Kool Kat of the Week: They’re All About You: Getting Happy, Sad and Metaphysical with Jason Elliott of Spirits and the Melchizedek Children on the Release of Their New LP and Tour

photo by chad hesss

L-R Jason Elliott, Ryan Odom, Bryan Fielden, Joe McNeill. Photo credit: Chad Hesss

Spirits and the Melchizedek Children have just released a new LP, SO HAPPY, IT’S SAD was produced by Benjamin Price (OutKast, Little Tybee) and has been receiving more than a little buzz from the music press as a creative breakthrough. Recently dubbed a “Southern Sigur Ros” by the A.V. Club, the Atlanta psychedelic dream-pop outfit is about to embark on a tour, but locals can get a sneak preview at a free gig at 529 in East Atlanta on Monday Sept. 29. 

ATLRetro likes what we’ve heard and heard just enough of a dynamic merging of  classic sounds that we made vocalist/guitarist Jason Elliott Kool Kat of the Week. In the last few days before SAMC’s departure, we found him happy and maybe a little sad, too, to muse about the band’s influences, double meanings and new directions.

ATLRetro: Some bands like to be compared. For others, it’s a limiting proposition. How do you feel about being called the “Southern Sigur Ros”? 

Jason Elliott: We were honored to be compared to Sigur Ros.  Adding the adjective “Southern” next to the Icelandic voyeurs implies that we may have a little bit more dirt and heaviness within our sound, which we do. While yes, I, in particular, am a fan of Sigur Ros, as well as many other dramatic, post-rock groups, the “southern gothic” undertones are also a very strong influence. The South is viewed by many as a strange and backwards place. That’s very true to some respect, but as a whole, the South offers little hidden secrets for finding ones self.

SATMC_SHIS_TourPoster_Fall14You have a diverse set of influences including — Steve Reich, Pink Floyd, Moody Blues, Can, Neu!, Eric Satie, Tchaikovsky, Brian Eno, The Beatles and Velvet Underground. Yet they all make sense because we’re listening to many of them right now. What binds those musicians and groups together for you? Is there a rediscovery/renaissance of mood-driven ‘70s  rock? 

History has and always will repeat itself. And today it seems that everything will repeat at least three times. People are dying for true innovation and mystique. While every generation has innovation and mystique, we feel that it is important to listen to timeless music so you can learn from those that have done it right. We strive to make timeless music and have little time to make a pop song that people will quickly like and then lose interest in what seems to be the same amount of time. We constantly turn back to the classics. Listening to the little things that were totally ahead of their time is a vital aspect to our listening habits and inspiration. Taking those little headphone treats and embellishing on them and making them our OWN.

What’s the secret origin story behind the band and what’s in the name Spirits and the Melchizedek Children? 

Melchizedek was something or someone that I had always heard about and looking more into the word,I found that it was quite endless. Melchizedek is talked about in all sorts of beliefs, religions, occults and books. And is always referred to as a “Holder of Keys, Keys to the Kingdom” whatever kingdom that might be? Who knows? It’s similar to the idea of Alchemy: there is no magic stone or secret formula that will change coal into gold or silver – it’s YOU! YOU are that piece of shit coal that needs to be turned into gold or silver. You hold the keys to whatever you desire. You just have to find away to use them properly, just like a child that’s trying to find its way. Or, I can give you the shorter answer. The word Melchizedek is mysterious. I wanted that to connect with our post-cryptic-quasi-cultist-mystique music.

Does the band have a mantra then?

YOU are here to save YOU

Slug Magazine referenced “the spectral folk of a doomed American West.” Is that something that particularly interests you?

Why? YES! That does interest us. I grew up out West and have only had seven wonderful years here in Atlanta. The West is a special place and seems to be very lonesome and wide. I think Modest Mouse coined the phrase by naming one of their best records THE LONESOME CROWDED WEST. That meant something to me. Moving and traveling all over the West Coast as a child, I had Always felt that certain Haunting that comes with vast, barren landscapes – always wondering if this was going to be our not-so-distant future. For me, storytelling through soundscapes and moods has always been the best way to convey that thought.

Photo 2 by Taylor Mumford

L-R Jason Elliott, Bryan Fielden, Ryan Odom, Joe McNeill. Photo credit: Taylor Mumford

SO HAPPY, IT’S SAD is a double-edged title. What’s the story behind it?

It was shortly after we had released our first record WE ARE HERE TO SAVE YOU! I was taking some time off to travel with my young son. We found ourselves in the middle of the Salt Flats on the Nevada/Utah border. I was very excited to introduce this part of the country to my Son. I had been to all of these places before, but wanted to experience the ever cherished “first experience” of anything magical. My son’s reaction to the barren beauty that day in the desert was something that I wanted to take note of. Experiencing his “first time” made me happy, then quickly realized that it also made me sad. I had spent so much of my life ignoring the simple things around me. Instantly I saw that my surroundings were everything. Here we were in the middle of nowhere, alone and silent. The beautiful emptiness filled us completely with memory and thought. At that very moment Amanda Emmo captured this experience in a simple photo of my son and I conversing with one another which later became the beautiful record cover of SO HAPPY, IT’S SAD.

Tell us a little more about the new release. How does it build upon your previous work? 

Our songs and sound have matured so much over the years. After writing and playing our new tunes live for a bit, we were able to really study what we needed to change and develop as a band. The first record was a introduction to what we wanted to sound like and gave ourselves enough room to grow. By the time we were ready to record SO HAPPY, IT’S SAD we were almost a totally different band. Band members had changing and we had a different outlook on what we wanted. Without straying too far from our haunted melancholy undertones, we were able to really look deeper into our songwriting capabilities. We had more confidence and knew exactly what we wanted our songs to do to the human mind and ear.

Jason_SATMC

Jason Elliot. Photo credit: Chad Hesss

What was it like working with Benjamin Price as producer? 

Ben is our guy! He got it right away. I have a hard time trying to explain my deepest thoughts, but Ben understood me through just talking with him and getting to know him as a person. All of us are Psycho-Naughts, and having him at the helm of our recording was a pleasure. We had our songs written and ready to track, but once we got in the studio we quickly found that Ben was a lot more than just some engineer that sets up mics and hits record. We all had the same mindset of wanting to make it a very spacious record, really capturing the overall theme of the record through depth and dynamics. Ben is a vital part in what we do now for sure.

Your Atlanta gig at 529 is on a Monday night, not always the best for bringing folks out. Why should they be sure to come out? 

Yes, Mondays are tough, But hey it’s FREE, We are leaving on tour the next night and two other great bands are playing, 100 Watt Horse and The Pauses. What the FUCK else are you going to do on a lame Monday night?

What other musicians/bands are exciting you now?

We are constantly listening to Do Make Say Think while driving to the next city. I’ve been listening to them for over 10 years and they never get old. The War on Drugs‘ new album is amazing and so is the latest Helms Alee record. We’re constantly trying to find new music. It’s hard to keep up. We try to listen to anything that is recommended to us while we are out. We love when someone comes up to one of us after we’ve played and ask if we have ever heard of a certain band, just to quickly tell us that we would really dig ’em because of what we sound like. Its a good way for us to get an idea of what people truly think when they hear our music.

What’s next for Spirits and the Melchizedek Children? 

Writing, recording, touring, REPEAT!  Our fall tour will be our last of 2014, so we’re focusing on a few projects to keep our momentum strong. Next year is already starting to map out very busy. We have a music video releasing very soon, and have been finalizing an original film score for a short by Raymond Jones called BE HERE NOW, which is a subjective take on the self-titled book by Ram Dass. We plan on releasing an EP as well.

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