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Elk City Finds Wisdom in Innocence With 'Everybody's Insecure' (album stream + interview)

Photo: Ray Ketchem (Courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf)

New Jersey outfit Elk City returns with a new collection of imaginative, emotional songs titled Everybody's Insecure. Elk City takes us through the record in this exclusive interview.

Everybody's Insecure is the latest release from Elk City. The record arrives on 16 March via Bar/None Records. At the nucleus of the group is Ray Ketchem and Renée LoBue, who formed the band in the late 1990s (they previously worked together in Melting Hopefuls). The new record spotlights not only Lobue's deeply poetic and expressive lyrics but her remarkable singing and Ketchem's prodigious gifts as a producer. (He's tallied credits with Guided By Voices, Luna, Brother JT and others.)

Though one can detect traces of indie sounds and pop throughout the LP, Elk City's brand of music remains largely singular, music informed by elements disparate enough that they're largely untraceable. There's often an air of the theatrical ("He's Having a Baby", "Root Beer Shoes") while the ethereal ("My Manual") and the heartfelt ("Souls in Space") are never far from reach.

Everybody's Insecure may be ordered from the following vendors (and streamed below):

You can preorder the LP/CD here or at Amazon or iTunes.

Where does the process of making a new Elk City record begin?

Ray Ketchem: It's always a little bit different. This time there was a period of time where we didn't have any new material. Martin Olson, who'd been our bass player for a while, said, "Hey, I love playing the songs you wrote before I joined but we haven't written anything new in a while." Renée started writing some things. I don't know that we made a decision to start making a record, it was just song-by-song.

I read that the songs often begin with late-night recordings from Renée.

Renée LoBue: I remember being in high school and not being a songwriter yet, just into poetry but being a rabid music fan. I remember somebody saying to me, "It's like you always have a little radio playing in your head." I think that was exactly right. I hear a lot of music in my head, in my sleep, and I try to capture that as best as I can when I wake up. All this inspiration is always there. The real discipline is taking the time to capture it.

What happens from there? Is it a matter of Ray saying, "OK, what key is this? How do we arrange this?"

Ray Ketchem: That's exactly how it works. Especially for this record, Renée would have a capella melodies, complete lyrics. She'd hold up the phone at rehearsal and play us the melody that she'd recorded on her own. We'd try to figure out a key, listen to the recording a few times and then she'd join in. Once we'd found the right chords and gotten it into shape, she'd start singing. We were really trying to preserve as much of the initial inspiration as we could. That was my goal for this record, to capture not only that for the vocal but everybody's first impression of those moments.

Is there a song that paved the way for the rest of the record, where you thought, "OK. This is really on now"?

Renée LoBue: We thought we had a finished record and then I kept writing. I came into a rehearsal with the song "Sparrow" and that, along with a few other songs I wrote after it, pulled everything together. Before that, it was separate songs, not really thinking of it as full album. We were just recording. But "Sparrow" and "What It If I Said You Were Dead" we had material that really defined the other songs.

Ray Ketchem: For me, it was "What If I Said You Were Dead." When Renée said she had that one and I heard the title and her a capella recording, I knew we had to record it immediately.

I really love the song "25 Lines". Without giving too much away, can you say something about the inspiration for that track?

Renée LoBue: That was the first song that I wrote for this record. I was going through a period of writer's block and created this exercise where I would write at least 25 lines each day. They didn't have to be connected. They didn't have to make sense. They just had to be about me not holding back and exercising some creative muscle. It really freed me up, creatively. I went back through my notebook, found some lines I really loved, pieced them together and created a melody. Once I'd finished that, I was ready to write some more songs. Plus I always wanted to write a song that sounded a little bit like the Bangles' version of Prince's "Manic Monday".

Ray Ketchem: That's what she said when she presented it to the band: "Think 'Manic Monday!'" We kept it kind of poppy and light.

I also really love "Root Beer Shoes".

Renée LoBue: I was watching a documentary about Charles Bukowski. I was fascinated by his girlfriend, Cupcakes O' Brien. I think it's maybe the closest I've come to writing a song that could be in a Broadway musical. It was very easy to write. It's just sort of me thinking aloud.

Ray Ketchem: It's very whimsical. That's what I've always loved about it. I thought we should keep it simple and then almost orchestral at the end and let it sweep you away.

Was the album title intended to steer us in a particular direction of how we're supposed to think of the songs?

Ray Ketchem: Renée suggested it and I think it brought a lot of things about the record together. It felt like the most personal record that we've ever done. It felt like it looked a little more inward than some others we've done. I remember her playing me the initial recording and saying, "I wrote this last night." I listened to it and found it staggering. I loved the message of the song. For me, it really felt like she was singing about depression and anxiety, things that all sorts of people experience. I loved what she'd expressed. It was like a centerpiece idea.

Renée LoBue: For me, it's about reaching outward. Outside of the record. When I think of that phrase, "Everybody's insecure", I think about the people listening. As creatures, we're always reaching for balance. Think of it like a coming from the perspective of a child expressing this to an adult. Moving from childhood to adulthood doesn't necessarily mean that you've gained wisdom. That's the child's observation: Everybody's insecure.

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