This interview took place on: 1/22/02.
Thom Daugherty: Well Owen and Chris have been here from the start. The original incarnation of the band was known as Just Visiting, which began as a Wednesday night praise band. As time went on, Owen start penning his own songs, and the focus of the band shifted more towards outreach, which found the band playing about 100-150 shows a year on the road independently. Because of the rigors of the road, there was always a revolving door with the other members, but Owen and Chris believed they were still supposed to keep going, so they established a strong core for the band. I've known Owen since the 4th grade, and we'd always wanted to play in a band together. About a year and a half ago, the conditions were perfect for me to join their ranks, and we made a go of it. A few months later we met Keith when he booked us to play for his church's New Year's Eve event. He was serving as a youth sponsor. We knew we would soon be needing a full-time bass player, and we overheard from someone that he played bass, so I interrogated him the whole evening asking him what kind of bands he got into, what kind of gear he had, what he wanted to do in life, etc. We were so impressed with his personality, and just knew he was the kind of guy we'd want to hang out on the road with. We kept asking ourselves, "What are the chances this guy could be the one?" The only problem was that we hadn't heard him play yet, and he had no idea what we were getting at with all of the questions, until we asked him right before we left if he'd be interested in auditioning. He was in the band a few days later. And that brings us to now... a solid group of four guys, that was divinely orchestrated even back to when Owen and I first met in the fourth grade. We're having an absolute blast hanging out on the road with each other, playing a little more than 200 shows this past year.
Thom: Instrumentally, this next album will definitely sound a lot more like "good ole American rock 'n' roll," but melodically, it's still very much in the vein of The Beatles. Whereas the first album sounded more like a perfectly produced studio album, the new one should represent our live show a little more. It was fun having a budget for The Big Surprise, and being able to hire string players and horn players, as we wanted it to sound a little more instrumentally diverse. But now we're taking out all the frills, keeping it basic, making it about the songs, and not about the production. Owen makes some really gutsy statements lyrically with these new songs. I've never been one to pay much attention to lyrics when listening to music, but all of these new songs of his really inspire me, they motivate me, they give me hope, so I'm hoping that they'll do the same thing for other people too. I love Chris's drum parts. His drumming is very intelligent, as he's always playing the right thing at the right time, accenting the right things, and playing fills that serve as hooks of their own. This is the first time that we've ever really seen Keith bring something to the table creatively, as he joined a few months after all of the fun began, and we're really excited about the bass lines he's been writing. Very tasteful. My guitar lines are more adventurous now, because the new stuff is quite a bit more guitar-driven, which is fun for me. But most importantly, the focus is going to be on writing good pop songs, and letting them serve as a means to communicate truth.
Thom: Hmm... I think the answer would vary from person to person, but for myself, I'm a huge fan of melody. If it's still stuck in my head 15 minutes later, it's a good song. The Beatles were/are the masters of writing catchy melodies. We have this new song called "Burn and Shine," which has been haunting me ever since we first tracked a demo of it. Yikes. I wake up to it, I sing it in my head all day, and I take it to bed with me every night. Can't escape it. To me, that's the litmus test of whether or not it's a good pop song.
Thom: Oh yeah. I keep worrying that one of these days, Will, one of the guys he tells a story about, is going to be at one of our shows.
Thom: The band has been through so many changes throughout the years, it only seemed proper to change the name when the deal with Sparrow was inked. Plus, we're very much into "the ____" names, like all of the great 60's bands we're influenced by. The Beatles. The Who. The Byrds. The Turtles.
Thom: The Beatles are by far my favourite band ever. Oasis really inspires me. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are fabulous. Superdrag are great. Right now, I'm really getting into Is This It? by The Strokes. There's something really refreshing about them, because their sound carries a lot of attitude. I think Pete Yorn's record is really good too. I'm not aware of whether or not any of those bands claim to know Jesus, in fact... it would be my educated guess that most of them don't... but what they do still inspires me, and I believe that God uses their music oftentimes to speak to me. I'm sure that sounds pretty odd, but it's true.
Thom: Sure! I write a lot of songs on my own, that would never fit into the framework of The Elms. Actually, the truth is, and I have no problem admitting it, that my songs don't hold a candle to Owen's. Ha ha. But still, it'd be fun to make a record on my own someday, just for kicks, so I'm hoping to do a solo project someday known as The Diagonals. Keith also writes a lot of songs on his own, and they're really quite good, so maybe he'll record his solo project someday too - The States. The Elms is very much the priority though, because there's something much cooler about being a part of a band, and we both know that God wants us to devote ourselves mainly to The Elms.
