Addicted To Vinyl Musical thoughts from the open road, with headphones on

1Apr/111

Further Conversation: More Stuff From My Chat With Everest

I spoke with Everest bassist Elijah Thomson on Monday for the Riverfront Times. There was more stuff than I could use for the piece, so of course you get to enjoy the tasty leftovers here. I always have to give credit to my good friend Rob Evanoff (who at the time, was their publicist) for "showing me the light" regarding Everest.  I had seen Everest in December of 2008 opening for Neil Young and Wilco and was not impressed and shared it with Rob, knowing that he was cool with the honesty. He insisted on sending me a copy of their debut album Ghost Notes anyway and I listened (as I always do) with an open mind.

That did the trick - I was officially an Everest fan and they've since become one of my favorite bands and as we discuss bands with staying power, I have good reason to believe that these guys have the goods to make great music for a long time. Fingers are crossed that many people on this planet will have the pleasure as I have to hear that great music.

I know that you yourself are a big Richard Swift fan, so it must be a thrill to have him working on this new Everest album.

Yeah, I actually used to play with him, we've been great friends for over a decade. It's funny too, because I never really thought about him as a producer for this band until relatively recently. There were certain things that I felt that we needed in a producer. One of those things was just a little bit of an authoritarian vibe with us – I think there's a lot of creative ideas in this band and sometimes it's hard...the squeaky wheel gets the grease, you know what I mean? A lot of times that can cause some political conflict internally, so it's good to have a head coach, somebody who's with us who has sort of the same record collection, is into the same ideas, has the same goals as we do and is able to be an objective outsider opinion. Richard is a great singer, great songwriter and incredible musician on multiple instruments and also he already has the respect of everyone in the band and he's our friends. All of those things seem to make him somewhat of a prime candidate for us – I think we really could have gone in a lot of different directions – maybe celebrity producers or really famous guys, but I really think that some of those guys might have too much of an intimidation factor.

Not in the sense that we couldn't handle it but it might not be something that we're doing together. It might be a situation where someone is lording over us a little too much and we might be somewhat doe-eyed because of his fame or discography. In this situation with Swift, it's a much more contemporaries working together [thing]. He's challenging us sonically, energy-wise, ideas, arrangements, lyrics and that's what we need. We feel like we're bringing a lot to the table on our own, but we want to push ourselves beyond what's comfortable for us and what's easily accessible and get to the next level of our creativity. And that's really the tallest order for this record, I think and also to continue on with broadening our fanbase and our appeal. You know, that's part of playing live too, you see what works and audiences respond and it sub-consciously changes your idea about who you are and your own band.

When you go back to the drawing board and you go back to the studio, all of those things are in your mind, sub-consciously and sometimes even consciously and that's part of the development of a band. I think that any good band is on that upward trajectory. Most of my favorite bands progressively get better and better over time and that's the kind of band that we want to be. But that's not as easy as it sounds, because you're never content, never really satisfied [and] always raising the bar higher and higher. So that's where we're at and I think where we'll stay, pretty much.

As you said, the first two albums were in a sense, self-produced, so it's probably helpful to have the different perspective that a neutral party, in this case Richard Swift, brings to the table.

Yeah, I think we had some objective opinions, either from engineers – Mike Terry and Fritz Michaud, who were both people that we respect a great deal. I just think we needed to up the ante. Sometimes, certain kinds of friends can be a little too nice to you in the studio. Not that Richard isn't nice, but he understands that we need to be held accountable a little bit to our own creativity and pushed a little further. And you know, it's funny because even though I wasn't in the band, I was actually hanging out during the Ghost Notes sessions, so I kind of know the way that record went as well, just as a friend and a contemporary who produces and engineers records. So they had invited me down, even though I wasn't in the band.

So I've kind of always felt like I was at least associated with Everest in some way shape or form – I've always been a fan and I've always been a big supporter. Even with On Approach, I don't know if I had really taken over ownership of the role – it took time for me to go from thinking “oh, I'm filling in since they don't have a bass player on these tours.” The first tour I did with them was the first Neil Young tour, which is a pretty awesome way to start with a band. [Laughs]

I've been sort of finding my own way in this band not just as a bass player but as a creative person too and when we're not in the studio, pushing a certain kind of creative philosophy and work ethic that I've learned over the years. Without seeming like an outsider producing, more of an internal point guard, the coach on the floor so to speak. I think everything is coalescing almost for the first time really as a full band on this next record, because I was there for On Approach and involved, but I was simultaneously recording a record for this band called Delta Spirit. So it was a little tough – I had to sort of come and go and I was spread really thin. Even still, the touring that I did before On Approach was mostly Neil Young, some festivals and little things and since On Approach was released, we've done a lot of what I would call traditional band touring where we're in a van, we're playing small venues and sometimes they're packed, sometimes they're empty – you're just hustling. You're all participating in the driving, the loading and all of that stuff.

