Photo: Courtesy of Chart Room Media

Art Pop’s Elk City Explores Truth and Beauty With “Pity of a Rose” (premiere + interview)

Art pop group Elk City share their latest video "Pity of a Rose" and discuss their latest EP, Souls in Space. "My goal in directing the video was to illustrate a human being incapable of emotion, who is navigating the prison of her mind," says co-founder Renée LoBue.

Elk City‘s latest EP, Souls in Space, released 18 October and features songs cut during sessions for the group’s 2018 LP, Everybody’s Insecure but held back for one reason or another. The material is remarkably confident and endlessly listenable. “Luncheonette” is seemingly effortless, buoyed by Renée LoBue’s inimitable vocal style and dense but accessible lyrics; “Judy Knows How” is a gorgeous, ballad-ish piece that finds the intersection between the Velvet Underground, Bowie and Cowboy Junkies. These are songs that touch on the solitary but become a sense of comfort, companions for those who find companionship hard to come by, complicated, difficult.

There’s a sense of the solitary in “Pity of a Rose”, for which LoBue directed a new video. “It’s a song about feeling sorry for one’s self,” she says. “Party of one at the pity party.”

She and filmmaker Jon Reino traveled to Mountainside Park in Montclair, New Jersey, on what LoBue calls “an unseasonably cool evening in early August” to shoot the video. “As we ascended the park’s hill, we noticed a family of six deer,” she recalls. “We approached with caution, reminding each other in whispers to ‘move slowly’ until we reached the sweet spot where they were comfortable with us and we with them. We began filming, and the deer stayed with us for the entire shoot.”

LoBue’s grasp of the visual is remarkable, and she notes the seemingly disparate worlds that inspired the finished product. “My goal in directing the video was to illustrate a human being incapable of emotion, who is navigating the prison of her mind. Additionally, I wanted to have fun with it and pay homage to my love of vintage horror films like 1969’s Night of the Living Dead while also nodding to my fascination with Kabuki theatre.”

She adds, “Ironically, (and very luckily, for us), the presence of the deer juxtaposes the truth and beauty of nature into my performance of an unnatural being en route to becoming human. It’s only when the bridge of the song begins, ‘But I’ve changed, I’ve changed…’ that the character cracks a smile, the lighting transforms, and suddenly she becomes open to being one with humanity and with the nature surrounding her.”

The clip serves as a stunning, haunting companion to an equally moving and sometimes disquieting song. LoBue’s understated vocal performances and Elk City co-founder Ray Ketchem’s deft production touches help create a track that stands as one of the best in the group’s body of song. “I loved directing and performing in the ‘Pity of a Rose’ video,” LoBue says. “If you know me, you know that working in the medium of video is a true passion of mine. My fascination with movement is ever-evolving. Movement, to me, is the highest ritual in recreating space; in changing one’s narrative. I believe we did recreate the space at Mountainside Park that evening, and I feel more connected to myself and to all that is because of it.”

For that track to work,” Ketchem says, “we realized that it couldn’t be a rock song. It had to be a production piece. I probably spent two or three weeks on the production.”

Ketchem and LoBue recently spoke with PopMatters about the new EP from the band’s home base, Magic Door Recording.

Where and when did the material for this EP start coming together?

Ray Ketchem: It was done at the same time as Everybody’s Insecure. With those sessions, we started recording whatever songs we had. When we got to the finish line, we pulled the songs that didn’t quite fit on the album. We think of it as the third side of the album.

Renée LoBue: I did a post on Facebook and was very sincere in saying that this EP has always been like my little doll, my little buddy. It’s on such a sincere level for me. I need these songs.

How did you go about sequencing the EP? Because these songs fit really well together.

RL: In addition to Ray saying that this is the third side of Everybody’s Insecure, I’ve called the EP the pocket companion. The collection just seemed to have a life of its own and make sense. Sequencing those five songs was fairly easy.

RK: This might be the first sequence we came up with. It wasn’t some big, thought-out process. There were a few songs from the EP that were in the running for the album. “Judy Knows How” was one. It’s a long, sprawling song, and since we were doing vinyl, we thought maybe it was something that could wait.

What can you tell me about the origins and evolution of that tune?

RK: It was written as a jam. Four of the five us were together, and it fell together very quickly. Renée has always had this gift of being able to improvise melodically and lyrically. It’s one of those magical tracks that almost came together on the first night. It was happening organically. When we tried to edit it down, it never felt right. It felt like we had to tell the whole story. There was a point where I tried to make it more of a pop song, and it didn’t work.

RL: As a songwriter, music is about having confidence in yourself. But this is about having confidence in the listener. I think people do want to be challenged. They do want things to open up and linger. Some of the lyrics are character portrayal, but it’s really a glimpse into modern relationships and how, sometimes, very cruel acts or cruel intentions can be so casual.

I also love “Luncheonette”.

RL: It speaks to the side of me that has always loved quirkiness in music, specifically bands such as the Roches and Uncle Bonsai. It’s also my nod to one of my favorite records of all-time, Rickie Lee Jones’ Flying Cowboys. It’s a journey into the inner-workings of one’s mind, about the fragility of human essence.

RK: The B-part of the verse is this sort of repetitive part that we keep adding to with this release at the end. Ultimately, you’ve got this sense of disappointment: You’ve got the butterflies and this tension building, anticipation, then there’s this sense of nothing. Disappointment in the face of reality. That was fun to think of from a production point of view.

Do you have long conversations about these elements?

RL: No, we don’t. In fact, we talk about it the most after a record is out.

RK: [Laughs.] Yeah.

RL: We leave each other alone in these processes, then we get together to discuss it all once the record’s released. And? Who doesn’t love handclaps?

RK: A lot of the relationship that Renée and I have had over the years has been about her having these creative ideas that she hands over to the band or me and lets people do their thing. From a production standpoint, I’m just trying to build up the themes that I hear from the lyrics or melody. My job is to be the support and make it come together in the end. We trust each other.

Is production part of the compositional process?

RK: It’s very much part of the process. I’ll take performances and cut them up. Maybe someone played something in the first verse that becomes part of the bridge. I think that way almost initially, whether we’re jamming or when Renéebrings a song in. I separate that from the way that the band would perform live. I don’t really care whether it can be performed the way it is on the record. You can always figure that out later.

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