Luke Elliott is the kind of songwriter who brings a sharp intelligence to his music. His lyrics are nuanced and layered, and require multiple listens to tease out the subtle themes of love and faith, loss and hope. He’s multi-talented, playing an array of instruments in addition to singing and composing, and it’s clear that he sets high standards for his creativity.
Standards that he’s refined from his time playing in tiny dive bars before moving on to bigger and better venues in NYC and Philly. He’s a musician who believes in the moment, that every iteration of a song should be different. It brings a freshness and spontaneity to his performance that you rarely find in music.
His first album Death of a Widow was released in 2010, and in 2012 he worked with director Paul Cantagallo on the title song for Benny the Bum, a film about a down-on-his-luck boxer. Later this year, Luke’s second EP, Provisions, will be released.
Fr.U.N.T. Music had the opportunity to ask Luke a few questions and he was gracious enough to take the time to chat with us.
Cardiac_in_Overdrive: You’ve been writing songs since you were fourteen, which is pretty young. Do you come from an artistically-inclined family that got you started on the path toward becoming a musician? Did you have relatives or family friends that were musicians? Or did it come as a total surprise to your family?
Luke Elliott: Yes, very much so. My mother and father were both piano players. My brother Christian was a bass player, and my younger brother, Jesse Elliot, is a great songwriter. My folks are both writers, so growing up, I had the good fortune of reading good material and listening to great music.
When I was 8, they forced me to take piano lessons. I say ‘forced’ because it took away from time with my friends. My older brother, Christian, made me believe that piano was a cool instrument though, and so I reluctantly agreed.
I think the fact that I write professionally seems natural to my family; almost like it was what they expected.
The songwriting came after years of just writing poems and novels in my room. I would wake up three hours before school most mornings and just start writing. They were always very encouraging.
CiO: Do you think your disinclination to be musically categorized makes you more open as an artist? Are you more willing to try new things, or take risks in your music?
LE: I just don’t see a point of pigeonholing people. I think that it takes away from what can be a natural progression, and makes artists feel trapped.
I hope that I’m willing to take risks and try new things. I’d like to think that I am. I don’t really want to repeat the same songs on every record.
CiO: You’ve talked about your writing process, and how it’s a contradiction – the process is intensely personal, but yet you try to remain objective. I can understand needing to keep yourself from interrupting the process, so it makes sense. Did you evolve into this sort of creative process, or have you always worked this way?
LE: It never seems like a good idea to be too close to the material- you don’t want to ‘fall in,’ though I am deeply connected to what it is that I’m writing about. I like the way you put that- I don’t want to ‘interrupt’ the process.
I’m not sure I’ve always worked this way, at least not consciously. I think that some of the better work I’ve created has developed as a result of being objective. I’m sure it was trial and error.
CiO: Some music has a strong sense of place, sketching in geography with sound. When I listen to your songs, I hear jazz clubs from the 40s and 50s, the grit and grime of New York City, grey winter skies, blue collar neighborhoods. Do you draw some of your creativity and inspiration from your environment? Or is it extraneous to your process?
LE: It’s certainly not extraneous. I think that I draw unconsciously from my surroundings. I don’t sit down and think, ‘I’m going to write about this or that,’ it just kind of happens. I do think scenery is important though to help with one’s general frame of mind when working. When composing, I want to feel like I’m headed somewhere, if that makes any sense.
CiO: You’ve mentioned that every time you perform a song live, you’re essentially recreating the song, and that you have little interest in playing a song the same way twice. How do you view the versions you’ve committed to record, then? Are they the final version of a song, or more along the line of a rough draft?
LE: I think that the songs I’ve put down on record are versions of the songs that I’m playing- kind of like a snapshot in time. That’s what they sounded like when they were conceived and worked on, but only up until that time. Some will stay similar, and some won’t. Now that people are becoming more familiar with my work, there’s a push to keep things a certain way, and I get the marketability side of it, but it’s important to let time do it’s thing, and shape the songs naturally. If you suffocate the material, I feel like you’re making getting in the way of the process.
CiO: At the end of the night, when your audience walks out the door, what do you hope they take away from your performance?
LE: I hope that they feel moved in one way or another. The worst thing I can imagine is someone leaving and not feeling anything; indifference.
Luke’s new album Provisions drops May 6, 2014 and you can catch one of his live shows toward the end of March and mid-April.
by cardiac_in_overdrive (@cardiac_ovrdrv)