These United States: A Thinking Man's Band

By: Tim Dwenger

Jesse Elliot by Shervin Lainez
"These United States" are three words full of pomp and circumstance, three words that when linked together conjure up feelings of patriotism and visions of red, white and blue, no matter what your political leanings may be. Soon, these three words will also conjure up feelings of longing and passion, not for a cause or a candidate but for an unmistakable and unique brand of music; the music of D.C.-based These United States.

Jesse Elliot, the mastermind behind the elegant, eclectic blend of psych-folk and alt-country that is These United States, dabbled in several non-musical arenas before settling on music as his life's work.

"About two years ago I kinda ran out of other options," Elliot said in a recent interview from his home in our nation's capitol. "I got disenchanted with politics, journalism and international law and this other stuff that I had been thinking about doing with my life. I was like, 'I guess there's always music. I could try that.' Writing songs at the end of the day had always been some kind of solace for me but it was [also] kinda my last resort."

All of that end-of-day writing had produced a large collection of songs in various states of completion. "I was like 'maybe I should do something with these.' However, I didn't actually know anything about the music business and my performing experience had been limited to performing for my dog and cat on my nylon string guitar when I was younger," says Elliott. "Then, like everyone, I had a bad high school band with a really bad name. It was called Dr. Niceguy."

Since the days of Dr. Niceguy, Elliot has gotten serious about music, learned as much as he could and toured "all over god's green earth." Apparently, all of that hard work has paid off as Elliot recently signed a contract with Boulder, CO-based United Interests. The team, as they like to call it at United Interests, will be handling management duties as well as acting as the band's record label. It is a fledgling company with ties to What Are Records?, a Boulder company that has been going strong for 17 years since starting out with their very first band, The Samples, in 1991.

Jesse Elliot
United Interests' philosophy is a simple one. They aim to sign a very limited number of bands that they are passionate about and then work closely with the band to develop them in major markets across the country while ensuring the artist is taken care of financially, if at all possible. This philosophy is an innovative one and that seems to appeal to guys like Elliot who are keenly aware of the changing paradigms within the music industry today.

"We encourage our artists to release albums as frequently as they can, as often as twice a year. Every nine months works as well, but we start grumbling a little bit if it is more than a year," says Kyle Wofford of United Interests. "Our core philosophy is centered on the idea that if you have artists that you believe in and they have a high enough output of material then why not release a record every six or nine months? They'll get another round of national press and radio and everything else that surrounds a record release to compliment all of the nonstop touring in between. It makes sense to us."

Early in March, about the time that his debut album was released, Elliot rounded up some good friends and embarked on his first stint of touring with United Interests. The tour was a massive six-week marathon of shows in nationwide markets including several he had never visited as a musician. It was an enormous undertaking that certainly fits the grandeur of his band's name.

To keep things interesting Elliot booked a different local band to join These United States at each of the shows. "We are actually going to play with a different band, and as a different band, in every city, after just an afternoon of practice," said Elliot, speaking just days before the tour began. "For the benefit of the audience, if for no one else, my drummer Robby [Catholic] and multi-instrumentalist Tom [Hnatow] will be joining me for the tour to keep the wheels on. That way the members of the other band can focus on adding to the music rather than holding the song together."

Continue reading for more on These United States...

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