--Fall tours of Europe, Canada and the USA after a summer of hitting Festivals across Canada.
--Mountain Meadows has spent 13 weeks (and counting) on the college radio charts in Canada, reaching #2 on Earshot and ChartAttack.
--Cover story in July's Exclaim! Magazine
--"Mountain Meadows", the followup to their acclaimed, Juno-nominated full length debut, "Ambassador" released June 24 on Six Shooter Records.
--Internationally, Elliott Brood has toured Europe extensively, and also played USA shows with the Great Lake Swimmers and Do Make Say Think.
Stalking shadows on the prairies with a compass and set of matches, shaking the mountains loose with howls and footstomps and, settled in meadows, while whispering tales under darkening skies, obsessed with history or historically obsessed, either way, Elliott BROOD have a penchant for stories they just can’t shake.
Since their beginnings with their EP, Tin Type, home of the cult hit, “O’ Alberta!”, to their Juno-nominated, debut full length Ambassador, Elliott BROOD have earned the praise of connoisseurs and critics alike. They’ve won over legions of fans with their raw and energetic live shows and their atmospheric, richly crafted records, making a name for themselves worldwide. They’ve carried their tune through seven cross Canada marathons, including the headlining spot on the Exclaim! Magazine sponsored Wood, Wires & Whiskey tour and opening shows for Wilco, Blue Rodeo, Corb Lund and The Sadies. They have completed three European tours, playing Festivals throughout Europe, Great Britain and Scandinavia, including an opening spot in Paris with Broken Social Scene. The BROOD have toured through the USA with Do, Make, Say Think and early this year, they made their debut in Australia with the release of Ambassador on ABC Records in the spring of 2008.
Alongside the Juno nomination, Ambassador earned The BROOD a Galaxy Rising Star award for Best New Artist 2006, landing them on Best of Lists from The Globe & Mail to CBC Radio 3, a four-star review from British music mag heavy, UNCUT, and kept them on the college radio charts for over 17 weeks.
With the release of their new record, Mountain Meadows, comes a new chapter. It marks the evolution of Elliott BROOD from a backwoods character into a timeless figure. Recorded in Town halls, front rooms, back rooms and good old recording studios, the album’s wandering melodies are driven by rusty guitars and aching vocals that waltz around charming piano lines while ukuleles and banjos sway to and fro between a chorus of horns. It’s sunnier the higher you climb the Mountain, but in the Meadows below lay darker themes each with their own lore.
Mark Sasso: vocals, guitars, banjo, ukulele
Casey Laforet: vocals, guitars, bass pedals, ukulele
Steve Pitkin: drums, percussion, suitcases, vocals
Mountain Meadows (Six Shooter Records)
Ambassador (Six Shooter Records)
Tin Type EP (Weewerk)
See videos for Second Son and The Bridge from the album Ambassador on youtube:
Second Son - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U8cTgQPH-qw
The Bridge - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZqvz33PQog
Building A History
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Elliott Brood Building a History By Vish Khanna "On September 11, 1857, approximately 120 men,...Elliott Brood
Building a History
By Vish Khanna
"On September 11, 1857, approximately 120 men, women, and children emigrating from Arkansas to California were slaughtered by an unlikely collective of Mormon militia members and local Native American tribesmen in a part of the Utah territory known as Mountain Meadows. A complex amalgam of political conflict and religious fervency set off the Mormon-led siege upon the Baker-Fancher emigrant party, who were forced into a standoff after camping in the valley during their westward voyage. Fending off their attackers for four days, the Baker-Fancher party surrendered in good faith with the promise of safe passage to nearby Cedar City. After being led a mile away from their wagon corral on foot, however, they were attacked by the Mormons and Natives and only 17 young children were spared, with some sent back home, and others adopted and raised in the Mormon faith. While historical accounts vary and nothing conclusive about the reasoning behind the bloodshed has been determined, this brutal moment in American history is still commemorated as the “Mountain Meadows Massacre.”
Mark Sasso and Casey Laforet of Toronto’s electrifying, country-tinged rock trio Elliott Brood encountered Mountain Meadows separately, yet the story immediately resonated with both songwriters. Laforet has devoured books on the incident, while a documentary about the mass murder enthralled Sasso. “At first, they just said ‘Mountain Meadows,’ and I thought ‘Oh, what a beautiful name,’” Sasso recalls, sitting between Laforet and drummer Stephen Pitkin in their favoured Toronto haunt, the Dakota Tavern. “Then, all of a sudden, it turns into this brutal massacre. But at the end of it, they let these children survive who were younger than seven years old, figuring they won’t remember the event. Then they incorporated the children into their society and homes.” As they’ve done before on their 2003 debut EP Tin Type and 2005’s Juno-nominated full-length Ambassador, Elliott Brood continue to obsess over the past, infusing historical events and individuals with a vague sense of revisionist wonder. While Tin Type possessed an otherworldly tone thanks to banjo and guitar-led rural stomps and Sasso’s heart-stopping rasp, Ambassador was named after a lost and then found wallet/workbook, where one man’s displaced identity is pondered and fleshed out in a loose narrative. If there is a concept within Sasso’s songs though, it compels observers to seek out the concept themselves, to conjure the storyline from clues and unconfirmed facts, just as their investigative creator did.
In titling their stunning new record Mountain Meadows, the hard-touring Elliott Brood lead listeners directly to an actual event, yet their songs twist and turn around and within the circumstances of the gory slaying to become a harrowing, timeless travelogue. “Mountain Meadows is more of a jumping off point, as opposed to us trying to describe it historically,” Sasso explains. “That’s already been done. For me, it’s more about ‘Okay, what happens to these kids afterwards? What happens to their relatives or their families down the line? Do they take part in WWII? How did their lives then factor back into life and can we drop in and visit them again?’”
