by Ziggy Merritt
Creating an album is not always a linear process or an easy one. Some are content with releasing content in waves after long hours spent in the studio. Others live and breathe the experience of creating something truly special by making that very studio their home. For the forthcoming album Petals, the creative minds behind the roots music powerhouse, Elephant Revival, have prescribed to the latter approach. Recently I was able to get in touch the band’s own Daniel Rodriguez who was able to give some insight into the inspiration behind their latest full-length.
“We probably had a little over thirty songs, and then we recorded about fifteen or sixteen and kept eleven,” says Rodriguez in response to where the content that makes up Petals had come from. “We always choose the songs we have completely fallen in love with as a group,” he continues. “And what we draw upon is pure inspiration. The songs just kind of fall in our laps sometimes, and it’s our job to see them through.”
In seeing these through, Rodriguez and the rest of Elephant Revival have crafted a remarkably diverse collection of songs with a more pronounced Celtic flair nurtured in part by the haunting vibrato of Bonnie Paine. “I would say that a lot of the celtic influence on Petals came from Bonnie,” Rodriguez admits. “I don’t think it was necessarily a conscious thing. It does create a nice mood throughout the album, for sure.”
Yet as Rodriguez is careful to note, the motivation behind much of the band’s creative output has often called for innovation. “Anytime you try and box something and define it, you narrow it out you don’t leave room for any other interpretation,” he says in dialogue with the upcoming album’s title track. “We don’t want to be boxed in as artists. It’s all good if you hear a song and you hear it a certain way and feel it a certain way and it helps you out. But to each his own. It could be pretty far from what the writer was coming from, but it’s not necessary to let that be known sometimes.”
In concert with this philosophy of reinvention, Petals marks the first album produced by Sam Kassirer. Kassirer himself has previously worked with some of Elephant Revival’s friends and contemporaries, namely Lake Street Dive and Josh Ritter, the latter of whom they just recently finished touring with. “As we were sitting down as a band and going over the ideas of where and who’s going to record our next album, a handful of names came up,” Rodriguez recalls. “I brought up Sam because I fell in love with the albums he’s produced of Josh’s and of course I’m in love with the art Josh makes.”
Upon securing his involvement much of the magic behind Petals was left in Kassirers’ capable hands as they traveled up to a converted farmhouse in Maine where the album was recorded and produced. “He took our songs and listened to them and without the elements of what Elephant Revival typically puts to those songs,” says Rodriguez. “He heard the songs bare, just the songwriter and their instrument.”
For Petals, much of Kassirer’s involvement often focused around the arrangement of each track, often taking Rodriguez and the others out of their comfort zones when it came to some of the album’s more percussive elements. “We messed around with arrangements and added kick drums and snare which we never have,” he says. “[Sam] went to the store and bought some chains and dropped chains on the floor and mic’d that up. We were just very crazy and adventurous with what we were doing and Sam had a lot to do with that.”
Of course none of this could have been accomplished without an equally dogmatic approach to how each member of Elephant Revival spent their time while recording. “Our last two albums we recorded on location,” says Rodriguez. “We were sleeping at the place we were recording. In a lot of respects it eliminates a lot of the challenges and variables. You wake up, you’re there, you eat, and you get to it. You record all night too, all day and night.”
From here I was able to pick up on some of Rodriguez’s involvement with the eleven tracks that make up Petals, particularly those that resonate with him the strongest. “The songs that I wrote or sang lead on is probably the easiest answer,” he says with a laugh before settling on one of the album’s strongest tracks, “Season Song.” “I really love how that one came out,” he admits. “I think Sam treated it really well and we recorded it live. It has some really good energy behind it.”
Pressing further, Rodriguez recalls some of the inspiration behind “Season Song”, offering an answer rooted in his own past. “I think of life and death being the broad stroke of what that song is about. Growing up in the Northeast myself and being apart of that fall-time foliage and just getting a lot of insight off of that time of year. Any season really just kind of relating with it and taking it in as emotion. That’s where I was coming from.”
Following their most recent appearance at Union Transfer alongside Josh Ritter, Elephant Revival will return to the Philly area at the Ardmore Music Hall on April 27th. For this upcoming appearance, Rodriguez gave a few words in hopes for a receptive crowd. “I look forward to an ecstatic time. We can only hope for a full room of people who love our music, just a great reception of our record but those are only expectations. We all love Philly. We had a wonderful time when we last came through with Josh and we want to follow up on that and have another beautiful time.”
Their upcoming album Petals will be released on April 1st. Meanwhile check out the video of “Ancient Sea” from their 2010 album Break in the Clouds below.