ELLIOTT'S KEEP: "Keys To The Kingdom"

Interview by Earthdog

Elliotts Keep are a band that is already gaining respect by just being different. From the reviews they have already received they have confused the Metal audience to a certain degree by being a band that refuses to stick to a style like so many other bands.They've combined Doom Metal,Progressive Metal,Traditional Metal and Epic Metal Styling into a sound all of their own.While this may put off traditionalists it excites many others. I think their debut CD is the one of the best of the last year simply because its so unique. I recently got some insight into the band from guitarist Jonathan, drummer Joel and vocalist/bassist Ken.

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: First of all, I only found out about Elliott's Keep this year so how long has band been around and how did you all get together?

JOEL: We originally played together in a band named Marauder (not to be confused with the differently-spelled hard-core band "Merauder") in the early to mid-90s. The fourth member of Marauder was Glenn Elliott, our singer and rhythm guitar player. Marauder disbanded in 1995 when all the local clubs started to close up. We had another gig scheduled for "Dallas City Limits" and when we showed up, it had been made over into a topless club.

JONATHAN: Although we stopped making music for a time, we remained as close as family - literally in one way, since Joel and I are brothers. Then, tragically, Glenn passed away in November of 2004.

JOEL: Elliott's Keep, as a band, came together in 2006. I found a local practice studio and told the guys it was "time to break out the rig." Jonathan began writing and recording riffs from his guitar onto his PC. We started kicking around names for the band and decided to honor Glenn and settled on the name in September of 2006. We spent all of 2007 writing the songs that would make up "In Medias Res". We entered Nomad Studios in May of 2008 and finished the mixing of the album by the end of the summer.

WC: I find the band's sound to be somewhat different from a lot of other heavy bands, is there any special formula to the band's sound and writing?

KEN: I don't know if this makes us "different," but the approach we always have taken is -->
Procedurally, we start with a concept and lyrics. Some of our songs have come from recent ideas, and some have been rattling around. Jonathan writes riffs. Lots of riffs. We record those riffs worth keeping, whether at home or in our practice space (which we affectionately refer to as "The Keep"). Once we have the song idea and direction, we "assign" riffs that we think might work in that song. Then we play them, change them, add to them – and discard them if they don't make the grade. By now, we have the song in our heads.

At this point, Jonathan and Joel bounce off of each other in practice (sometimes violently) until we are all satisfied with each distinct part. During this process, I work mostly as commentator and moderator – and I also start working up my vocal lines. The bass lines come in only when everything else is done, since I have a hard time doing both at once.

So, there's the formula, if there is one.

JOEL: We have a ton of influences that make their way into the band. Ken has a background in classical music and also plays the violin. We all share a love of Celtic-influenced music – you can hear that in "Kindred." Ken and Jonathan bring the traditional doom feel to the riffs. I tend to be more thrash metal influenced in my drumming. We bring it all together in the unique blend that is Elliott's Keep.

Our song writing originates from the lyrics first. Jonathan and Ken do most of the writing and I throw in an idea here and there. Based on the lyrics and the overall theme of the song, we begin to think of how the song structure should be. The writing of the music generally comes from Jonathan bringing his riffs for a piece and then I add a drum part to it, or we take a drum part I have come up with and add guitar over it. The intro riff for "Iter" is a good example of one where the drum part came first. Ken is the orchestrator in the process -- he will stand back and listen to Jonathan's riff and say "that is good, but take the end and go here" or "instead of that note in the middle, use this." He is the mad scientist behind the process. We are always looking for ways to make the part more interesting; sometimes that is taking a note out of a 4/4 part and making a 7/8 part. We have a portable recording device onto which we put all our new riffs in the practice space, then Ken takes it back to his PC, uploads them and emails them to the group. We listen to them over the next couple days and talk about what works and what doesn't. We keep digital folders of the riffs for each song and have spreadsheets for the arrangements. This lets us keep the song fluid in the early stages, until we get all the pieces that we know really fit, and then we lock it down. If a riff is really solid, but is not working for a particular song, we move it into another one. If we decide a riff isn't strong enough, we toss it out.

JONATHAN: In terms of our sound being different from other bands, I think that is a function of our group of influences being different from the influences of other bands.

WC: The CD is quite impressive from the artwork to the production - how long did it all take?

JONATHAN: As to our visual side, most of that credit all goes to Joel. We came up with concepts as a band for the artwork, but he brings those concepts to reality and we are extremely proud of the end result. As to the production of our CD, we were very fortunate to work with J.T. Longoria at Nomad Studios in Dallas. We refer to J.T. as "the wizard," in that he is truly gifted – both on the technical side and the musical side. He was a blast to work with and we recommend him highly to anyone looking to record in our corner of the world.