I think that has a bonding effect with bands at least it has with our band in the last year. That kind of emotional and mutual sacrifice, blood, sweat and tears has an effect on the music, the live show and our creative output as well. Now that I am taking ownership over my own place in this band – and I think Davey, the drummer is as well, everybody is moving more as a cohesive unit rather than five creative guys trying to find common ground – it's much more of a team effort at this point. And that doesn't mean we're all writing the songs simultaneously, but somebody might come in with this seed of an idea that's brought into the public forum and different people will add in somewhat of an editing effect [on the material] in little tiny ways – arrangements, adding a bridge, or tweaking a chorus or lyrics. That's great in a band, I think, no matter who the writer is – it somewhat becomes community property, no matter who comes in with the seed of an idea. It does become somewhat of a group creative project within our little rehearsals and the period of time where we're pre-producing these songs. And you know, to be honest with you, I've never been in a band like that and I've been in quite a few.

This band has more of a balanced creative output from everyone and people holding one another accountable. It's pretty rare or it's difficult to do without killing each other. I think that we're super-excited about the progress, where we're going and what's coming next. And not even just this record, but records beyond – like I said, it's an upward trajectory and we know that every record, every show and every tour is just making us stronger and stronger. It's a good place to be – feels great.

I feel like I've seen Everest become a band over the past few years. The first time I saw the band was on that Neil Young tour with Wilco in December of 2008 and honestly, I didn't dig it. But I heard the Ghost Notes album later after that show and definitely enjoyed what Everest was doing on album. When I saw the band again this past fall, it was evident to me that your live show had really come together and the band had really become a band, which was something I also picked up comparing Ghost Notes to On Approach when that was released.

That's really good to hear that kind of feedback and I know what you mean, I think a lot of times when somebody's watching the show and they perceive that about a band, it's possible that the band feels that way about themselves. I think one of the things that was going on on that tour was the progression of a band who had really only had to fill a club or hit a back wall that's 100 feet away as opposed to filling an arena. And that's not something you can just know or have intuition about. It's something that you just have to go through and experience. And what was awesome is by the end of that whole experience, which was three separate legs, the final leg where we were the only opener, we really had to step up. By the end of those tours, we would go back into a club and bring arena energy into a club which is seemingly to me when Everest really started coming together.

It was like we had this wild somewhat unprecedented experience for us and [we were] really a fish out of water, relatively unknown band playing an arena tour in front of two legendary bands, Wilco and Neil. [Laughs] So that process just changes things in your brain – I can't really explain it but now you're going into a club and you're not fearful in maybe a way that the band might have been early on. Now it's kind of like nothing – we can bring this energy to these people with relative ease now, because we've figured out how to fill an arena. Now, bringing that kind of intensity into a club and people feel it in a totally different way, including us. I think a lot of times, bands want to act like they have all of their shit together, all of the time, but we certainly recognize our weaknesses and our strengths.

That is the full point, to exaggerate our strengths and diminish our weaknesses, find out what the best of each person is and bring that together. It doesn't happen from just thinking about it or being logical, it happens only from trial by fire. I think Everest is somewhat of a rare case in the sense, because we'd all been in other bands and we're not necessarily spring chickens, we had connections in the record industry and Everest was able to get a record deal relatively quickly without spending three or four years honing these things in the clubs. Which is somewhat of a disadvantage for Everest if you think about it in the fact that everybody is aware of our progress, going from weakness to strength.

But at the same time, I look at a band like Radiohead and I look at the difference between Pablo Honey and In Rainbows and it's a very, very different band. They had to do the same thing – they had to grow. Or the difference between U2 with War and Achtung Baby, which are light years away. Or the Beatles between early Beatles and the end of it – this is just not an easy road – we really are climbing this mountain, sometimes sliding backwards and sometimes making progress. We're just sort of moving forward and I like that you've seen that progress and that others have seen that progress. That it starts out with something intriguing and builds and I think that it adds anticipation for a record and naturally builds a fanbase.

You know, people are like “I heard this band a while back but now you should hear them,” and that's a provocation as well, to invite people out or to come back to shows. It's not just getting people to come to one show, it's getting them to come back and back and back again as we've been building a following and a fanbase. To be able to pull that off, there has to be some kind of impact and some sort of reaction that the listener had that makes them go home and look up our band on the internet, look at reviews or articles or see where we're playing next, because they want to come see us. That's kind of forever in our minds as we're going through this, not so much the tail wagging the dog, but always, every time we step on stage whether it's in a music store, radio station, club or arena, that at least some people are being impacted in a way that's going to be long standing and in a way that increases our fanbase one person at a time, almost. That's the way you do it, I guess – that's the way we're doing it.

Read the rest of our conversation here and if you'd like some music, I'd urge you to check out and download a live show, which you can do for free from the Everest website. Of course, you should also buy the albums to get the complete picture of what it's all about!

Photo via the official Everest Facebook page.

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