, and they sound great, but it doesn’t really sound like they’re supposed to. And I think this record sounds like us, where other records kind of sound like us trying to be a better band than we actually are. I resent that a little bit in hindsight.
Bill – This record is fairly mature and somewhat of a departure from the band’s previous work. Did you intentionally try to go in a different direction with your songwriting?
Tim – This is the crux of my entire opinion about playing in this band in general. I think all of us are real fuckin’ exhausted with the scene that we’ve found ourselves in. So in a sense it’s both. It’s both deliberate and it was accidental as well. I don’t want to play in a shitty, standard four-chord fast punk band anymore, but I can’t really control that because that’s just the kind of band that we were and that’s how we know how to write. I think I was trying to do something new and fun, but they just came out the way they came out. It isn’t really all that different. It’s kind of the aggregate of our exhaustion with the scene that we’re in and the fact that we’re influenced by things that have nothing to do with Dear Landlord or Hot Water Music. It would be ideal for us to be able to do something new, but we just aren’t really adept enough musicians to accomplish that. So it’s part contrived and it’s part natural I guess.
Garrett – There’s just a certain formula that people are following right now. If you want to be successful people are kind of hopping on the bandwagon of this certain algorithm and it’s fuckin’ boring. People don’t want to strive apart from that algorithm because they’re afraid that they’ll be construed or put in some other area and it’s boring. We’re just going to try to go out and do whatever we feel and if it comes off lame, so be it. If it comes off cool and people like it, so be it. We’re going to do whatever we feel.
Tim – It’s not like we’re making money, (laughs).
Bill – The album’s first song, “Our Lady of the Thompson River,” kind of talks about lost love or chasing something that isn’t there anymore. What inspired its lyrics?
Tim – I plead the Fifth. I could sit here and actually tell you, but do you think that would make good interview material? I like the fact that the lyrics are just ambiguous enough that you can glean from it what you want. But yeah, the lyrics on the record are a reflection of some really not cool things. I thought a better name for the album might have been Ten Songs about a Really Cool Time in My Life, (laughs). It’s a shitty bummer man, but I don’t know how to deal with it other than to write songs.
Bill – I guess let me ask you this…a lot of the songs are definitely very personal, so was it hard to open up and write about that kind of stuff or was it more cathartic?
Tim – It’s both. I write the songs that I write because I don’t know where else to put that shit. Like a lot of people I think who create music or who create art in general, I struggle with a lot of shit. I’ve got problems with manic depression and I have things that I have a tough time working through, and writing songs is really one of the only things that I can do to try and make sense of it. So it’s not like I was trying to be very deliberate in putting my feelings down on paper or in a song, it’s just that if I didn’t write it I would feel like I was cheating myself for not being honest. I didn’t write it for the purpose of consumption, I write it for myself because I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t. In terms of the specifics, I don’t think that makes good interview material.
Bill – I hear what you’re saying. You kind of want to leave it up to interpretation a little bit…
Tim – Yeah, the album is about some really dark personal things that I don’t know how to work through other than to write songs, so I do what I can.
Bill – On a lighter note, what were some of the highlights from your set at Riot Fest today?
Tim – The awesome stage crew. The fact that we showed up here today and Brian didn’t have a guitar strap, I didn’t have a tuner, none of us had any gear at all. Garrett didn’t even have cymbals or sticks, and the crew took such good care of us. The guys at Riot Fest hired such an awesome stage crew. Three of us came from Colorado to play. We’re going to drop in and play a show and then go straight back out. The fact that they’re so professional and very friendly and they didn’t even act like it was a big deal that we’re such unprofessional musicians, because we really are. We really are. Garrett borrowed cymbals today for Christ’s sake…
Garrett – And they were nicer than mine, (laughs).
Tim – So that was the biggest highlight. It was in Denver too, just that they take such good care of their artists. I also liked the mosh crew of “Lost Boys” that was hanging out during our set. There was a dude in a post-apocalyptic suit. It looked like the people from the Nine Inch Nails “We’re In This Together” video.
Garrett – Some of the Burning Man people got lost, (laughs).
Tim – It was fun, man. I love playing in Chicago. We have a lot of good friends here and people are really nice to us generally here, nicer than we deserve. Today was a pretty good reflection of that I think.
Bill – What do you guys have planned in terms of touring over the next couple months?
Tim – Nothing. We all work and being in this band isn’t lucrative. It is fun and it’s a great opportunity for us to do amazing things that most people don’t get to do. But it is not a job and we don’t owe the people who like our music anything. I’m really glad that they like our music, but I’ve ruined relationships, I’ve lost jobs, I’ve lost housing situations for the sake of going on tour and I don’t think that we’re interested in touring that rigorously ever again unless it proves itself to be so worth it. So we don’t have anything planned. We’re going to play The Fest in Florida and then we’re going to have an album release show in our hometown and then we’re going to take it as it comes. I know that we’d like to go on tour and do the East Coast and West Coast and then Europe, but if that doesn’t happen I don’t think any of us are heartbroken over it. We’ve kind of changed our opinion of what we should be doing as a band. Instead of throwing everything we have at it, it’s much more of like do it when it’s going to be for sure good and just have fun.
Bill – When you think about the future of your band and taking into consideration what you just talked about, are you guys looking more to just focus on writing in the next year or two, or have you not really planned everything out?
Garrett – To me, this band is more like vacation. We get to go out, we get to go on tour and do the East Coast, West Coast, Europe, whatever it is. It’s vacation. It’s not a career move. We’re not trying to become something greater. We’re going out and having fun. If people enjoy us and we enjoy them, then it’s a really good time. If we can afford to do that it’s great and if we can’t we can’t. That’s really all it is.
Tim – If we were to think of our band as like our careers as artists or musicians we have every single rational inclination to break-up. There’s no reason for us to be a band if we’re not going to be going on tour and working really hard at it. But, because we don’t think of it as that, there isn’t any reason to break-up. We still have fun playing music and we still get to do it, even if it’s erratic and it only happens every so often. And we still have fun doing it. I would rather be able to sustain that, where every time we play it’s fun and the shows are good. And then we get to create music on our own terms, rather than have to like go out and prove ourselves by playing a bunch of shows and meanwhile back in the real world, losing jobs and kind of slumming it. I don’t think any of us are interested in doing that.
Brian – I feel like the times that we took our band the most serious are the times we had the least amount of fun. So, we’re kind of going back to our roots and this is hobby time, this is fun time where we just do what we want to do and not try to do something that isn’t going to be fun.
Tim – And never, ever, ever take it seriously.