TAS In Session: The Elected
Although Blake Sennett officially announced the demise of Rilo Kiley on his website in July, he's not written the epitaph for his side project, The Elected, quite yet.
Sennett recorded much of The Elected's latest album, Bury Me In My Rings, on his own. However, he did recruit both former and new bandmates for some studio work and touring earlier this summer, like drummer Daniel Brummel, violinist/percussionist Dre Babinski and bassist Mike Bloom. They joined Sennett when The Elected recently did a session for The Alternate Side, playing several new songs, like "Babyface" along with a heartfelt cover of a Tom Petty classic.
Sennett, who wrote that Rilo Kiley's breakup after 13 years was "sad but it happens," was very circumspect and candid about his deliberate, two-year estrangement from the music industry when he chatted with TAS' Alisa Ali, noting that scuba diving and making pasta sauce seemed a priority after a lifetime devoted to music and, given his child actor beginnings, entertainment. At the time he spoke to The Alternate Side, he also hinted at a possible Rilo Kiley collection of unreleased tracks and rarities.
You can hear the interview and session in its entirety on TAS on 91.5 WNYE on Friday, August 19 at 11 a.m. EDT or streaming on TAS here.
You can also listen to the archived session here.
Alisa Ali: Blake, I understand that when you first started working on this record, you were playing most of the intruments yourself. But clearly with this song, the steel drum was added later.
Blake Senett: Yeah. I tried to play as many instruments as I was capable of during the recording. I’m not sure why. I felt like playing unencumbered by anything but my own nonsense for a while. As it went on, you start to see the bottom of the bucket and circle the bottom and I had to start bringing other folks in. I wish I’d done so earlier because I like this version of “Babyface” so much more than what’s probably on the record.
Alisa: Which instruments did you play on this record yourself?
Blake: The uke, the guitar, some drums, some bass, some steel pan. Some guitar. Singing. Percussion. I don’t know.
Alisa: Were there any instruments that you tried your hand at that you don’t normally play that you felt was cool?
Blake: That’s a good question. Well … I tried some slide guitar. Mike has always played slide and I tried it but I’m not sure. Maybe at first I was like, this is cool! And then I had Mike come in and play a bunch of them and I was like, “Oh wait, I’m not that good at all!” Maybe temporarily I thought it was good to do, but it’s like trying to learn to blow glass. You think you’re pretty good until you see someone who knows what they’re doing. So The Caveman, aka Mike Bloom, animalistic beast, he’s real good at it. He’s playing bass today, but it’s really not his first instrument.
Mike Bloom: Daniel is actually a master bassist. Maybe he’ll give a clinic later.
Alisa: So Caveman, what did you think of Blake’s slide playing when you first heard it?
Mike: Oh god, what did you play me, Blake? Help me remember?
Blake: I was probably too embarrassed to point it out to him. I don’t know. I think the whole idea of this record, in terms of playing a lot myself and trying to sequester myself away was to experiment and do things that were not comfortable for me. I think I’ve relied a lot in the past on others and I think that’s why all of us are trying to play instruments we’re not typically comfortable on in this tour. We’re trying to grow outside of what’s comfortable. I don’t think Mike has ever defined himself as a bass player, but perhaps after this tour he’ll [realize that there’s a facet of himself] that is now a bass player. Daniel has never toured on the drums in his life and now he’s here as the drummer. Dre grew up playing steel drum but learned violin for this tour.
Alisa: [Were] you happy with that?
Blake: Yes, I felt good about it. The reverb was nice and your voice sounded so calming and nice afterwards that I felt, wow, this feels professional.
Alisa: Because you were a little hesitant about that song as first.
Blake: I think any time you drench something in crazy amounts of reverb, it gets way better.
Alisa: This is from your third record, Bury Me In My Rings. Will you be buried in your rings? Let me see. You don’t have rings on your hand.
Blake: I’m saving them for the coffin.
Alisa: This is the first Elected album in five years. I know you haven’t been twiddling your thumbs. I think you put out a Rilo Kiley album?
Blake: Yes, we put out and toured a Rilo Kiley album about two and a half years ago and then there was two and a half years of trying to grow as a human being. Learning to build things out of wood. Trying to learn how to scuba dive and taking karate classes.
Alisa: What level belt are you?
Blake: Not much. Just one level.
Blake: Yeah. Still pretty devastating. I learned to motorcycle ride. I don’t know. Camping. Gardening. Making pasta sauce. You step out of a tour bus after a couple of years of touring and you realize that your development has truly been halted. I felt younger than when I stepped into the bus and not in a good way. Not refreshed and young. More immature. I wanted to grow up a little bit and feel what that feels like. A life that isn’t centered around music.
