After a long gap between releases, New Jersey-based band Elk City returned last year with a cover of the Motel’s classic “Suddenly Last Summer.” It was a song very fitting for their dark and atmospheric yet catchy sound. The track also served as a good way to announce their signing to Bar/None Records, leading up to their newly released album, “Everybody’s Insecure.”
Since Elk City emerged in the early 90’s, the line-up has changed quite a bit, with vocalist/songwriter Renée LoBue and drummer/producer Ray Ketchem the consistent core members. The current line-up also includes guitarists Sean Eden (of Luna fame) and Chris Robertson, keyboardist Carl Baggaley, and bassist Martin Olson.
How did you come to release a cover of “Suddenly Last Summer” between albums?
Renée: “We had this record and we didn’t know what was happening with it. We didn’t know who would be releasing it or if we would self-release. I’ve always loved the Motels, and specifically that song. Since we were in a period of not knowing what was happening with our record, I wanted us to release something. I thought it would be a great idea to cover that song and release it in the summer, which ended up not happening because right after we recorded the cover, we found out that Bar/ None wanted to release our record. After they told us they wanted to release our record, they told us not to release ‘Suddenly Last Summer’ and that they would release it in the fall to announce the signing. That’s how it happened, and why it happened. So, in hindsight, it was a really good move on our part. We then had something for Bar/None to shout out to the world, that they were going to release this record.”
How long did it take to make the new album?
Ray: “We worked on it for quite a few years, not consistently. It was done sort of song by song. I’m a producer, and I’ve had a studio for quite a long time, so the band would usually rehearse in my studio and we would record things when they were available. So, this one was over I’d say 3 years.”
Was it obvious to you when the album could be considered done and ready to release?
Ray: “In this case, it was something we thought about., Renée writes so many great things along the way, and I felt that we didn’t quite have an album until we had ‘Sparrow.’ You need a few anchor tracks, and the two tracks that spring to mind as anchor tracks, for me, were actually 2 of the later tracks we recorded. They were ‘Sparrow’ and ‘What If I Said You Were Dead.’ Then once those 2 were put together, it felt more like we had tracks to sort of ground things in a way and put the other tracks in perspective.”
Renée: “I also feel that when I continually write and I feel I’m at a place where I’ve written a group of songs that we can record, if I continue writing beyond that, and I should always be writing, it really informs what I’m doing. So, every next song you write puts the previous songs you’ve written into context. For me, they’re a gauge for whether I can be doing better. It’s always sort of a mini competition for myself to always write a better song than I’ve previously written. So, there is a context in doing that because we did think that we had a finished record, and then I wrote ‘Sparrow’ and ‘What If I Said You Were Dead.’ Those songs had already been recorded and made everything feel like a record. Whatever you’re writing always informs the group of songs within which you’re writing.
“For me, I always go into making a record thinking that I know what it’s going to be, and perhaps there is a theme. But what I find is that it becomes what it is on its own and then it tells you. The group of songs becomes what they are on their own, and then for me, they tell me what they want to be. What does this group of songs say? It’s like reading back a story after you’ve written it from cover to cover. Only at that point can you understand what you’ve done. That is how it is for me, anyway.”
Are the two of you the core songwriters of the band? What does the creative process of the group tend to be like?
Renée: “Well there’s 6 of us. We’re a full band: 2 guitars, bass, drums, keys, and vocals. We’re a regular band, we get together and rehearse and we play shows. I write the main ideas for the songs. As I describe it to people, I create skeletons of songs and I bring them into people who make them better. And make them something.”
Did you perform this material live at all as you were making the album?
Ray: “No. With this record, we stopped performing live almost purposely because with the last record we had put out, we had road-tested the songs. We had been on tour in Europe and played the songs many, many times, and then we went in and recorded a record fairly quickly. And so, with this group of songs, I wanted to do something different. Rene was writing things, basically on her iPhone, singing a cappella melodies into her voice recorder. The goal for me as the producer was to capture the initial inspiration of the players in the band as they were hearing these a cappella melodies for the first time. I had all the mics set up as Rene would present something and the goal was to capture the most inspired moment that could possibly happen when someone is just hearing something and reacting to it. I would always roll tape, but the takes that you end up hearing on the recording were never demoed, they were some of the first moments of the musicians playing.”
Ray, do you think your work producing other artists influences what you’re doing with Elk City?
Ray: “I do. It’s always a little bit that way. You always carry a little bit of what you’re currently experiencing with you to whatever you’re doing in your own project. It would be hard to not somewhat be affected by it. I don’t want to say influenced by it, but somewhat affected by other projects that you’re currently working on.”
Is there any particular Elk City Material that you feel has been affected?
Ray: “You know, I don’t think so. Elk City is to me such a ‘we do what we do so’ sort of band. We’ve made a lot of records, we’ve been together a long time. There’s a certain sort of groove we call into as a group of people and Rene and I have worked together for so long. It’s almost like we can finish each other’s musical sentences at this point. We always take it song by song.”
How did you come to sign to Bar/None? Were you set on being on a label, or did you consider self-releasing?
Ray: “I’ve produced a lot of records for Bar/None over the years. There was a collection of records I did for a band called The Mendoza Line. Actually, I produced a record for the label owner’s band last year. They are called Glenn Morrow’s Cry for Help. I probably did my first record for Bar-None 24 or 25 years ago. But we had never done something with Elk City. Elk City had always been on other labels and when Glenn found out that we had a record that we recorded, we sent it to him. He said, ‘What are you guys going to do with this?’ and we said, ‘You know, our label in Brooklyn isn’t operational anymore and we’re not quite sure.’ And so he said, ‘Let me call you back’ and he did, saying, ‘I want to do it on Bar-None.’ We made the record not knowing where it was going to end up.”
Renée: “We did consider self-releasing. We weren’t sure what was going to happen with the record, but we knew that we wanted to put it out there either way. We were lucky Bar-None wanted to release it. So yes, we did consider self-releasing at first.”
Are you planning on touring to support the new album?
Ray: “We hope to tour. We would love to get out there. We play a lot in our local area, but we’re hoping to go back to Europe again. We love playing over there, in France, Spain, and Italy especially. Hopefully, we’ll get out there.”
What made you choose the name Elk City?
Renée: “Ray is from West Virginia originally and there’s a very small town near where he grew up there called Elk City. There are also others – there is Elk City, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania. We were searching for a band name, and he was on a ride to West Virginia and called me saying, ‘What do you think about the name Elk City?’ And I said that I liked it and the way it sounded. That is why we went with the name.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Renée: “With the release of the record, Bar-None is re-releasing our entire back catalog. All Elk City records from the past are now going to be on Bar-None and available digitally.”
Ray: “I went through and remastered most of it and cleaned up some of the tracks. The first record had come out in 2000. The technology has improved, so I was able to make it sound a little better. The digital footprint had gotten a little messy over the years because of the European releases with bonus tracks and that sort of thing. So, what we did was clean up the US releases, and they’re going to reissue all of those, and then we’re going to collect all the bonus tracks that are sort of scattered about on the European releases and put them out as their own sort of release. So, anyone who had maybe heard a track or two on a French version of an early record or something, they’ll be able to find these sort of odds and sods.”