Updated Fri, Jun 28, 2013 12:52 pm
Mike Elliott is one of those local guys that people just like.
Mention his name to any random Athens musician and you'll either get a lengthy review of Elliott's prolific output (other local bands and musicians have covered his material) or an anecdote about his friendly, amiable demeanor.
Truth is, Elliott is a nice fellow, and his nearly 20-year residence in our little town has endeared him to musicians and music fans alike.
After playing with various bands while attending Ohio University in the early 1990s, he moved to Austin, Texas, and ended up recording a large collection of songs at home (which can be found on his website www.milesdown.com).
Eventually becoming disenchanted with Austin ("lack of seasons and homesickness"), he moved back to Athens in 1996 and has been a fixture in the local scene ever since.
When word spread that Elliott had joined forces with other notable Athens musicians to form a band (Supernobody) and record an album (Checkered Pastures) at 3 Elliott Studio, it quickly became one of the most-anticipated local releases in recent years.
I had the opportunity to discuss Checkered Pastures with Elliott and Josh Antonuccio, who recorded and mixed the album.
WOUB: Did you have these songs lying around before the band formed, or are they the result of all of you working together?
Mike Elliott: The songs were written beforehand. Our guitar player, Chris Biester, did come up with the name Checkered Pastures, and it's really a perfect name, considering that each song represents a particular year of the 1990s. Kind of my own little tribute to my life in the '90s. The album started as a pretentious 40th birthday present to myself until the band took it over.
WOUB: Did you have a specific sound in mind when you started work at 3 Elliott Studio?
ME: I remember telling the band that I wanted the album to sound like a cross between The Pogues and The Rolling Stones. Not so sure that we got any of that...but who doesn't want their album to sound like that? Basically, we went in and laid down all of the primary tracks in a day. The rest of it was left up to Josh, who mixed the album. He put some real power and sparkle in there that didn't seem possible.
Josh Antonuccio: The project started when Mike contacted me about wanting to make a more "produced" record than his previous releases. I am a huge Mike Elliott fan, so it was a no-brainer. I had only two conditions: That the album had to get done--it couldn't be abandoned mid-stride--and it had to be released once we were done. It evolved quite a bit as we went along, with multiple people coming in-and-out and the songs going through many iterations. The main tracking weekend captured most of the primary things and then we did a lot of overdubbing, both at the studio and at Mike's house. Those band tracking sessions were a lot of fun and had a great freewheeling spirit to them.
WOUB: The album somehow manages to sound both raw and textured at the same time. How did the two of you achieve that balance?
JA: I was aware of the fact that a lot of Mike's charm is his use of lo-fi recording, and I didn't want to totally pull him out of that environment and lose it completely. We tried to keep things transparent, but also keep some of that rawness to the sound.
ME: Bernie Nau, who mastered it, made the album even louder while keeping it slick. He really loved Josh's mix and ran with the final cut. As expected, they did an amazing job for us.
JA: The process took a little longer than we had anticipated, as we had to re-track parts for the songs as the configuration of the band changed throughout the recording and mixing process. It started out with a much different feeling, but then evolved quite a bit once Chris Beister and Matt McElroy got on board. I ended up contributing some guitar work as well.
WOUB: How did the lineup come together? It's a who's-who of Athens musicians.
ME: Well, I picked all of these people for a good reason. They're great players and good friends. My wife, Shannon Grogan, plays the keys with this hard-comping style that subtly makes the music roll. Matt Box plays a bass that holds it down and lifts it up into the stratosphere at the same time...ask anybody. Jay Hadley plays drums directly on top of the beat, and like all great drummers, allows us to get off-track while the songs continue to hold clear lines.
Chris Biester (pictured above, with Shannon Grogan) plays electric guitar. He just has good ideas, great talent and kept things kind of subtle in a big way. Matthew McElroy plays a show-stealing solo on "Shaman of the Road" and embellishes some of the electric guitar lead breaks. I chugged along on a baritone guitar behind all of this and it just sort of came together. Singing over all of this combined energy was a true blast and just plain easy.
JA: I'm biased, but I think these are some of Mike's best songs. I mean, I'd be driving around town, cranking this album, feeling like the luckiest guy in Athens to have this album to myself for that period of time. Songs like "Holding up This Room," where so much of Athens is referenced, or "Antiquated Glory" with its haunting melody, are just instant classics to me. There are truckloads of brilliant lyrical takeaways to this record. Mike is the Robert Pollard of Athens and is one of the greatest songwriters I know.
Article photos: Tracy Keirns