Name: Elk City
Members: Renee LoBue (lead vocals), Sean Eden (guitars, backing vocals), Chris Robertson (guitars, backing vocals), Richard Baluyut (bass, synths, backing vocals), Ray Ketchem (drums, synths, sounds, backing vocals)
Interviewees: Renee LoBue, Ray Ketchem
Current Release: Elk City's Above the Water is out via Magic Door.
Recommendations: Ray: Two of my favorite records are Love's Forever Changes and Wire's Pink Flag.
Renée: I’ll recommend a record and a book. Record: Dreaming of You (1971-76) by Karen Black; Book: No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July
If you enjoyed this interview with Elk City and would like to know more about the band, visit them on Instagram, Facebook, and twitter.
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
Ray: The early 90s was really the start point for me. I started producing our music in 91’. I love songcraft and patterns in music, but the SOUND is incredibly important to me.
Renée: I've been drawn to music since I can first remember hearing music. Music, to me, has always been magic, freedom, and a blank canvas of endless possibilities. I started experimenting (very little) with recording in high school. A schoolmate asked me to sing on his original songs. That was my first taste of being involved with making original music.
When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?
Ray: I think of music as visual as much as sound. I imagine color - or lack of color. Sights, the feel of the air, the mood music sets is strong. I follow those instincts as closely as possible when working on a song.
Renée: Music has always been primal for me. A scene change in a movie. Additionally, music makes me feel more grounded and deeply connected to nature.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
Ray: The goal is to make something that you would want to listen to. Finding a personal voice has been relatively easy, as I believe each artist is unique unless they are obsessively influenced by an artist that came before.
Renée: I want to say artist development takes time, but I don't believe it does with all artists. My development as an artist has always been about going within. Listening to what’s there and capturing it.
That said, I have many artist friends. My friendships, those outward connections of being involved in a tight-knit group of like-minded peers, has been an additional influence on my creative path.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
Ray: As a band we believe in the comradery that stems from being part of a group who mutually respect each other. We listen to artists who push boundaries outside of norms, or stay within scripted parameters, but do so in new creative ways.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
Ray: Finding that perfect melodic passage – and / or that unique sound that makes the listener want to return to your music. That’s always the approach.
Renée: As I've often said about music (and visual art), when you've “Wow-ed” yourself: When you listen to (or look at) what you've done and it's a giant “YES!” in your mind, that’s a key part of how I/we work.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
Ray: I respect both approaches. The ideal is to do both simultaneously.
Renée: I don't have an opinion either way. I’m just interested in continually “Wow-ing” myself.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
Ray: Obviously the basics: guitar, bass, drums and vocals are key elements for us.
But we’ve experienced a digital evolution since forming. Making music with ProTools – plug-ins, using hard drive space instead of analog tape has enabled us to create in ways that were impossible in the past.
Even the advancement of guitar stomp boxes that can sound like anything you can imagine has given our music new directions.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
Ray: When the band gathers to write, we do so with no preconceived notion of what might happen. We use improvisation to create our music. Renee is uniquely gifted at writing vocal melodies and lyrics in the moment. We record these sessions to multitrack audio that we can add to or subtract from.
Renée: We usually don't gather in the mornings, though sometimes we do. A typical day is: Taking care of day-to-day things, working my day job (yes, I have one!), getting out in nature, exercising, working on visual art, thrifting for (and working with) clothing.
Usually, the early afternoon brings about band time: Making music working on band artwork, running our record label (the Magic Door Record Label) perhaps rehearsing, or writing, and when we do, we always have dinner together. That's a typical day!
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
Renée: Our goal is to constantly be musically adventurous. I think of records like “Forever Changes” by Love.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
Ray: We’ve created music both ways. For the Above the Water LP, all of the songs were written as a band, literally improvising. Other times Renee will write melodies and lyrics and bring them to the band to create the music.
Renée: I’ve written songs on my own and played them for the band to further develop, however, my preference is writing together the way we do: Improvised jamming.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
Ray: We’ve always been outside of what is happening in society. We’ve never been political or outspoken on social issues.
Renée: The role of music in society is to uplift people, make people feel connected, give them a greater sense of freedom, empower them. Essentially, the role of music in society is to hold the hand of the human spirit.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
Ray: To me, music IS your partner in life. Every emotion is enhanced or conveyed.
Renée: Music has always been somewhat of a parent to me. A mother and a father figure. I think it's appropriate to repeat what I said in the last question: Music holds the hand of the human spirit. It certainly has held mine throughout my life.
How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
Ray: If I can interpret “science” as technology – they are greatly related. There’s also the connection of music and math. Patterns, grooves, beats.
Renée: Music and science are deeply related. The fields of art and science reveal that there are many components in each that rely on the other.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
Ray: Creating music is the opposite of a passive task such as making coffee. It’s active. Your neurons are firing - your senses alert.
Renée: Whether we admit it, or not, humans are constantly searching to be more deeply understood. I'm not going to be deeply understood or feel a sense of connection by making a great cup of coffee, (which, is one of the joys in life!).
That said, when I create music, I'm being wildly understood by the music that's being created in the moment, I'm being seen, I'm being heard, I'm being understood on a level I can't get anywhere in the material world.
Making a cup of coffee, however great, (and hey, coffee IS great!) is mostly material, to me, anyway ... making music is pure spirit.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
Ray: Music is also vibrations that can be felt in your body. It’s the combination of melody, chords and groove that bring to life different cultures and eras. Recorded music and live music send different messages.
Renée: The fact that music is vibration says everything about the deep emotional transmission that happens when we listen to music. This is because everything is vibration. We are vibration. Listening to music is our vibration connecting with other vibration. That's where the magic is.