Elliot Street Lunatic is an atmospheric pop-rock quartet from Lansing, Michigan. Despite the more somber tone of their music, they're a bunch of hilarious guys. They play tonight, May 17, in Chicago at Reggie's Music Joint, as a part of their tour from Denver to Michigan.
Where does your name come from?
Eric Robins: Is there a story behind Elliot Street Lunatic?
Jason Marr: Tell the story of Elliot Street Lunatic.
Caleb Knight: Wait, did I come up with a clever story recently or something?
JM: You’re about to come up with a great story.
CK: Ok. So, when Jason was a young kid he lived pretty close to Elliot Street. He’d walk around and someone would just yell at him…
ER: “You crazy lunatic -- get out of my yard! Get outta the street you lunatic!"
CK: They’d yell at him that he was a lunatic, but the ironic part about it was that they were crazy [too]. There was a mental institution nearby and people would just come out and yell at Jason.
ER: Elliot Street Sanitarium.
CK: Yeah, I mean, it stuck, you know? It just kind of evolved into something, so now we make music that sounds unpleasant to crazy people to get back at them. We try to write music with a lot of delay effects, so that it just drives them crazy, man. Elliot Street Lunatic is about revenge.
How would you describe your music?
JM: Old people love us.
Josh DeBrabander: It’s true.
CK: It is kind of true, yeah.
JM: I don’t want to say old people love us; that was a joke.
JD: But they do, they do though. It’s the harmonies.
JM: We went by “spacey rock” for a while.
ER: It used to be a lot more [atmospheric]. Our first CD is super, super spacey and we played up the whole “we’re just an outer space band.”
JM: We’re like an indie pop/rock band, with a little bit of edge to it.
What is your lyrical inspiration?
JM: I try to make stories out of what I write and not have it be a personal song. I’ve had a hard time writing personal lyrics.
ER: I think they’re more personal than you know. The fear of being alone. Definitely a lot of it, I think, stems from that.
Does the title of your most recent album, Ghost Town Lullabies, relate to that?
JM: The funny thing was, the album opens with “Ghost Town” and closes with a song called “Lullaby.” So [it] bookends the album. But our first album that we released was called Stories from the Void, and when you break down [the two albums], it’s almost the same exact meaning. The new EP we’re about to release [this summer] is going to be called Songs from Nowhere, which is the same meaning again.
Does that have to do with being from Michigan?
JM: I don’t know. Eric came up with the title for the first album. I came up with Ghost Town Lullabies and he came up with that [one].
ER: I guess it could be about being from Michigan, even though we['re from] Michigan’s fine capital city. So it was like being from nowhere.
JM: The weird thing about Michigan compared to other states is, like, we’re in Lansing, which is the central hub for everywhere to play in Michigan. It’s only like a two-hour drive tops to the furthest place we usually play in the state. And there’s this big circle of cities around Lansing, so it’s not like we’re really "nowhere." There’s always somewhere we can be.
JD: That, and the Lansing music scene is getting better.
JM: Yeah, the Lansing music scene is finally picking up again. It was big for a while and dropped and now it’s picking back up.
CK: Fusion Shows is really helping that scene.
JD: Yeah, Fusion Shows helps. Opening The Loft helped.
ER: And, of course [our label], Great Lakes Collective.
Fusion Shows has been getting bigger for a few years. They seem to have a certain aesthetic. It’s not all the same genre though.
JM: Fusion Shows booked us to open for The Dear Hunter, which led us to L.A. to record our second album with the singer of The Dear Hunter. [Fusion Shows] had us open for Rooney.
ER: That was the night that Casey [Crescenzo, of The Dear Hunter] was like, “I’d really like to record you guys.” Two years later, it happened. We kept in touch with him.
JM: We drove to L.A. and recorded for three and a half weeks.
Aside from your Michigan shows, you’ve played Denver a lot, and you’re starting your tour there. Why is that?
ER: We have a lot of friends that have moved from Lansing to Denver. Our old drummer’s brother, my brother, our old drummer lives their now. It’s just our home away from home.
JM: Both shows we’ve played there have been amazing.
CK: It’s a way to start off the tour on a good note.
ER: Start off on a high note. Altitude-wise.
Have you had any weird experiences at shows? Meet any weird people?
ER: Spongebob Squarepants in Kalamazoo!
CK: That was my first show with you guys, and I [didn't] know what kind of crowds you guys got. First person I see in the venue is some dirty fuckin’ kid wearing a full Spongebob costume.
ER: Like homeless. All cracked out.
CK: At first we were like, “This is kind of weird.” He was standing by himself rapping, throwing down some rhymes. As the night goes on, it was just kind of like, “This kid is not just drunk, he is FUCKED UP right now!” I guess the most obvious sign was that for about five minutes during each set, he would get down and just do push-ups.
ER: This guy probably did 1,000 push-ups when we were there.
CK: He smelled like he had lived under the sea in a rotting pineapple.
JD: He’d do the push-ups, he’d pop up, and put in two fake grills, and then start rapping again.
JM: That’s one of the weirder things that's happened. We also played a Republican convention without being told it was a Republican convention. It was in Ovid, Michigan, which should have been the first sign. We were told it was a “Battle of the Bands” and at that time we were taking whatever shows came our way. So, we get onstage and this guy starts preaching before we go on. CJ, our old drummer, had an Obama shirt on.
ER: That was the first moment where we were like, “This is not our crowd.” This guy was super conservative and just going off.
JM: We ended up winning the Battle of the Bands and they asked if we wanted to donate any of the money back to the Republican Party and we just took it all. They called us to play again and I said no.
You guys are playing at Bled Fest in Howell, Michigan to end the tour. Who else is playing that?
JM: The Early November and As Cities Burn are the two big headliners, and then The Swellers are playing. The Wonder Years are playing. A lot of pop-punk and screamo-metal stuff. We’ll fit in perfect playing our smooth indie pop.
CK: Kind of like what we did with the hip-hop show. We brought a rapper, and now we should just bring a screamer to Bled Fest.
You had a rapper once?
JM: Actually, part of that 7” we’re releasing features two hip-hop artists. Two of the songs are songs we wrote but only have us singing harmonies on them; the rappers are doing the verses and choruses. The front side of the 7” is two new songs of our own.
JD: It’s a ton of fun playing with them. They played with us last time at The Loft.
ER: Hard Rock Café, too, when we opened up for Astronautalis. First time we ever did it, and it just was awesome. That was such a great night. He’s got a band too.
CK: That was kind of why we did it. It was for that show to bridge that hip-hop gap.
JD: That was our saving grace. I heard a lot of people talking about us like, “Oh, they were good at what they did, but it wasn’t my style. Except for that last song!”
Who are the rappers?
JM: The guy who performed that song with us is called Philthy, and the other guy is The Amature.
Do you have shows lined up for after the tour?
JM: We’re lined up through November. In June we’re playing Festival of the Sun in Lansing with Frontier Ruckus and The Empty Orchestra. We’ve got a lot of small festivals lined up and they should be good.
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