JOEL: J.T. was great at extracting solid sounds out of us – as well as helping us through the process. We knew we wanted to use Nomad because we had been there as guests of Solitude Aeturnus during the recording of "Alone," and again when Rob did the vocal tracks for Candlemass' "King of the Grey Islands." We knew the capabilities of Nomad and we knew that we didn't want to go anywhere else.

I did all the art work on my PC. I used Maya for 3D modeling and rendering, and then imported the images into Photoshop. My wife is a professional graphic artist, so she helped with the page layout and some of the technical aspects of getting the art ready for print. We all wanted to have a quality product that we could put on the shelf and compare with anyone out there, from the sound on the CD to the look and feel of the disc. The art from the CD contributes to the mood and the vibe of the album as a whole. I always appreciated bands that put the effort into the art of the disc as well as the music on the disc. Blind Guardian and Kamelot are some good examples.

WC: Viking Metal, Doom Metal - What term sums up your sound do you think?

JOEL: Jonathan coined the phrase "Metal Doom" rather than "Doom Metal." I think that is because we tend to bring so much from other influences, be it Slayer or Pantera or Lamb of God, and add that to our doom influences. We are big fans of Amon Amarth, but I never considered our sound as "Viking Metal." I think that we have more in common with them lyrically rather than in our riffs or song structure.

JONATHAN: We use the term "Metal Doom" to identify that our territory in the music world is on the border regions of the doom and metal genres. While the "Metal Doom" term hasn't particularly caught on, all of our reviews to date have recognized that we have a multi-genre aspect to our music. That recognition has been rewarding to us. Some bands find genre labels to be restrictive and, admittedly, they are often inappropriately applied. However, with a debut CD just released, it seems to us that genre labels serve some purpose in identifying for potential listeners that our band has characteristics like "Band A" and not "Band Z."

JOEL: I think we are a bit "Progressive Doom," in that we write long songs with complex arrangements and complex narratives -- with tempo changes and odd time signatures. We are fans of Into Eternity and Dream Theater, and recently have been checking out Scar Symmetry.

JONATHAN: In that regard, I agree that we have those progressive elements, but we don't go for the "experimental" aspect that often accompanies the term "progressive." Certainly time changes and interesting time signatures are integral to our sound.

WC: What is your main inspiration for the lyrics?

JONATHAN: To date, all of our songs are in the first-person and concern a protagonist dealing with life issues. We set our songs in a historical or fantasy context, but the lyrical depth is in the struggles faced by the protagonist. For example, while the Crusader trilogy, on its face, details events of battles accompanying the first Crusade, the lyrics address uncertainties about the meaning of life that are true to this day. Our songwriting method is to deal with significant themes within a story.

KEN: We like to tell stories.

JOEL: We like lyrics that are escapism. You won't hear us do any political songs. The three Crusader songs are based on a knight's journey. In the first song, he is all idealistic. By the end of the journey, he has seen all horrors imaginable and he is deeply changed because of it. "Black Wings" is obviously a fantasy dragon song. It was the first song we wrote when we went into The Keep in 2006.

JONATHAN: With Glenn's passing, and with other subsequent events in our lives, we all have a heightened awareness of the importance of those we love. "Kindred" is a recognition that what truly matters, at the end of each day, is those that we love.

WC: What have the live shows been like and how many have you done so far?

KEN: Frankly, we didn't have any plans to play live when we started Elliott's Keep. That said, we have received a great reception to "In Medias Res", and have been invited to play a number of shows in 2009, including Dallas Doom Daze II.

JONATHAN: Since we have not played live yet as Elliott's Keep, I would say that our best show was in the Marauder days at the "Dallas City Limits" venue. It was very cool to play on that stage, as we spent years there watching Solitude Aeturnus, Pantera and many other bands play. John Perez came out that night. For where we were as a band at that point, it was a really cool night.

WC: How did the deal with Brainticket Records come about?

JONATHAN: We were regulars at Solitude Aeturnus shows dating back prior to the release of Crimson Horizon. John was very supportive of Marauder. He came to our practice and invited us out to SA's practice. One of my favorite life memories was watching a SA show with John wearing a Marauder shirt on stage. Too cool.

With that background, from the inception of Elliott's Keep we wanted to be on Brainticket Records. When "In Medias Res" was ready, we approached John and he was all about being involved. We are extremely proud and grateful to be a part of Brainticket.

WC: What bands did you guys listen to growing up and how much of an influence are they today?