“Because the name’s so evocative and pretty, it reminds me of a line in Casey’s song ‘31 Years,’ where he says ‘We tried to take the mountain/But the mountain got in the way,’” Pitkin adds. “It’s something that Casey often marvels about while we’re driving through some Saskatchewan town like, say, Yorkton. There are always roads that go nowhere — the road that used to be. Like, ‘Wow, people came this far from the Ukraine or Ireland or wherever — why didn’t they go further?’”
Collaborating more together on Mountain Meadows than they ever have previously, Elliott Brood remain committed to curiosity. Drawing from their own shared experiences globetrotting and winning fans over one plane trip at a time, the trio still take cues from anecdotal, historical accounts to craft an enigmatic, uniquely bright musical style all their own. Just as Mountain Meadows refers to a specific moment in time, the band chose it as the departure point in a speculative journey they themselves can relate to. “That’s the best part about it,” Sasso says of the album title and its subjects. “From there you can go anywhere. One of their ancestors might have been a mistress to somebody famous or something but nobody knows. The fun and enjoyment is to create those stories that no one would know or hear.”
Though they frequently tackle dark, morbid themes and have tagged their own music as “death country,” there’s a profound exuberance and optimism within the songs of Elliott Brood that stems from an earnest belief in the din they’ve been making since their first days as a band. Sasso and Laforet were high school friends in Windsor, Ontario before each ending up in Toronto almost a decade ago. Ostensibly coming for work, Sasso also had an (admittedly cynical) eye towards establishing himself as a solo artist. Laforet on the other hand simply followed a lady friend to Toronto and soon hooked up with Sasso to make some music. The two agree that their first show took place at Holy Joe’s in 2002 as a quartet but can’t recall whether they were then known as the Token Hillbillies (Laforet’s assertion) or Mark Sasso and the Sassettes (Sasso’s pained memory of how Laforet referred to the group).
“The other two guys dropped out quickly after, saying ‘This isn’t going anywhere,’” Sasso recalls. “I just remember one time where we’d been practicing and on our way home. I was like, ‘I really think that there’s an energy here; we should keep this going.’ And Casey had just broken up with his girlfriend and said, ‘Listen man, wherever you move, I’ll go with you.’ It was one of those moments where we felt like we could really run with this and we just did it, the two of us. We didn’t have any grand schemes; it was just like, ‘Let’s get a demo so we can play out of Toronto.’ We were Elliott Brood by our second show.”
That November Sasso and Laforet hooked up with Pitkin, who produced their wonderful debut, Tin Type, igniting an auspicious period for the band and their fans. From their earliest shows, they possessed a clear vision and aesthetic, dressing like funeral directors in collared shirts, dark suits and ties. Laforet’s urgent guitar playing propelled Sasso, who mostly wielded a banjo, and cried out in a remarkable voice as compelling at peak volume as it is whispered. Elliott Brood’s initial displays of raw, impassioned hunger were simply intoxicating and Pitkin ended up being the perfect soul to harness them in the studio. “I was fortunate enough to be their soundman at the Cameron House when they played there and I just thought their energy and chemistry was really special,” he says. “I look at chemistry as a main agent, as opposed to the calculated nature of some pop music.”
With no drummer, Elliott Brood experimented with different percussion, and the inherent drive in their songs lent itself to organic rhythms. Inexplicably, Laforet was the principal source of these sounds; Sasso would put a mic to the floor to capture his stomping feet or, in another case, his repeated hammering of a peanut butter container against the ground. “That hurt,” Laforet says, wincing at the memory. “It was like a pound and a half Costco jar. It was the worst.”
The need for a percussionist in the live setting became apparent and, fortunately for Sasso and Laforet, they had an experienced one in their corner with Pitkin. A rock drummer from bands like Mrs. Torrance and the Flashing Lights, Pitkin knew he’d have to adjust his playing to suit Elliott Brood’s acoustic sensibility. His reasoning led to the creation of an icon in the band’s story thus far: the suitcase kick drum. Pitkin literally uses hardshell luggage to give Elliott Brood its distinctive thump. “The suitcase was brought in after recording Tin Type, and was necessary because these guys stomp onstage,” Pitkin explains. “I was trying to emulate that stomp.”
Sticking out on the bar circuit, Elliott Brood garnered more attention with each show and Tin Type took on a life of its own. Sasso is a talented graphic artist and his beautiful, handmade packaging for Tin Type is from a bygone era — a miniature photo album that houses music steeped in a folk tradition spanning hundreds of years. The EP caught the attention of the weewerk record label, which re-released it in 2004 and actively promoted the band to college radio, pushing them to tour. With Pitkin aboard as a full-fledged member, Elliott Brood’s star was on the rise. When asked to cite a crystallizing moment of connection for the band, Sasso immediately mentions their very first show outside of Toronto. “We drove all the way to Lethbridge [Alberta] and it was sold out when we got there. We were like, ‘What the hell is this?’” “They liked Tin Type, and they were playing it on university radio like crazy,” Pitkin adds.
