Watching the five guys in These United States make music has always reminded me of a river. There is something serpentine, endless, and powerful that torrents out of the mouth of Jesse Elliott and through the arms and legs of all five of them. It rambles. It breathes. They also tour so freaking much that you would think that they’d lose those potent abilities and stray from the source in favor of rote and rockin’ performances, at some point. Yet for the handful of years I’ve known them, that has never happened. Every performance, even small ones, are infused with their trademark literacy, urgency, with dust-and-sweat notes and slide guitar quaver hanging in the air.
We recorded this chapel session back in late July when the nights were so blissfully long, and the air in the church was uncharacteristically sticky and close. We’ve never done a session with this many people in the band before, and we tried to capture more of a field-recording feel to what was happening that day. I love the way the lone central mic picks up the echo of Jesse’s voice, the cadence of the piano chords, the loose rattle of bang as Robby thumped on a few pieces of my drumkit (in its debut recording appearance).
The band is in the studio at this moment working on their fifth record.
THESE UNITED STATES: FUEL/FRIENDS CHAPEL SESSION
The Angels’ Share
This is a brand new song, and the one that first made me start thinking in the aforementioned metaphors of rivers. When I asked Jesse if the title was plural or singular, he thought about it for a minute and pensively nodded as he answered: “It’s gotta be multiple angels. One angel couldn’t catch all that.”
What Do You Want With My Heart?
A song that’s been around for a handful of years, but just made its recorded appearance on their last album, 2010′s What Lasts. J Tom shines on the big, old, beautiful grand piano that sits in the corner of the church and occasionally gets discovered during one of these sessions. It’s a stripped song of honesty, asking a question that many of us would be well-served to listen to the answer to. I remember reading something a long time ago on Daytrotter in 2007, when Jesse spoke about the “most honest particle.” This band digs that out over and over again, and is relentless in the scouring.
Hit The Ground Running (Smog/Bill Callahan cover)
A concession to my always-kindly-suggested mantra of “you know –I mean– I love cover songs. If you wanted to maybe do one in your chapel session? Or whatever. I mean, anything is wonderful.” This one is a live end-of-the-night favorite for these guys, and more than anything for me evokes the feel of their half-Kentucky heritage (equally split with Washington, D.C.), teasing out all the rootsiness from this 1999 Bill Callahan song.
[most photos by Sarah Law, who I appreciate.]