Interview with Blake Sennett of The Elected and Rilo Kiley, conducted by Roy Marmelstein and Robert Miles

The Elected is Blake Sennett's solo project from the very successful Indie band Rilo Kiley. In the band he collaborates with Mike “The Caveman” Bloom and other talented musicians to create a beautiful mix of airy harmonies, nature narratives and weeping slide guitars. Their second album “Sun, Sun, Sun” is out now.

We met for tea with Blake Sennett shortly before The Elected's third ever London gig at Water Rats, the venue where Bob Dylan played his first UK performance.

ROY : How long have you been touring?

BS: This tour has only been about two weeks. We are going home the day after tomorrow... we're playing Sweden tomorrow and then we're going home.

ROY : How was the band formed?

BS: I guess it kind of started as a solo project from Rilo Kiley and then my friend Mike started helping me out on that record, the first one and... then... I don't know... and then my friend Jason who plays drums for Rilo Kiley came and played drums on it, it was kind of just a bedroom project, just kind of doing it in my room... and then... and then I don't know... there was no band per say.... and then my friend Daniel played bass on the first record... and second record was kind of similar only it wasn't started in a bedroom because I knew it was gonna be an album that got a release and stuff so we went to a proper studio and recorded the record, started it anyway, and sort of finished it on the road with Rilo Kiley. I don't know… It wasn't formed, it just kind of grew out of the other band.

ROY : Did you feel a need to start on a solo project?

BS: Well... I was kind of recording songs really... I didn't have a plan for a project per say. I started recording songs and my friend Mike was really enthusiastic about the recordings so I continued. I guess we had a bunch of songs so I sent it to SubPop and they said they wanted to put it out.

ROY : How did you know Mike?

BS: His brother and I were good friends. So I met him through his brother.

ROY : Why 'The Elected' as a name?

BS: Um.... there's no reason really... I didn't name it The Elected... my friend Tony did.

ROY: All the songs in 'Sun,Sun,Sun' seem to have this yearning to something that is simpler, something of the countryside which is much in contrast to the fake urban setting of LA. Do you find that living and creating in LA shapes your music?

BS: Well... I think anywhere you live helps to shape your art right? I don't know... it's hard to say, it's hard to be objective... a lot of this record was written on the road, not in LA so I think it's shaped more by being around the same group of people every day for a year and the frustrations, that could sometimes come with that... I don't know if it has a lot to do with LA. It's hard to say.

ROY : In the liner notes, there's quite a long list of acknowledgements for lyrical contributions from other people which is fairly unique for a solo project.

BS: Well... on one song I found this girl's poem. So I took a couple of lines from the poem, like the first three lines and started a song and then I did the rest of the song. So that was one time... she was a friend of mine I was hanging out with... another time I was at my friend Brian's house and I said "I am working on this new song, wanna hear it?" and started playing it for him and then I got to the second verse and he said something like "you should say something like this" and then I did. So it seemed like acknowledging him was a good thing to do... I think that kinda stuff always happens on records with people... I'm not sure if it does but it seems natural to me. That kind of stuff happened on the first record too when people would say, "what if you say this?" but I just didn't acknowledge it at the back of the record, just little isolated moments y'know, so I didn't really acknowledge it. But then I thought that people would like to see their name on the back of the record and they deserve to have their name there and all that stuff.

ROY : What's next?

BS: After this? I don't know.. we're making a new Rilo Kiley record right now so I am doing that a lot when I get back to LA... for The Elected, we're playing a show in LA at the fair in August and then maybe going back out for a US national tour in maybe October-November and then we're going to Sweden tomorrow but I already said that.

ROY : When will the new Rilo Kiley album be ready?

BS: Maybe spring of next year? Maybe... we went in for two weeks and we did 9 songs just before this tour and then we're gonna go back in and do another 10 or so and pick the best album out of that.

ROY : When you write a song is the song-writing process one of revision? Do you have to go back on songs a lot or do they just come out?

BS: Different songs call for different things. Sometimes, you know exactly how you want the song to sound and sometimes it's a rough sketch. The nice thing in Rilo Kiley, I guess, is that if it's a rough sketch you have four brains there.

ROY : It's probably harder with a solo project.

BS: A little bit but Mike is great to bounce stuff off of... I don't know.... I guess there's some revisions but not a lot... we tend to know what we want, Jenny and I in Rilo Kiley... I guess....

ROY : Who's your favourite Beatle?

BS: Probably Sir Paul.

ROY : Why?

BS: I think he was the best song-writer, I think his structures were the best, I think his voice was the best. I think John Lennon was the most clever but Paul… he writes better chords and I think his melodies are more interesting and I don't know... If you're gonna say bad things about people, I think Paul McCartney is fairly impressed with himself. I've heard it said that it's very easy to be friends with Paul McCartney, all you have to do is speak to him about Paul McCartney. But John Lennon, apparently, what I've heard, what I've read... was kind of a dick, y'know? You weren't allowed to meet John if you were playing a show with John. John was the one guy who wouldn't come and greet you, you weren't even allowed to talk to John. He cheated on his wife pretty constantly... um... which doesn't mean anything about his music. Truth is, I just prefer Paul's songs, I love some John's songs, some of my favourite Beatles' songs are John's songs but more of my favourite Beatles' songs are Paul's songs. I love ‘Beatles For Sale', I think it's a great album.

ROY : Which bands would you say influence you and your music the most?