When the album hit number one at CKXU, Elliott Brood felt obligated to drive across Canada to figure out what was going on. “We were actually gonna skip Lethbridge but I think our whole career would’ve been totally different if we’d done that,” Sasso says. “The next show was in Calgary to two people but we played Lethbridge three times within two weeks to sold out shows. It was awesome and that was a huge moment. Like, ‘Holy shit, it’s packed; who would’ve thought?’” The band’s popularity and work ethic attracted the interest of Six Shooter Records, who released the band’s first full-length, Ambassador, a mature, critically acclaimed album that sent the band on a travelling whirlwind that has yet to cease. Behind Ambassador alone, Elliott Brood crossed Canada six times, toured Europe three times, and recently played shows along the east coast of Australia, where the album was just released. Beyond being a tightly honed trio, the band endeavour to make their shows truly inclusive. “We’re always talking to the crowd,” Laforet says. “‘Let’s forget we’re up here and you’re down there; we’re all gonna get up on stage eventually or we’re gonna come down there.’ We love to engage the crowd and if you can establish a relationship with people, that’s a huge thing, particularly if things aren’t going well.”
Forced to leave wives, girlfriends, and young children behind, there’s more travel and road weariness popping up in Elliott Brood’s songs lately but all they talk about is playing more shows in new and different places. “I miss my kids dearly when I go but the band as a whole is sensitive to that,” Pitkin says. “I think our respective spouses are super supportive. My wife loves the band and we’re married because we understand each other. It’s not a case of ‘me or the band,’ which I think a lot of musicians get into. We’re fortunate to have that understanding in our lives.”
Comprehending and compartmentalising Elliot Brood’s sound, however, doesn’t come quite so easily. With its dark themes and punk-ish take on accessible country music, Ambassador was tricky to place and a flurry of roots rock-based generic signifiers — “urban hillbilly,” “blackgrass,” and the band-approved “death country” among them — were soon applied to Elliott Brood. “Death country” has lingered the longest, but even this descriptor seems passé. “I think ‘death country’ is dead,” Laforet declares wryly.
“Yeah, the only reason ‘death country’ ever came about is because people kept saying we were bluegrass music because of the banjo,” Sasso explains. “It got so bad that we ended up on these bills where we didn’t quite fit with our distorted guitars. If people are specifically going to hear the Good Brothers and a traditional style of music and that’s not what we are, that’s not really gonna work for everyone. So I myself actually consider us a rock band and definitely not bluegrass.” With all their musical myth-making derived from fact and fiction, it’s no wonder Elliott Brood have eluded easy definition. Poised to celebrate a master achievement with Mountain Meadows, they continue to infuse their work with artful intrigue. Even their namesake has taken on a life of his own, as an entity that inhabits particular corners of each record. “The idea of the Elliott Brood character is something we want to keep strong,” Laforet asserts. “He’s an embodiment of what the records are and they represent where he stands at a certain time.”
“The nice thing about that is, we always want the music to be in the forefront so if there’s a character pushing the music, it’s better than the three of us,” Sasso reasons. “We’re always one step behind him though. If we could actually catch him, maybe we’d get more out of him.” “We need Elliott Brood to be on TMZ,” Laforet chuckles. “He’s never in the big papers. In the context of this record, the children they let live at Mountain Meadows were too young and couldn’t talk about it. So, maybe he fits in there with those kids, because where did they end up?” How the tale unfolds for Elliott Brood the band is just as interesting. Even as one of the top-draw concert attractions in Canada with a growing international fan base, their ascent up the musical ladder has been relatively unheralded. Though never quite an “it” band, Elliott Brood don’t feel particularly unappreciated, yet still revel in their ability to surprise new and familiar listeners alike. “We have expectations for sure,” Pitkin admits. “I do hear a lot of bitter musicians where there’s no end to the drivel of ‘How come so-and-so is getting all of this attention and I’m not.’ We’re pretty intent on enjoying the process and that’s what drives us.”
“A lot of that is out of our control,” Laforet says, referring to hype. “Before anyone cares about you, you better care about what you’re doing more than they do. If the real music lovers are into it, that’s what we’re happy with. It’d be nice if critics thought we were ‘the next big thing’ or whatever but that’s not gonna change what we do. And if that does happen, people are gonna knock us down. As soon as people start saying you’re the best band, there’s a line-up of people saying ‘No they’re not!’”
Sasso is similarly philosophical. “If it ends today, I’d be sad but we’ve accomplished a lot. Playing outside of my bedroom was an accomplishment so now, to be able to go and play around the world, that’s a pretty amazing thing and I’m never gonna be sad about that." --Exclaim Magazine Cover (July 2008)
Brood Out For Blood
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Brood out for blood DEATH COUNTRY CREW REVEALS THE DARK SIDE OF MOUNTAIN MEADOWS BY TIM PERLICH T...Brood out for blood
DEATH COUNTRY CREW REVEALS THE DARK SIDE OF MOUNTAIN MEADOWS
BY TIM PERLICH
The title of Elliott Brood’s latest recording, Mountain Meadows (Six Shooter), might lead you to believe that Toronto’s self-?styled “death country” trio has suddenly gone all sweet ’n’ sunny. But the pleasantly innocuous?sounding title is connected with a particularly bloody chapter in the colonization of America’s Wild West.
Mountain Meadows, in the Utah Territory, was the site of a Mormon-?led massacre of 120 unarmed men, women and children emigrating to California from Arkansas in a wagon train on September 11, 1857. How the horrifying events of 151 years ago wound up inspiring a quasi-?historical song cycle by Mark Sasso, Casy Laforet and Stephen Pitkin, who have no obvious links to Arkansas, Utah or Mormonism, is a bit of a mystery.
