In much the same way that the city of Louisville, Ky., itself straddles the old Civil War latitudes with a warm and gentlemanly consonance, Elliott's emotional songs play with a duality of images about life in the Midwestern town. For strength of conviction, the touching lyrics are delivered in the what the band's bio calls an "extremely textured combination of melodic hardcore, rock and emo."
For instance, on the song "The Watermark High" lyricist and guitar player Chris Higdon uses the symbolism of the Ohio River, which separates Louisville to the north from Jefferson County, Ind., to examine personal events. Live, he backs these up with grainy photographs of lonely tugboats floating on the narrow inlet. And in "Every Train That Passes" Higdon uses lyrics and the imagery of Louisville's multifarious railways and bridges to reflect the need for change.
Speaking by phone from the house the band shares in Louisville's historic Smoke Town neighborhood, Higdon explains that "U.S. Songs," Elliott's first full-length record and Revelations Records debut, is also the sum of non-linear elements.
"The album is very spread out. We recorded part of it in Memphis and part in Los Angeles. It was our first real recording experience, so we were a little shaky trying to get a feel for the studio. It is also something of an expansion project for us. Before this record we had never traveled very far. So some of what's going on is the product of young minds getting a larger look at the world," says Higdon, with a softly rolling Southern lilt to his alto voice. In addition to Higdon (ex-Falling Forward), the band features new drummer Kevin Ratterman, guitarist Jay Palumbo and bassist Jonathan Mobley (both ex-By The Grace of God members).
Cloaked in a skin of raw emotion, Elliott (the name chosen for its non-description) is one of the key bands on Louisville's burgeoning music scene and has helped define that city's sound in its post-punk days. Playing all-ages shows in clubs along Bardstown Road -- Louisville's answer to Los Angeles' Melrose Avenue -- that bustles with record stores, head shops and unique restaurants -- Elliott, along with The Shipping News and Metroschifter, began by releasing a single on Louisville's Initial Records. The single included an early version of "The Watermark High" reinvented for the album with added lyrics, cleaner production and Ratterman replacing original drummer Ben Lord.
Higdon who occasionally drove a downtown cab, says, "I don't know if we are ready to take on the title of hometown heroes. But our shows in Louisville go over very well. I can still go to Krogers (market) without getting mobbed. But sometimes I've been at the hardware store with my parents and kids have stopped to ask me about the band."
With Ratterman serving as both producer and engineer, the band is readying two new singles, one each for Initial and Revelation, and beginning to demo songs for its sophomore album. Meanwhile Ratterman, who also plays keyboards, is at work composing interstitial vignettes, minisoundscapes, that will be used only in the live show to cover the sounds of the band tuning and to help segue from one song to the next. Higdon, who sang in Falling Forward and picked up guitar at the inception of Elliott, is opening himself to more literary influences and will again compose most of the lyrics.
"From Bukowski to (poet) Robert Creeley there are a lot of writers that interest me. I've been scared that I am going to copy the things I read in books, so I have been resisting their influences. But as I grow older I've realized that this is an ignorant point of view," says Higdon who also expressed his desire for the next album to be, "heavy duty and comprehensive."
Whatever the final outcome, at least some of the new material will reflect life in Louisville. Despite its flaws, Higdon remains bullish on the city.
"I could say everything is perfect. But it is not. The city is almost self-segregated. And recently there's been some racial tension between the police and the black community. But Louisville is kind of an island of its own in Kentucky. People think we are hicks because we live in Kentucky. Then they come to Louisville and end up seeing that it's pretty cool."