This article was originally published by Mammoth Music Club. This is part two of the series, which discusses the new Elsinore record. It follows Eric’s recap of the band’s history and their previous record, Yes Yes Yes, in part one.
In the midst of creating Elsinore‘s third album, Ryan Groff and Mark Woolwine grin ear to ear almost constantly.
The two spectacled, long-haired men are both in the new thrills of parenthood. Woolwine’s son is a year and a half, while Groff’s is less than three months old. Both men’s eyes radiate a curiously contagious joy that extends beyond their naturally bright color.
And why shouldn’t they?
They recently wrapped up a successful two-week recording session with an accomplished producer whom they’ve become close friends with, and their band is past being “up-and-coming.”
Groff and Woolwine are sitting on eleven newly tracked songs they just finished with Beau Sorenson, a record producer from Portland, OR.
The relationship between Sorenson and Elsinore began a few years ago when Sorenson heard the band’s sophomore release, Yes Yes Yes.
BEAU SORENSON AND LIFE INSIDE AN ELEPHANT
“[Yes Yes Yes] just sort of hit me at the right time. It was kind of what I needed,” says Sorenson. “Like a lot of records people end up liking, it was exactly what I wanted, even though I didn’t realize it.”
He goes on to compare the discovery to the enormously popular For Emma, Forever Ago by Bon Iver. “[With] that first Bon Iver record, part of the reason it did so well is because it was kind of what everyone in the world was waiting for; they just didn’t know it yet,” says Sorenson.
Elsinore was ecstatic to be contacted by Sorenson, especially considering his past work. At the time, he was finishing up working as the recording engineer for indie superstar band Death Cab for Cutie on their 2011 album Codes and Keys. More recently, Sorenson has worked with Bob Mould of Husker Dü and produced his 2012 album The Silver Age. He’s also worked with indie veteran group Superchunk.
The first time Sorenson worked with Elsinore was mixing — and remixing — their song, “Life Inside an Elephant,” which appeared on their 2011 EP of the same title. The original track starts off the release and is followed by two chamber mixes, which are classified by their lack of rhythm section. Groff wrote the two songs that appeared as chamber mixes, “The Thermostat, The Telephone” and “Ultraviolence,” after the band’s 2010 U.S. tour.
Sorenson’s remix of “Elephant” closes out the EP, foreshadowing the band working with the producer in the future.
Plans were made to record with Sorenson in October of 2012 at Mark Rubel’s Pogo Studio, where the band recorded their debut album six years prior.
Five days before the commencement of recording, drummer David Pride announced that he would be leaving Elsinore. And since he and bassist Chris Eitel had been working hand-in-hand on six of the new songs, Eitel decided to leave as well.
Woolwine explains that the split itself wasn’t surprising, but the timing of it was.
“Thankfully, it’s been pretty calm and amicable,” says Groff. “Personal differences were overshadowing musical harmony and musical productivity. It’s not anything that I want to, or should, go into too deeply because it’s not that huge of a deal.”
When Pride and Eitel left, the pool of songs written for the album was diminished from fourteen to eight.
In a situation when many bands would spend time losing composure and panicking over the fact that half of the members quit five days before heading into the studio with Sorenson, Groff and Woolwine stayed positive and organized.
“We didn’t have time to worry about anything,” says Woolwine, explaining their thought process as: “Four days later, we’re going into the studio. We need to figure out who’s playing drums, if we’re going to need somebody to play bass and make sure the schedule gets figured out.”
All photos courtesy of Elsinore’s Facebook page.
They contacted drummer James Treichler of The Dirty Feathers, who Groff says he has always wanted to work with, and bassist Brad Threlkeld, whose previous band, Why I Like Robin, had recently broken up.
Treichler and Threlkeld did their homework by listening to demos of the new songs while Groff, Woolwine, and Sorenson headed into Pogo to start recording. With only eight songs ready, Groff had to reach into his “personal surplus” of songs for new tracks to arrange with Woolwine and Sorenson, one of which is “The Great Communicator.”
“The Great Communicator” is a droning track centered around mellotron with a floating melody and effect-laden drums. It’s also one of the first arrangements Sorenson aided with and kicked off what Groff describes as “two weeks of creative liberation and bliss.”
The drums of “The Great Communicator” were one of the few studio tricks Sorenson sought out when recording. Each drum of the drum kit had its own microphone, which was then run through a different effect like delay, reverb, and various other filters. The resulting sound only adds to the dreamy, lush character of the song.
Sorenson was cautious of using too much studio magic in the recording process of the new album. In the computer age, absolutely anything is sonically possible, but Sorenson and Elsinore tried to limit themselves. They were tempted, but Sorenson stresses they always came back to “what the song originally intended,” explaining that the core idea of a song can often be easily diluted by unnecessary production.
Both Groff and Woolwine indulged in the vintage equipment Rubel owns at Pogo. Antique keyboards, such as a celesta and mellotron, were used. Old guitars and amplifiers were also utilized, as well as various drum kits recorded in different rooms of the studio. Larger drum kits were recorded in open rooms for bigger-sounding songs, while stripped-down drum kits were recorded in small rooms for more intimate songs.
“[Rubel] would just go down into the basement and come back with handfuls of different things like two guitars, an extra keyboard, and random things,” says Woolwine while he and Groff laugh. “He’d leave little things out overnight for us to find the next day.”
Although they used a lot of vintage equipment, Sorenson emphasizes that they didn’t make a “throwback” record. Instead, they utilized classic instruments and microphones to keep up the excitement of recording, which can become a tedious, painstaking task no matter how positive the musicians are during the process.
When it came to equipment choice, Sorenson says both he and Rubel had the same mindset: “What happens when you use this thing — a legendary guitar, or a piece of studio equipment that you know great records have been made with — it gets you excited and gets people engaged. And they’re thrilled just to be in the room with this thing. They’re thrilled to be hearing these sounds come out of it. Whether it actually sounds different or not, it makes you act differently.”
Groff and Woolwine both claim this upcoming record, although it remains unnamed at the moment, will be a very positive-feeling record. Pride and Eitel accounted for the darker and heavier musical content that Elsinore produced. Groff and Woolwine say the new lineup of Elsinore was able to “turn it around and make it a much sunshinier pop record that still has musical character and musical weight and value to it.”
And “sunshine” is the perfect adjective for the music Groff and Woolwine want to create. It impeccably sums up their enthusiastic attitudes.
“I think it’s a very joyful record in a great way,” says Sorenson, explaining that when it’s paired with the personalities within Elsinore, “it makes for a very true and honest record. I feel like it’s a musical actualization of what … all of the guys are like.”
Additional tracking of horns, strings, and vocal harmonies are currently being recorded at Groff’s home studio. Woolwine and Groff hope to have the overdubs complete and the album mixed by early January.
There’s a sense that Groff and Woolwine know this record is the exact record they’ve wanted to make, and they are in a place where it can do huge things for them as musicians. Hitting their stride as rock music composers, working with a producer like Sorenson, and starting fresh with a new drummer and bassist all seem like pieces set in motion to take them to the next level.