“We were just about to start working on the new album,” recalls the banjo-?picking and ukulele-?strumming Sasso, “when I saw an episode of this PBS television documentary series called The West that dealt with the Mormons’ settlement in Utah, and Mountain Meadows came up. What intrigued me was the juxtaposition of these horrible events happening at a place with such a pretty name.
“Our idea for the album wasn’t to try doing any sort of true historical recounting of the events. And we’re not a political band trying to make any kind of statement. We were more interested in the stories that didn’t get told, like what became of those kids whose lives were spared? That was our jumping-?off point.”
Listening to Mountain Meadows, what initially hits you on a gut level is Elliott Brood’s amped-up attack. They still operate with an acoustic sensibility as a suitcase percussion-?driven three-?piece, but on record at least, they roll like a full-?blown electrified orchestra.
“We’ve been heading down that road since our Ambassador album, after we started to figure things out with our Tin Type EP. On Mountain Meadows, we go back and forth between a spare acoustic sound and heavy amplification, depending on what the songs require. To properly convey the emotion of a song sometimes demands a bigger, heavier rock-?style approach, and I think we pushed all the levels on this album.
“There’s always some trepidation about moving into new, untested areas, and you wonder whether people will accept what you’re doing, but I’m happy to say the early response has been very positive.”
Of course, Elliott Brood haven’t yet tried out any of the new tunes in Utah. It would be interesting to see how the new stuff goes over with an audience of Brigham Young University history and theology students.
“Will they invite us to perform? Probably not. When Corb Lund asked us what our new album was going to be called and I told him Mountain Meadows, he was like, ‘Oh, yeah, great – give it to our people.’ After coming up with the title, I had some reservations about using it because we don’t want to be seen as a political band, but I think it works well.”
NOW | June 19-26, 2008 | VOL 27 NO 42
A Mystery Inside an Enigma: Can't figure out who Elliott Brood is? Forget about it and just hit 'Play'
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On the surface, Elliott Brood is similar to many in the latest wave of Canadian roots acts. The T...On the surface, Elliott Brood is similar to many in the latest wave of Canadian roots acts.
The Toronto trio exudes the down-home feel of Leeroy Stagger, tells dark tales à la NQ Arbuckle, strums and twangs like the D. Rangers, sings of heartache just like Justin Rutledge and rocks the sartorial swagger of The Sadies.
Hell, they’ve even got their own national anthem in Oh, Alberta, a raucous rave-up full of Canadian place names.
But that’s just on the surface.
Scratch a little deeper and you’ll find Elliott Brood is an outfit that likes to be a little mysterious. First there’s the name.
No one in this band is named Elliott. Or Brood.
Mark Sasso sings, writes the lyrics, and plays banjo and guitar. Casey Laforet sings and plays guitar, dobro and keyboards. Stephen Pitkin sings and plays a snare, a floor tom and a blue suitcase.
The band has said that ‘Elliott Brood’ is what Sasso imagined would be the name of the brother of a character from the Robert Redford baseball movie The Natural. By the time he realized he’d misheard the name of Harriet Bird, he’d already hung the moniker on his group.
The name is also explained under the ‘Legend’ tab at www.elliottbrood.ca. According to this tale, Elliott Brood was the name of a man killed with a tire iron while ransacking a farmer’s house on an eerie, stormy night in 1926. Brood’s killer took a mouth harp and some song lyrics from the dead man’s pockets. The band is thus keeping Elliott Brood’s songs alive.
The end of this tale harks back to Kris Kristofferson’s To Beat the Devil. It also playfully makes the band out to be the bearers of talismanic tunes with magical properties.
And Elliott Brood certainly does conjure a sense of time and place.
Initially formed as a quartet in 2002 in Windsor, Ont., the Brood quickly reduced itself to the duo of Sasso and Laforet. Their sonic direction was forged when Sasso bought himself a banjo and began writing songs on it, while their visual feel, right down to their vintage suits and hats, stems from their backgrounds in design and visual arts. Sasso is a film editor while Laforet is a cartographer.
“We love design, and we love making little puzzles for people,” Sasso says of the band’s two intricate CD slipcases.
The group’s six-song 2004 EP, Tin Type, was initially packaged in a paper bag that opened to reveal a cover bound like a book.
The group’s new album is called Ambassador and is constructed as if it were a travel folio. Its inner pocket holds a train ticket from New York to Detroit in the name of Joseph A. Bower on Nov. 9 and 10, 1929, plus a cryptic typewritten letter written by someone with the initials ‘A.N.’
“We think of it as like finding a lost wallet or an artifact, in which there are pieces of paper that are clues to who this person was or what their story might be,” Sasso says.
“But we try not to paint too much on the canvas because we want to give people a basis for painting pictures in their heads.”
Deciphering Ambassador’s clues while listening to the album’s dozen cuts is an exercise in ‘a-ha’ moments but, just as Sasso suggests, it doesn’t complete any pictures. If anything, it just starts many more.
The album is named for the Ambassador Bridge, which links Windsor, Ont., with Detroit. The name on the train ticket is that of the man whose company built the bridge, which was officially completed on Nov. 11, 1929 — the day after the ticket says he was to arrive in Detroit.
The ‘A.N.’ on the letter in the CD sleeve could be Acer Negundo, the titular character of oneAmbassador song — a man who sounds as if he is a Mexican mercenary yet who bears news of the death of Louis Riel. The waters are further muddied when a Google search reveals that acer negundo is the Latin name for the box elder — also known as the Manitoba maple.
You get the picture by now? Elliott Brood is a carefully constructed concept of sound and vision.
But all the visuals add up to nothing if the music doesn’t swing and sway and move your feet and heart. Fortunately it does.