Alisa: That’s cool and lucky that you had the ability to explore those interests. You knew you had the time off and whatever tickled your fancy? Are you certified [in scuba diving]?
Blake: I am. Open water diver now. I was writing a lot at the time too. I don’t think I can ever turn off art for me. It’s all I know. A survival instinct. If I don’t have it I start to get mean. Mean. It’s my medicine. If I don’t have my art, then I get weird.
Alisa: You weren’t a mean scuba diver, were you?
Blake: Oh, yeah. The worst. I’m just kidding.
Alisa: What is a mean scuba diver? Punching lobsters?
Blake: I don’t respect the buddy system at all. No, I was writing a lot in that time and yeah, every time I tried to reapproach music or art for commerce, I didn’t. I just stayed put. It was against my nature and my history but it was something that I felt was important. Like a lot of spiritual manifestos, it was taking contrary action. I tried to take a lot of contrary action. I wanted to be aware of my tendancies and go against them and see what happened. I can always be me. It’s harder to not be you.
Alisa: Did you think that you were going to just take a break from music and explore other things or were you thinking, “I’m done. Stick a fork in me.”
Blake: It’s a game you have to play with yourself or I had to play with myself, to say I’m done. I’m done forever, that’s it, that chapter of my life is over, the book is closed.
Alisa: I can’t believe you would have completely walked away.
Blake: I didn’t play much music at all for two and half years. My guitars were in storage. But you’re right. I don’t think I could have ever truly put away music. If I were to have a child one day, playing them songs … to deprive them of that … would be self-centered and that’s certainly not the place I’d want to come from. I’d want to share music with my kids. And not to deprive myself of it. I don’t know what kind of self-destructive behavior that would be. So, I don’t think [I would have] put it away forever. But as a living, I’d decided that was that.
Alisa: What made you decide on that? Are you a big [Tom Petty] fan?
Blake: I love Tom Petty, man. He’s the best.
Alisa: Do you have all of the albums?
Blake: I don’t think so. If I put a couple of friends together, we’d all have them. Pretty much just the Caveman, you got it.
Alisa: Between you and the Caveman …
Blake: We’ve got Petty covered for sure.
Alisa: I understand that you produced this album yourself, my friend Blake.
Blake: Well, it has a couple of names on there. I was the only one who was there the whole time but it started with me and my friend Jason Kupp and it ended with me and my friend Mike Bloom. We all three produced it.
Alisa: Is producing something you enjoy doing?
Blake: It’s fun. I like it. It’s great. It depends on what you’re working on. If I were working on something I didn’t like, someone else’s music that I didn’t enjoy, I don’t think I’d enjoy it. I don’t think I’d enjoy producing the Insane Clown Posse that much. But if it were producing something I’m into, like the Insane Clown Posse’s second record, then yeah, I’m into it.
Alisa: Jason Cupp is a pretty big part of this project because you walked away from music and Jason brought you back into the fold. He tricked you.
Blake: I think we both tricked me. I don’t think I was totally bummed at the idea of making music. Once we got in there and messed around at first, I was surprised by how easy things were coming. How enjoyable and therapeutic it was and I thought, I don’t want to stop doing this. I’d be sad if I had to stop doing it now. But he was the guy who called me up. He said, “You have to say yes” and I did. The first Elected record I had a real good time because there wasn’t a lot of expectation. The second one was not as good a time because we were on the road with Rilo Kiley and it was hard to record on the road. We’d be holed up in a dive hotel doing vocals while everyone was on the Snake River. As far as Rilo Kiley stuff; most of those records were pretty darn enjoyable. The last one wasn’t that enjoyable, but …
Alisa: I really liked [Under The Blacklight]!
Blake: Cool, thanks.
Alisa: But not as much fun to make.
Blake: Not as much fun to make. I’m proud of some of that record … a lot of that record. (laughs).
Alisa: So what’s going [to happen next]? Are you going to go back into the studio and make another Elected record? What’s happening with Rilo Kiley? Are you done? Will you do dentistry?
Blake: I don’t think I’ll do dentistry, but I don’t know. Rilo Kiley has a lot of unreleased tracks and right now, we’re working on putting those all together in some kind of double enhanced disk with video. Selections that never came out. As far as The Elected going in and instantly making another record, maybe. It occurs to me on a daily basis. I fantasize about it, but I don’t know. One of the things, as an artist, I have the privilege and prerogative of is changing my mind at any moment. Maybe I’ll move to Hawaii and start an organic garden. Or maybe I’ll slog back into the swamp of the music career that I’ve come to call home and love so much. I’m maybe a swamp-dweller. We’ll see. I don’t think I’ll ever walk away from music entirely; that’s a strange egotistical game to play. Maybe. You’ll never know.