Like an outlawed Deadwood hero, Elliott Brood saunters into The Grawood this Wednesday night. Sure, the stagecoach is replaced by a new band van, and there are more banjos wailing than cussin', but the Toronto death-country trio will leave a film of kicked-up dust on your teeth.
According to the band's mythology, Mr. Brood bit the dust in 1926 after a bloody confrontation with a tire iron. Elliott Brood the band is much healthier, en route to a short US tour with Do Make Say Think, and recording a few new songs with help from Paul Aucoin.
"We don't have a true release date right now. But it's on the way," says Casey Laforet, a cartographer by training, who plays guitar, piano and sometimes typewriter. "Our problem is that we keep touring. We started recording a little in the fall, at a cottage up north and some in the studio—it's just a matter of figuring out what's going to be on the next full-length."
Elliott Brood has grown organically as old friends—Laforet and vocalist/banjoist Mark Sasso—joined by former Flashing Lights drummer Steve Pitkin, bypass "tear in my beer" country in favour of scratched-up ballads about murder, revenge and "one-horse fucking towns." Their first full-length Ambassador was recorded at Monumental Sound, an old abattoir turned studio—that whiff of death seeps through the dark sound to Sasso's distinctive whispered screams. Laforet says, "The studio still had some weird smells. It had been converted long before, but the feel was definitely still there. It still had the big freezer doors—definitely a cool environment to give a creepy vibe to the songs."
From the beginning the band has controlled their own production—Pitkin is also a recording engineer—and as memorable as the sound is its packaging. Elliott Brood's first EP, Tin Type, arrived wrapped in a paper bag, and there's a mysterious train ticket and "Project Worksheet" slipped into Ambassador.
Actually, many of the band's decisions came as naturally as death. "We try to keep everything in an old-fashioned realm," says Laforet. "It wasn't a conscious thing—like most things with this band, it just developed." The vintage suits started as Halloween costumes. Sasso's banjo tuning style was laid out in the instrument's manual. Pitkin's kickdrum? An old suitcase. "We learn a lot of instruments along the way. We've always said that the fact that we're not educated musicians has helped us in that way, we focus on sounds rather than on structures of songs."
Elliott Brood is all about the story, a lesson learned from elders like Neil Young and Bob Dylan. "The important thing to us is playing to the story, whether the story is a vocal, a lyric or sound from an instrument," Laforet says. "If you have a visual for what it is, you can write the soundtrack to what that looks like in frames. You can use a lot of instrument sounds to convey a message—a lap steel guitar that just moans in the background can say a lot."
Elliott Brood w/Angela Desveaux, March 14 at The Grawood, 6136 University, 9pm, $2.