In the 18 months or so since the band first began recording and touring, much has been made of the various labels that have been hung on its music. Sasso, Laforet and Pitkin prefer “death country,” but they’ve also heard “blackgrass” and “murder rock.”
Sasso’s lyrics can be dark and brooding, and the accompanying high and lonesome twangs, mournful fuzz guitar and ominous rhythms invoke a sense of murder ballads of old — not of Nick Cave’s highly stylized moods, but of a time much farther back, to the early days of country blues and murky deals at foggy crossroads.
“It’s not necessarily a conscious thing,” Sasso says. “There’s a certain sound that Casey gets when he plays his guitar that helps grow things, and then I write some songs and we put those things together and here we are.
“A lot of people seem to want happy songs from these instruments, but the banjo seemed to call to me to write these songs.”
The tunes have also been calling to listeners. Since Ambassador came out in October, the group has toured across Canada, through the Netherlands and the U.K., and is about to embark on a U.S. jaunt to coincide with Ambassador’s Valentine’s Day release down south.
Fans are already singing along to songs such as Second Son, the aforementioned Oh, Alberta (from Tin Type) and Cadillac Dust. Sasso can even distinctly recall an ‘Oh my God’ moment when he, Laforet and Pitkin first heard themselves on the radio.
“We were coming through the mountains out West and we heard ourselves on (CBC’s) The National Playlist. It was funny because we had no time to e-mail and vote for ourselves, and it ended up that we lost by one vote,” Sasso says. “We just sort of looked at each other at that point.”
With a year of touring ahead of them, Sasso and Laforet have taken leaves from their day jobs (Pitkin is a music producer and soundman, which is how he met the others), but they’re old enough, at 31 and 29, to know a musical life is a crapshoot.
“There are moments when I’m taken aback and can’t believe that I’m being played on the radio,” Sasso says. “But the thing to do is to just keep pushing forward and try not to think about it too much. “We’ve been working at jobs for a while, so we’ve become accustomed to having a bit of money and a certain lifestyle, so without question that’s a concern for us,” he says.
“You offer yourself and your music up to people and hope they like you…” he says, trailing off.
“When you think about it, it’s pretty damn scary.”
Elliott's Brooding Buddies
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On Elliott Brood’s website, the bio reads more like a ghost story revolving around a man shooting a ...On Elliott Brood’s website, the bio reads more like a ghost story revolving around a man shooting a friend and haphazardly digging a shallow grave to hide the evidence after the kill. According to singer Casey LaForet, the story is fictional; but with Elliott Brood and their haunting, melancholic country, one can never be sure. Songs that are so playfully morose and drowning in eulogium require first hand experience to properly disseminate, one might presume. To properly tell the story of how one man
lost his life in cold blood, it is often best to be the party grappling the gun.
“Sometimes these songs take on a life of their own,” replies LaForet. “All these stories that we come across or create make it into our songs, but the process is different every time. It could
start with music, or words, a book or a combination of the three.”
Since early 2003, LaForet along with multi–instrumentalist Mark Sasso and drummer Stephen Pitkin has etched songs from the stories carved into coffins, and created a unique, gloom–
ridden countrified blend in the process. Yet with Elliott Brood, sadness, depression and morbidity are not thematically disheartening. Quite the opposite, in fact. Death and its muses
are joyously drawn out through rippling, clangy chord progressions, introspective lyricism and most importantly, an aura of loose, laid–back joviality crammed inside the dirge. Death can be fun, or more specifically, singing about it. “Basically, we set out to find ourselves and there we were,” replies LaForet. “It always remains deviously comical, as long as the stories are told properly.”
In 2005, Elliott Brood emerged with Ambassador on Six Shooter Records, two years after their debut EP, Tin Type. Ambassador, recorded entirely in an abandoned abattoir, garnered a Juno nomination, a tour of Northern Europe and an almost immediate respect in how much Elliott Brood’s prose, imagery and delivery craft the imagery and delusion that come
with the realities and graveness of death. Ambassador is one long story, narrated and reenacted vigorously with hints of folk, soul, rock and blues that pays tribute to the lives lost conjuring in the stories strewn upon the melodies. Named after the famed bridge that connects Windsor and Detroit, Ambassador is almost a
tribute to the lives altered by a simple act of border crossing whilst embodying the nature of the muse, a conduit for stories, culture and humanity. In addition, the trio utilized unique instrumentations throughout the recording process, a trait they
have transplanted live that sees Pitkin use a hollowed out suitcase in lieu of a bass drum. The resulting sound adds more eeriness to an already subdued sort that compliments LaForet and Sasso’s revolving instrumentation.
“It was Steve’s idea because we love gimmicks,” affirms LaForet. “And also, it gives the stomp sound better than a kick drum, and it’s practical because it transports the hardware, which makes everyone’s lives easier when we tour.”
Furthermore, a new album is in its infancy, according to LaForet, as the band will head into the studio, or another slaughterhouse for that matter, to reawaken the ghosts of
Ambassador once more. While the metaphors and imagery remain intact, the theme and musical direction of the album has yet to be fully agreed upon, as the trio has been busy touring with the likes of Corb Lund and NQ Arbuckle as of late. Therefore, LaForet remains tightlipped about their sophomore death march.