BS: It's hard to say... I love The Beatles, I love The Beach Boys, I some early Grateful Dead albums I really love, some early Eagles albums I really love, I love um... Tom Waits is one of my favourite artists of all times... I don't know if all that influences me but I kind of like to think it does. Pink Floyd I love, post Barrret and pre… basically the Roger Waters years. Of current bands maybe Modest Mouse and Elliot Smith... I don't know... I think the most recent Sparklehorse album is the most interesting modern record I've heard in the last long time... it's called It's A Wonderful Life, such a good record, it will blow your mind, it's so beautiful. It's produced by Dave Friedman, he produces The Flaming Lips.

ROY: What do you think of the way iPods, iTunes and MySpace are changing the world of music?

BS: I think it's a dramatic effect, I think it's huge and I don't think you can really overstate the power of MySpace these days, which is pretty weird but it seems like it's a nice thing. I think it's amazing that just about anybody can get their music heard, if you put a song up on MySpace and get enough friends... I think it was better before it was purchased... It was purchased by Fox and already you start see them start to steer it and start to take control and start to make it more of an agenda... for instance, the 'featured music' they didn't use to have that, 'featured bands' that's nice but it's also not nice because they sell that space... sometimes they give it away, I think they featured us, they gave it to us but they also sell it to major labels so all these kids go "oh, they must be cool" and then it's just... I don't know whether it's cool or not but it's based on commerce and not on anyone's taste... it's different now, its' getting a little polluted and diluted but it's still a great thing... I think it's amazing... didn't the Arctic Monkeys just become huge off MySpace or some shit like that?

ROB: We found some of the contributor's for the magazine through MySpace.

BS: Yeah.. it's huge... I think I was watching some 'old gray whistle test', I was watching episodes and I saw this Tom Waits one... he's like 26 with THAT voice and I was watching and was like "man, this dude would not be signed today" no one would be interested. People would just say "you have a crazy voice and you're just bizarre and no thanks" or maybe he would be, but the way things are today he probably wouldn't be signed by anyone who was gonna give him any real push or promote him... but MySpace makes it that dudes like Tom Waits of today can be discovered without that, and that's important. We don't have enough pure music like that out in the world.

ROY : What sort of advice can you give young musicians?

BS: I guess... sometimes when you're writing a song or when you're recording a record you'll do something, maybe something that you heard yourself do a lot of times and you'll go "I do that a lot, that's kind of obvious it's bullshit, I'm not gonna do it" but what seems obvious to you and so natural that its almost effortless to you, maybe completely foreign to someone else. So I guess the one thing I would advise is to really try and preserve that, that first instinct, the first listen, the first inspiration and not ever think "eh, it's not worth recording" or "it's not worth writing" and "eh, I do it a lot, it's kinda bullshit" because without sounding tried, it really is all you have, is your instinct and if you try to write what you think other people would like it usually would suck, depending on what you think the word 'suck' means, to me it usually sucks if I do... so I'd say try and preserve that voice.

ROY : Do you see the creation of music as a selfish or selfless endeavour? Do you write for yourself or with an audience in mind?

BS: I try to write it for myself, I've written with the audience in mind before but I try to write it for myself. Sometimes you write it for yourself and people hate it but in a way that's almost satisfying, in a way it's kind of cool. Like, on the new 'Sun,Sun,Sun' record there's a song called Beautiful Rainbow, it's almost like a drunk person just going on and on about the same thing and people, kids, have come up to me and said they don't like that song, but I almost like that in a weird way. It's kind of satisfying to know. I don't know... I can't explain that but it can be a very satisfying feeling because it becomes more special to you. Although I'm kind of a people pleaser so I never play that song live.

ROY : I like that song.

BS: Well, that makes two of us.

ROY : On your website and in your music video for ‘Not Going Home', what's the thing with the owl?

BS: Well... I don't know, I guess they stay up all night, have big eyes. I don't know man, I just like the way they look I guess. I should make up weird lies for stuff like this. I don't know.

ROY : We usually round up with five random questions. Tell us a joke.

BS: Tell you a joke? Tell you a joke.... [thinking] I don't know man.... What's English and really really English?

ROY : No idea.

BS: England . It's pretty good right. Just made that one up.

ROY : It was good.

BS: Thanks, man. It was difficult.

ROY : If you had an unlimited amount of money to pursue a project of your choice. What would it be?

BS: Wow. Unlimited amounts of money for a single project? I guess it would... can it be anything?

ROY : Whatever...

BS: I guess it would be trying to find a way to use all my resources to stop people from using that horrible Eddie Vedder sound-alike voice. Y'know what I mean? All these bands who are kind of like... over in the states we have loads of bands who are really big, Matchbox 20 for instance, I don't hate them but they have that kind of Eddie Vedder thing going on. Look within yourself you will find many bands who sound like this.

ROY : Over here, quite a lot of bands try to sound like Coldplay...

BS: Oh, Coldplay. Yeah.... well, I don't know. I guess when things get successful people want to do the same.

ROY : When was the last time you cried?

BS: I think I was watching a movie the other day in the van.

ROY : What movie?

BS: Sin City . There's nothing really cry-worthy in there but there you have it.

ROY : What's the oddest thing you've seen, ever ?

BS: Well, Rilo Kiley toured with Coldplay and when Chris Martin came to our dressing room at the last show and said "thanks a lot for touring with us, it's been a blast”, I thought maybe that was the oddest thing I have seen in my whole life because I didn't know he knew we were on tour with them because he never once said hello or looked at our direction. So maybe that's was the oddest thing I've ever seen...

ROY : Complete the following sentence.. The Elected are....

BS: Tired.