JONATHAN: Solitude Aeturnus has left a tremendous imprint on us. Even if John doesn't hear it, I would say that they are our primary influence. Candlemass is the other primary doom influence. On the "metal" side, that is a real stew. Notable bands in the mix there include Metallica ("Justice"-era), Pantera ("Vulgar"-era), Megadeth ("Rust"-era), Slayer ("Seasons"-era), Iced Earth and Lamb of God (specifically, Chris Adler on drums). We also appreciate many other metal genres -- epic, power, symphonic, black and death. That appreciation is with us when we compose. The power and symphonic genres influence affects our lyrical approach and general "epic" nature. Notable bands there include Blind Guardian, Epica, Nightwish, Sonata Arctica and Kamelot. We just don't buy into the idea that some people in the heavy music community have that, if you like music type A, that you cannot like music types B and C. While we don't like all sub-genres or bands, we do appreciate a wide range of artists and styles. Whether people think it's cool or not, we like Lillian Axe, Blackmore's Night, Amon Amarth, Rush, Type O Negative, Morbid Angel, Crowbar, Dream Theatre and countless other bands across the spectrum. On one level or another, all of them leak into our subconscious as we compose.

JOEL: We have been Solitude fans since the early '90s, when we first saw them opening for Savatage at "Dallas City Limits." Being from Dallas, if you play metal, you are obviously fans of Pantera. Vinnie had a big influence on my playing in the Marauder days. Dave Lombardo, especially on "Seasons in the Abyss," also was a big influence in my early days and that carries over even to today. Specifically, with the way he uses the china. More recently, it has been Chris Adler from LoG. There isn't a direct translation, since they play a much more aggressive, up-tempo style, but I look at the way he breaks down a part and utilizes all the different pieces of his kit during a song.It is interesting to take that and apply it to a slower, doom style part. Bands like Mercenary, Daath and Misery Index have been at the top of our playlists lately.

WC: Everyone I have spoken to about the album seems to really dig it but have you had any negative reviews? I haven't seen any.

KEN: None so far, but we are awaiting the inevitable! That said, a flamer commented in response to one of our Blabbermouth posts that we look like "a bowling team who take themselves way too seriously." I love that. We are who we are and our songs are what they are. As to the jabs from flamers – we are not an "image" band and we pin on our chest those comments from them and laugh every time we pass the bowling alley on the way to The Keep.

WC: Any major plans for tours and how hard is it for bands in Dallas to break out of there?

JONATHAN: With the priorities of our families and careers, we don't have any plans to tour. We started Elliott's Keep focused only upon writing and recording, and that remains our focus. It is very cool that the local response is calling us back to playing local shows – but, I really don't see us deviating from that. We are much more focused upon writing the next record. As to bands breaking out of Dallas, Solitude Aeturnus and Pantera have really carried the ball in that regard.

WC: I have heard a lot of great bands from down there. Are the other bands supportive of you?

JONATHAN: The doom scene in Dallas is really great. There are a variety of styles, and everyone really supports
each other. If there is a shout out that I have to give, check out Kin of Ettins. They have really excellent songs, a unique sound and are a blast to watch live. We were at their show a week or so ago, and they just kicked ass. KoE has been in the recording studio in the past weeks and I can't wait for their release. Justin is a really cool person and he is very involved in advancing the doom scene in Dallas.

WC: Everybody has something within the Metal scene that they don't like, what is your opinion of the Metal world in general?

JONATHAN: I don't like to talk negatively in public about any other band because, myself, I hate to read an artist that I like bagging on another band that I like. As heavy music fans, even if we have many similar likes, all of our personal preferences won't ever match up completely. To be sure, there are aspects of the metal scene that are not to our liking, but we don't see anything productive coming from ripping another band's style, talent or motives.

WC: How important is the internet to you in terms of promotion?

JOEL: Critical. Being able to put up tracks on MySpace and to reach a larger base around the globe is really exciting. Internet radio is also very cool. In 1995, when we were in Marauder, you had to follow a specific path -- playing local and then touring in a van to get your songs noticed. The labels had all the control. Now with the internet, more of that control has shifted to the bands.

JONATHAN: We are extremely grateful to the on-line doom community. Thanks to people like you, Derek with Doom Metal Alliance, and the on-line radio community, who are a significant help to bands like us reaching an international audience.

WC: What has the band got planned for 2009?

KEN: First and foremost, we are busy writing our second CD, "Sine Qua Non". We have six new songs in the queue, one finished, and we'll be spending most of our free time doing what we love most – crafting our songs and jamming in The Keep.

WC: Any final words?

JONATHAN: Just that we extend our tremendous thanks to you for all that you do to advance the doom scene. As to the people out there that like our sound, please send us a comment or criticism. We would love to hear from you.

Elliott's Keep's Official Website