“There is a new album on the way, but when, where, and all other details cannot be released to the public yet. When we figure everything out, we will make sure to alert everyone.” Before then, however, remains more touring, as the band will hop on a series of Ontario dates after returning from a brief tour in California. Another hop, skip and jump to Europe is also in the cards as well, and more neighbourly touring down south. Until then, catch them back at the Casbah as they welcome the dreariest month of the year on February 1. Time is running out to see these cats in small
clubs, so make sure to escape the cold with Elliott Brood. V
Elliott Brood: Breathing new life into death country
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Seeing Toronto based–band Elliott Brood play live can be a truly revelatory experience. At least tha...Seeing Toronto based–band Elliott Brood play live can be a truly revelatory experience. At least that was the case when they were sprung upon an unsuspecting crowd at the e–bar in Guelph two years ago, as the unknown opening act for Peterborough’s popular Silver Hearts. While guitarist and keyboardist Casey
Laforet faced stage–left towards suitcase percussionist and producer Stephen Pitkin, Mark Sasso throttled a banjo for all it was worth while rendering songs with a powerful, other–worldly rasp that shook the room. After every countrified rumble of a song, the gathering audience whooped and clapped at these upstarts who had all the poise of life–time musicians. As it turns out, they were just then finding their feet and gearing up for something big further on up the road. “When we first started, it was just Casey and I and, around that show, Steve had just joined and we first started gelling,” Sasso recalls. “Now it’s just like a total belief in what we’re doing. It was always there but now we’re really confident with the music that we’re making. That, along with the live shows have picked up
in intensity and it’s propelling us. We’re not really in control of it. In some sense we are and in another we’re not but this confidence—it’s fuelling us really.” Indeed, these days Elliott Brood is a top–draw, independent, Canadian musical act that has seen its popularity grow with every show. Their artfully–crafted EP, Tin Type, got new legs after being
released on fringe label weewerk in 2004 and the band hasn’t looked back since. Described by some as “death country,” the release carries on an old–world folk tradition of exploring the
darker sides of love, fear, and other blood–pumping emotions. The record and the live shows generated amazing word–of mouth for the band, leading to interest from Toronto label Six Shooter, who got behind its varied and ambitious new record, Ambassador, which received unlikely attention from the CBC last month, when “The Bridge” became a contender on the National Playlist. Sasso observes such developments with a grain of salt,
keeping his distance from anything that might be construed as hype. “You grow with every show and people talk about you but I don’t think you’re really in control of that,” he says evenly. “We were always there and always believed in what we were doing but now people are like, ‘Oh, I get it.’ People are onboard in the sense that they love our music and come and see our shows. Ultimately, you have no control over that; you hope for the best. You put out what you believe, which is your heart and soul into something and give it up.
“Even this album,” Sasso continues. “We love it but before it was released we were like, ‘are people gonna love it or hate it?’ You never know and you have no control over that so, for us to
grow more with this album is extremely flattering.”
One thing Elliott Brood is able to commandeer is its aesthetic as an artistic entity. When the band takes the stage, they’re generally dressed to the nines in dark suits that harken back to the tradition of most travelling musicians in the 1940s and ’50s.
“That’s come about in an off–hand way,” Sasso clarifies. “We played a Halloween show and we wanted to really dress up just because our music makes us feel a certain way. It’s really
progressed with the band though and weaved its way in without us really knowing why.” It might be dictated by happenstance forces, but the band
reveals a certain stylistic dedication to its photographs and album artwork that is uncommonly sharp and timeless. Sasso’s brown paper bag and pocket–sized photo album design for Tin Type made its musical contents that much more mysterious and
unique. He has done the same for Ambassador, enriching a standard digipak CD case with reddish wood design and the sense that you’ve peeked into someone’s workbook.
“When you come up with an idea, you want to see it come to fruition so you put as much effort into the details,” Sasso agrees. “In our case, we don’t want to be overbearing about it; we want to leave as much to people’s imagination as possible. The attention
to detail can also be minimalist so that there isn’t too much detail. When we come up with an idea, we wonder how we can best bring it to life without killing it. Like, how do we come up
with music where nobody’s playing or writing detracts from the original idea? You don’t want to kill it.” As an artist, Sasso seems particularly inspired by objects that hold some ageless mystery within them and he endeavours to infuse Elliott Brood with that same kind of temporal elusiveness. If the band appears out–of–place or its songs sound like they were born in some other era, it might have something to do with Sasso’s penchant for recycling. “It’s my love for stuff that people throw away,” he chuckles. “I like giving things a second life, be it a guitar that’s beaten up, which is true—all of my guitars are used and beaten up. It’s not really antiquing as much as it is saving something that you feel
should keep on living and giving. “I was in Montreal and I was buying these old photographs off somebody and he said, ‘That’s how you keep people alive, by keeping their photographs,’ and it was one of those moments for me. It just seemed like such a great thing. Even the album Tin Type came from that trip because that’s the name of that kind of metal photograph.” Sasso’s interest in lost lives and stories led to a loose–knit,
speculative narrative within Ambassador. While there are multiple
ideas there, he suggests that an overall feeling dictated how the album would flow. “I think these songs belong together because they’re dark in nature,” he says. “We didn’t want to tie the songs together too much. I mean ‘the ambassador’ is supposed to be a wallet or workbook that somebody dropped and you find it and
try to figure out its history. I got the idea when Steve left his wallet on top his car and lost it. I thought right away, that’s our next idea. It’s invasive but at the same time it draws you in. Personally, if I find someone’s wallet or photo, it’s like ‘who is
this?’ It becomes more like a search or a quest.” Sasso emphasizes that the vagueness of the artwork and songs on an album like Ambassador can actually create more engagement with listeners. Left to their own devices, listeners can draw their own interpretations from the clues that the band has left behind.
