On their sixth studio album Ghost Gardens, Hamilton-based folk/alt-country trio Elliott Brood took an unexpected journey through the past. It began with the rediscovery of lost demo songs from early in the band's career, nearly 15 years ago, on a misplaced hard drive that had been sitting in an old suitcase. Once the trio consisting of Mark Sasso, Casey Laforet and Stephen Pitkin dove in, they rediscovered a wealth of lyric and melody ideas waiting to be developed.
The album’s title reflects that process; Ghost Gardens alludes to a phenomenon whereby the perennial gardens of houses and buildings, having been abandoned or forgotten for years or even decades, continue to grow and reappear year after year, despite their original caretakers’ absence.
The concept is in keeping with Elliott Brood’s trademark musical approach, which has often re-imagined traditional folk and country styles. Their brand of fuzzed-up roots music has been called everything from “blackgrass” to “death country,” but those descriptions aren’t often sufficient to capture the transcendent heights they reach on record and stage.
Ghost Gardens is officially released Sept. 15 on Paper Bag Records, just as Elliott Brood embarks on a North American tour into November. Go to elliottbrood.com for more details.
The concept behind Ghost Gardens is fascinating. Were all three of you on board with that idea right away?
The concept and idea of revisiting the demos took a bit of time for us to fully get behind at first, but once we were in we were fully committed to them. As a band and as artists you want to keep pushing yourselves and moving forward instead of rehashing the past. There was something timeless and extraordinary to these demos that just kept pulling at us to pay attention to them, to reimage them and give them their time in the sun.
How would you surmise recording these songs today, compared to how the band might have recorded them 15 years ago?
As a group, it felt as though we approached the songs from an opposite vantage point than we would have originally. The biggest change is that our take on the recording had evolved drastically from when we first started writing and recording.
We went from using a room as a space to record to looking at the place more like an instrument and a vehicle to achieve sounds. We also utilized the subtraction method process with instrumentation and overdubs to create space in our recordings. I feel as though we honed our skills as producers and writers over the past decade so much that it has enabled us to be able to understand and achieve in less time what a song needs, a kind of economy of motion and effort with regards to structure, shaping and recording of a song.
Are there any particular songs that stood out?
“2468” and “Gentle Temper” stand out the most for me. In particular “2468” was set to be a softer, shorter song with no real chorus or build-ups. But once we revisited this track in the studio it grew, and a few more parts came to light that never seemed feasible or possible when I first started writing it back in 2005. There are some pretty great movements now and some stellar piano parts that give the song an added lift to bring it to new heights.
“Gentle Temper” always had a massive crescendo both vocally and musically at the end that was way too bombastic and jarring in the old demos. We took the time and found a way to allow it to have a reverse build with less aggressive instrumentation, specifically employing mandolin and removing the harsh vocals to bring about the closure.
Ghost Gardens is also a reminder of how the band has stuck to its original vision. What would you say has kept the three of you together now for over a decade?
As a band, we have always seemed to agree on a common path when it comes to music and our personal and mutual musical goals. The road hasn’t always been easy or clear to us and along the way we’ve had to work hard with regards to communication amongst ourselves as we have three distinct and powerful idealists in the band that are fighting to get their voices and ideas heard.
If you could change anything about the music business, what would it be?
There is a lot about the music industry I would like to change, but if I could change anything about the music industry, it would be to make all travel distances between shows one mile. Then I could at least walk to the next gig for some exercise, which in turn would give me easily eight-plus hours on any given travel day to get out and look around the towns and cities we play. Instead of sitting in a moving van for hours on end I could then take in all of the amazing culture, museums, parks and food that these cities and places have to offer. Alas, we sit in our tour van for way too long taking in the world at 100 km per hour.