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Friday, March 18, 2011

Eliot Rose Makes Sense of Cosmic WTFs Tomorrow at Hotel Utah

Posted By on Fri, Mar 18, 2011 at 1:30 PM

  • Aaron Caley

Due to some great clerical error in the cosmos, this guy is famous and Eliot Rose isn't. Yet. The Oakland-based (via Portland via Romania via New Haven) micro-fi troubadour has been hitting new strides repeatedly since the early aughts, making spellbinding, eloquent songs out of unusually sparse elements: as the ringleader of The Scientifics, he relied chiefly on repurposed electronics; after going solo and releasing the little-heralded The Calculated Dream in 2008, he spent a while exploring the fruitful intersection of synthesizers, melodica, and thumb piano. Now he's at work on a new album, which promises to veer off in fetchingly arcane new directions once again.

Lucky for us Bay Area denizens, it's been possible to track Rose's progress through the live sets he plays every now and then -- one of which is happening tomorrow night at Hotel Utah along with Night Genes and Tropical Dancer.

Take a few minutes to listen to "The Infinite Gloom" and "Brightness and the Blood," both from The Calculated Dream, and grab advance tickets for the show here. Below, we catch up with Rose on Irish heritage, Scandinavian dancing, and what to expect tomorrow night.

What have you been working on lately?
I realized at my last show that I actually have enough songs for a new album, so I've been recording, which involves a lot of re-learning how to record and getting intimate with my synthesizers -- I try not to use the same sounds over and over again. The new tracks are more dance-oriented than my previous material, ranging from subwoof bangers to neo-Motown swing. I've also been trying to figure out a way to post these new tracks on the internet in a way that gives them some presence, but doesn't require a lot of updating, microblogging, brand architecture, etc. on my part. 

Does living in the Bay Area influence your music in any artistic or pragmatic way?
I like nature, and California feels like the place where American nature was invented. So I go on bike rides around Marin or the East Bay hills and sink into John Muir rhapsodies, and that's when I write a lot of my songs.

Do such rhapsodies constitute a change from the slightly morbid nature of your older songs?

I love being in nature, but very little of the nature makes it into my songs lyrically, except in brief intervals. For instance, the title for one of my new songs, "The Natural Panic," came from being out on a bike ride late on a misty evening and fighting the fear that comes naturally as the dark closes in. But once I finished the song it was more about the impetus to go out partying on a Saturday night.

Generally speaking, to what degree are your songs about you?
I have a hard time writing details into my songs. I'd like to, but they always end up being about cosmic WTFs. Lately I've been writing more about love, which is the most cosmic of all WTFs. I'm a detail-oriented person, and I think that writing songs is an effort to counter that, and remind myself to keep the big picture in mind.

Is the dance-oriented turn in your new stuff in any way a local influence?

It's mainly a reflection of the fact that I like to dance, and the Bay Area is a better place to do that than Portland, where I lived before. Portland is kind of like a Scandanavian country, where crossed arms and a headnod or two often substitute for dancing, and the only outlet for enthusiasm is spasmodic conceptual flailing. The Bay Area has had its own homegrown dance music and dance styles, so it seems like people feel a bit more comfortable on the floor.
You've played some great covers at past shows. What new songs are you considering working into your rotation?
Since I started playing the thumb piano I've been enjoying learning other people's music more and more. My favorites to sing are Kris Kristofferson's "To Beat the Devil," "Nantes" by Beirut, and "Na Asa Do Vento" by Caetano Veloso. I've also been learning a bunch of older songs from Mississippi John Hurt, the Carter Family, the Lomax/Smith anthologies, etc. But I don't know if any of those will be coming to the stage soon. My thumb piano is a limited instrument: it has five notes in a single key. It's easy to play and I can always use it to muddle through a song -- especially those old folk songs, which often only have three chords -- so it provides a great springboard into singing some tunes that I really love. But in order to really make a song work on the thumb piano I have to come up with a thumbpicking pattern that works well with the rhythm of that song, which is rare.

I would love to cover "Night Moves," but I think that might require pulling together a band of Segerbros in shades.

What will your show at Hotel Utah be like?

I'm trying to make people feel like they're in my living room. Instead of my usual setup, which involves a table full of electronics situated between me and the audience, I'll have furniture (an armchair, a lamp, possibly a rug and/or houseplant) and a small group of instruments (sampler, iPod, effects) on a side table next to the armchair. I'll probably alternate between Masterpiece Theater-style intros and thumb piano songs, both delivered from the armchair, and standing keytar/dance routines. Where I use pre-recorded material, it will involve some dialogue between the past Eliot that is working through the iPod/sampler and the present Eliot incarnate, in order to keep a conversational vibe.

Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how stoked I am to be playing this show with Tropical Dancer. Devin of Tropical Dancer and I have been playing shows together since we were in high school, and it seems like the tropics are providing him with the ideal setting for his trademark sincere ridiculousness/ridiculous sincerity. One time in Mazatlan I found myself in Senor Frog's sitting next to this drunk businessman who was ranking the asses of the other women in the bar not just against each other, but against all the asses he's seen in his resort travels, and that's kind of what Tropical Dancer is like: breezy fun, meticulous methods.

How did you celebrate St. Patrick's Day?
I slept four hours the night before, walked out of the house in a daze wearing various shades of gray, and worked all day. I ate some greens, but that's a pretty pitiful concession to my Irish ancestry. Were she alive, my grandmother Margaret McNally would pinch me. Hard.


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