“The ultimate goal of it is, when people get the record and it’s tactile, you want it to work with what the music is,” he says. “But it also works because people get to put their own input into it and figure it out. When it’s plain as day, I don’t think people
feel a part of it. That’s the great thing about playing live for us; everyone listening is involved and part of the experience.”
Elliott Brood Put On Their Tourin' Shoes
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Self-described “death country” specialists Elliott Brood are set to celebrate their brand new record...Self-described “death country” specialists Elliott Brood are set to celebrate their brand new record deal with Six Shooter Records and the subsequent release of their first full-length album with a cross-country Canadian tour.
Ambassador, released October 4 in Canada, represents the first half of a two-record worldwide deal the trio signed with Six Shooter recently. The Toronto-based label will also be introducing Elliott Brood to the rest of the world, with a US release set for early 2006 and a European tour already booked for early November.
Elliott Brood formed in Windsor, ON in 2002 and have developed a reputation for being a killer live act, partly due to singer Mark Sasso’s banjo playing expertise and percussionist Steve Pitkin’s suitcase-based drum set (seriously). Check ‘em out for yourself at the following Canadian dates. You won’t regret it.
Elliott Brood - Tin Type
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Can a banjo brood? Bleed? Toronto duo Casey Laforet and Mark Sasso wring blue moods from their mai...Can a banjo brood? Bleed? Toronto duo Casey Laforet and Mark Sasso wring blue moods from their main instrument on this six-song EP, artfully packaged in a tiny, handmade photo ablum for extra olde-tyme effect. Tunes are as heavy as a rain cloud: creaking doors and thunder surround songs of dead men and wandering souls. No drums or foot stomps, just rusty voice, guitar, banjo and the occasional synth sound. "Oh, Alberta" sticks out, a raucous ode to Canadian locales ready to slip in beside Stompin' Tom on CBC Radio from here to eternity. Otherwise, not too country: Elliott Brood's trad tunes are palatable to urban ears, since the songs stand up even better than the schtick.
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"Canada's Breakout Band of 2006." -- Grant Lawrence, CBC Radio "#1 in the Top Ten Releases of 200..."Canada's Breakout Band of 2006." -- Grant Lawrence, CBC Radio
"#1 in the Top Ten Releases of 2005." -- Stylus Magazine
"Impassioned, shining, melodious music...bringing to mind Conor Oberst, Palace and acoustic Uncle Tupelo...an essential purchase." -- Americana, UK
"Elliott Brood (roots & traditional country): Who knew that traditional country included dark, glowering songs about doom and decay? At the school of Juno, thos counts as the biggest lesson of the year." -- 'Juno's Best', Globe & Mail
"SFTW loves to dig up buried Canadian musical treasure and has struck 24-carat gold with this moody masterpiece. It's bleak. It's black. It's brilliant." -- 'Something for the Weekend', The Sun, UK
"The do for pre-war fold music what bands like The White Stripes and Black Keys do for blues. Four Stars." -- Ottawa Sun
"...The dark eastern male counterpart to the Be Good Tanyas...their songs are as hard and true as a cast iron bedstead." -- The Globe & Mail
"...a howling and desperate dark sound that is often chilling and always captivating...It's hard to get enough of this. 9/10." -- Bumpershot
"Four Stars." -- Toronto Sun
"A sprawling, gripping effort. A+." -- usedwigs.com
"Elliott Brood's songs provide the listener with plenty of room to take in and enjoy every single note of every instrument played while leaving many more sounds for future discovery." -- Ithaca Journal
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Popjournalism These bluegrass hooligans describe their sound as “Death Country” and with their soph...Popjournalism
These bluegrass hooligans describe their sound as “Death Country” and with their sophomore release, Ambassador, they completely live up to the coined term. Elliott Brood is made up of Mark Sasso (banjo, vocals), Steve Pitkin (drums), and Casey Laforet (guitar) and with their aggressive, dark sound they give a completely different spin on bluegrass music. But, it’s not all foreboding, Ambassador is still full of great pop melodies especially in “ Second Son,”“The Bridge,” and “Twill.” What really gives Elliott Brood their distinct sound though is lead vocalist Sasso’s desert dry voice, which sounds like it’s been through too many late night binges of sorrow. For those who don’t want a cut-and-dry bluegrass release, Elliott Brood’s Ambassador will surely wet those Gothic appetites. (Six Shooter)
When Casey Laforet and Mark Sasso released "Tin Type," a gritty five-song alt-country effort, under the name Elliott Brood, enthusiasm spread like wildfire, and the duo's sound became known as "death country."
Producer Stephen Pitkin added percussion tricks, including the suitcase-slapping kick drum, to Laforet and Sasso's guitar, banjo and lapsteel licks and soon became a full-fledged Elliott Brood cohort. "Having Stephen in there now, the possibilities have certainly been upgraded," Laforet said in a recent interview. "He has a ton of great ideas with different parts and different sounds."
"Ambassador" sees the trio break free from the potentially kitschy confines of "death country" and into that old country vibe, inspired by the band's fondness for music, books and photographs from past generations. "I think we feel that we can't force it, especially now that there's a tag attached to us, the death country thing," said Laforet. "We never set out stylistically to write roots music or country or whatever, we just set out to write songs that we loved. Some people who like Tin Type might think we've taken it too far."
Pleasing Brood : Ottawa Sun
Toronto "death folk" trio Elliott Brood have sharpened their electric take on the old, weird hillbilly and blues music of the 1920s on their first full-length CD. In essence, they do for pre-war folk music what bands like The White Stripes and Black Keys do for blues.