Thom: We can't afford not to be at this point. Actually, we just love being on the road. If we go three days without playing, we start getting anxious. We've also made a commitment to God to give this thing our all, to keep progressing, to always be on the up-and-up, and we feel the best way to keep getting better as a band is to play a ton of shows. I get really excited when I compare videotapes of us playing now to those of us a year ago, because we're a way better band now some 200 shows later. I'd say that the bulk of the hardwork comes from the fact that we've chosen to carry around full production - sound and lights - and since we have no road crew, we are forced to set it up ourselves every single night, which becomes awfully tiresome when you do it 4 times a week. Our days are about 12-14 hours long. But it's worth it, because of the consistency factor. We can depend on the same good sound and lights night after night. It's also nice, because it somewhat serves as a relief to a promoter, because they're able to forego rounding up a production company for the show, as we'll bring the production ourselves. I hope it proves to be a blessing to them. It's one of a few ways that we can take a servant's role. Keeps us humble. Although I'm very much into what we're doing as a band, I know I'm not a rockstar, because rockstars don't have to load in their own gear.
Thom: Because we have to load in all of those heavy speaker cabinets! That's another benefit of being a band who carries production. Good exercise.
Thom: It's about giving of yourself; relationships with people, to your church, in your school, but feeling like all of your hardwork goes totally unnoticed, or at least unappreciated. However, it's also about knowing that God promises us that He sees everything we do in secret, and will reward us openly for those things.
Thom: I really like Tree63, By the Tree, The Elms...any band who has anything to do with trees.
Thom: I am very blessed, and very thankful that I get to do this. I've dreamed of this ever since I met Owen in the fourth grade, which is also back when I first started playing guitar. God has totally blown my mind by giving me these opportunities, because I don't in any way deserve them. I've made so many stupid, stupid mistakes. So again, I feel really fortunate that I get to live out this dream of mine. I think the crux of the matter is simply that God is still aware of the fact that He put us on this earth, that He has a plan for our lives, and that He wants to fulfill the dreams He's given us, to prove that He does care about our lives, and wants to play an active role all throughout them.
Thom: Not pizza and lasagna...that's for sure. I'd say that Cracker Barrel is collectively the band's favorite restaurant. It's the closest you can get to a good home-cooked meal on the road, and Owen and I fancy their sweet tea. One very cool thing about playing shows in the South is that they always spoil us with jugs and jugs and jugs full of sweet tea.
Thom: The first band that comes to mind is a band from Dallas called Blisse. We love those guys. Good songwriters. I hope they're huge someday. There is a band/phenomenon from Tyler, TX known as Moss Eisley, and we really like them a lot as well. Three sisters, a brother, and a friend of theirs make up the band. The lead singer is twelve, and she writes incredibly mature songs. High hopes for them also. And lastly, there is another band from Dallas called Rhythm who are extremely good. I'm not much into funk, which is what they are, but still... they're so good at what they do, that I can't help but like them. We play with so many bands who have a lot of technical players, but they're usually annoying because it sounds like they're all trying to show off at the same time. The cool thing about Rhythm is that they keep it simple, so their sound comes off more punchy than busy. When you listen to them live, you infer that they could snap your head off at any time, but they still keep it simple. Maturity. All three of those bands are Texas bands. Must be something in the water there.
Thom: Ha ha. Nice. I know you're as much a fan of her as I am, Blake. Yeah, I'm amazed that her first role ever was in The Mask, considering it was such a featured film. I really respect her, because right after that, she rejected many bigger roles, and took on some smaller ones, to help her hone her craft. If you care about what you do, it's good to practice some restraint, and take the time to allow yourself to develop before you hit the scene guns a-blazing.
Thom: Well that certainly would be good for them if they were even aware of our existence as a band.
Thom: I think this coming year will be just like the last. A full year of God showing us time and time again of how faithful He is to His people. So many times, we found ourselves in tough situations, but we learned not to worry, because God came through every single time. We'll be out on the road a lot, as always, so to everyone reading this... whenever we stop into your town, please do your best to come out to the show, because we would love to meet you. And last... rock 'n' roll is coming back, so do yourself a favor and jump on the bandwagon early.
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