Clapped rhythms, Mark Sasso's keening, whispered vocals float out like mysterious threats from a tinny radio (with the occasional tortured shriek thrown in) while drummer Steve Pitkin thumps out a stomping beat on a well-miked baby blue suitcase.
Casey Laforet buttresses Sasso's twanging banjo with an acoustic guitar -- either strummed or layered with brutal fuzz.
The well-sequenced album features songs both melancholy (Johnny Rooke) and brisk (The Bridge) and should please fans of electric country, folk and blues.
Building A History: Eye Weekly
Open up the new Elliott Brood CD, Ambassador, and an old train ticket slips out. "Travel the Northwest with Great Lake Railways," it says. And what of this typed up "Project Worksheet," folded like a discarded shopping list and tucked into the slot where a lyric booklet should be?
"It's a bit of a puzzle," admits Elliott Brood's Casey Laforet, who plays guitar, piano and typewriter on Ambassador. "Like finding someone's wallet and trying to figure out their story."
These clues will lead you quickly enough to more clues, which in turn reveal that the Ambassador in question is the Windsor-Detroit bridge. Deciphering Elliott Brood's story, however, requires more than Google.
The Toronto trio has been building a mystery since 2003, when they released the sinister roots EP Tin Type (weewerk) in a handmade photo album, wrapped in brown paper. On their website they posted a "Legend" of the fictitious Elliott Brood rather than biographical info. Their album notes listed two unknown players, Casey and vocalist/guitarist/banjo player Mark Sasso, but onstage they were a three piece. Listeners were perplexed, asking, "Which one is Elliott?"
Two and a half years and several road trips later, they've returned, newly signed to Six Shooter Records and carrying their full-length debut in their ragged suitcases like a cure-all tonic. Ambassador weaves eerie murder ballads and bone-
rattling, barn roof-raising hoedowns about dead presidents, hanged men and "one horse fucking towns," but are the dark tales real or imagined? Is Elliott Brood about historical preservation or myth-making? We needed to discuss this face to face: I want to see the whites of their lies.
On a warm October day, Casey and Mark wait outside Union Station to be grilled. It's rush hour, but the big clock above them reads to me like revelation time. Wandering the station looking for a place to chat (the one bar is closed up), they are quite forthcoming. First story: that they're relative newcomers to the city, originally from Windsor (hence the Ambassador Bridge fixation). They also love trains. There's nowhere here to sit and watch them come and go, so we hop aboard an unattended car, destination unknown. We are without tickets, impromptu rail-riders. We keep our voices down, like storytellers 'round a campfire. First up: who or what is Elliott Brood?
"It's from the movie The Natural," explains Mark. "Well, sort of. There's a dark character I thought was named Harriet Brood. I imagined that if she had a brother, his name would be Elliott Brood, and that it was a good name for a band. Except her name was actually Harriet Bird."
Mark, 29, works as a film editor, and is into baseball and movies. Casey, 31, is a cartographer who digs old history books. Elliott Brood is their first band. Their drummer is Steve Pitkin, whose long resumé includes playing in bands (Mrs. Torrence, Flashing Lights), producing records (Leviride) and working at the Cameron House, which is where he first heard Mark and Casey. After offering to produce their first recording, he was invited to join the duo live for the Tin Type CD release show. His decision to use a suitcase for a kickdrum fit perfectly with the band's emerging mythology and the travelling-salesmen aesthetic of their beat-up vintage black suits.
"It's like we found him at the side of the road," laughs Casey. "We're driving through town selling tonic and we found a hitchhiker with his suitcases and we've picked him up. That's why he doesn't wear a tie!"
"We dressed up for a Halloween gig; that's how it started," says Mark of their formal stage attire. "I don't go to church, so wearing the suits is like us going to church. And sometimes onstage we do feel like tonic salesmen. 'If you've enjoyed what you see here, look over there at our new CD!'"
Steve, now an official member of Elliott Brood, co-produced Ambassador in three days and nights. Like Tin Type, the recording is raw yet atmospheric. You can hear the occasional creaks and echoes beneath the rousing lap steel guitars, antiquated organs and Mark's signature banjo, purchased with the spare change left over from rent money at a pawnshop in Lindsay, Ontario. Mark says he never set out to make country music, but the sound of the instrument directed him. "I started writing songs on banjo in antique shops," he admits. "I can't really play, but does a novelist need to be a great typist? It's all about the stories."
Ambassador is rich with stories. References range from typical Americana (civil war heroes) to Canadian history (Louis Riel, the Ambassador Bridge) and Mark's own made-up tales. (The evil character "Johnny Rooke" is actually a bird.)
For added creep factor, Ambassador was recorded in an abandoned abattoir. The former St. Helen's packing plant near Keele and St. Clair now houses Monumental Sound, which might also be called Monumental Smell.
"The studio is warm and comforting but the smell outside is pretty bad," admits Casey. "Our room was huge, so we could record everything live off the floor, but some of the other rooms were creepy, with floors angled for draining blood."
Bookended by dread (the death march "Twill") and doom (the drowning-ship tale of "Superior"), Ambassador will only deepen the band's reputation for playing "death country" -- another mysterious piece of the Elliott Brood puzzle.
"Death country is more about dark, driving songs instead of happy country," explains Mark. "Like when the storm comes and trees are scratching on your windows, that's death country."
"We don't focus on writing songs about people in trouble who are going to die, but that's where interesting stories come from," says Casey. "It's the ultimate end to every story, really."
There are no upcoming dates at this time.