“This record is the most honest I’ve ever been with myself and with the songs,” said Richmond songwriter Landon Elliott of his forthcoming album.
At 8 a.m. on a sunny weekday morning, local Richmond musician Landon Elliott walks into the small but quaint Cafe Nostra near Brookland Park. Based on their brief exchange, it’s clear that he and the barista know each other. Elliott has a friendly tone to his voice, and there’s a spark in his eyes as he sits down to discuss his new single “Hurricane,” which came out at the end of August. Its music video was released shortly after on September 4, with the Richmond-based recording label American Paradox Records.
“I’m excited to get the record out,” Elliott said. “I’m still processing it’s happening. It’s been a long time coming, and a long journey to make this happen. It has a lot of sonic differences than what I’ve done before, but I’m still staying true to my songwriting sensibilities. This record is the most honest I’ve ever been with myself and with the songs.”
The partnership between American Paradox Records and Landon Elliott began in December 2017, after owner Scott Lane saw Elliott play earlier that fall at an open mic night at Poe’s Pub.
Lane had just moved back to Richmond from Denver when he started his new label, he said, and was wrapping up a record production with Kenneka Cook when he decided to take Elliott on.
Elliott and Lane had already begun a friendship by that time, and deciding to work together seemed like a natural addition to their relationship.
“Scott has done a good job of pushing me,” Elliott said. “He’s the label, but also my producer. We co-produced this record together. What Scott was able to do was honor my vulnerability and my personality, and my voice as an artist, while also pushing the direction of things a little bit.”
“Hurricane” is the first single to be released for Elliott’s new record, Domino — and with a yet-to-be-announced release date, the album represents a period of transition and questioning of a lot of things in his life and his worldview.
As he hinted, the new “Hurricane” single does have a slightly different tone and sound than the Wildflowers EP he released in 2017, under the name Landon Elliott and The Goods. While the EP with The Goods had a stronger country/folk/Americana sound, which clearly had roots in artists like Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, Elliott said he was more inspired for the new album by the 1980s synth pop-rock sounds of Bruce Springsteen, Peter Gabriel, and Fleetwood Mac.
And it shows. The sound of “Hurricane” is multi-layered, and while you can still hear his original Americana sound, there are also layers of synth and a slightly-more refined and mainstream sound than his earlier EP. The pop sound almost hides the raw, honest lyrics about the difficulty of being honest in a healthy relationship… almost. There are plenty of references to ghosts of the past, and the destruction that they can leave in their wake like a hurricane, as the title suggests.
“This track is about relationships and its many forms,” Elliott said. “The struggles that go into making love work. Love is hard work, to really care about someone truly and know someone fully takes a lot of work.”
The music video for “Hurricane” also reflects the struggle Elliott believes can be present in maintaining honest and loving relationships. Departing from the usual music video conventions of its genre, this video presents two dancers in a choreographed and improvised struggle for dominance and equality, before they end their performance in unison. Elliott himself is present, and sandwiched between them as they mouth the final lyrics together.
“I had this vibe in my mind of an 80s ‘Dancing in the Dark’ aerobic style movement,” Elliott said. “I wanted to do a dance video. For my style of music, you don’t necessarily see a more dance-style music video.”
Lane liked his idea, and suggested doing something even more out-there, Elliott said.
“I suggested a total visual departure from his Americana genre,” Lane said.
Lane had seen a dance performance in New York City based on similar themes of the struggle between love and hate. The performance was by a dancer named Georgia Usborne with Brooklyn’s Gallim Dance Company. Lane reached out to her about the possibility of choreographing something similar for Elliott’s video, and she agreed.
“What Scott really connected to was the raw physicality paired with a space for emotional connections between dancers, and also that emotionality can draw the audience into a story without there actually being a story or narrative,” Usborne said. “So we used that as a starting point, having a man and a woman, and discussing the light and shade of the relationship that can be shown through big physical movements — and also less physical, highly charged moments.”
The shoot was done in New York City, where Elliott and Lane met personally with Usborne, the dancers and the music video director. While the two dancers, Kayla Farrish and Sebastian Abarbanell, had been able to rehearse the choreographed parts once before — and some of the material was already familiar to Farrish, as much of the performance was inspired by a previous one of hers — they hadn’t had a lot of prior experience working together.
To make the pressure even tougher, they only had five hours to shoot the entire video, including setup and take-down, Lane said.
Despite the intense time pressure, they did it. Their team managed to film an entire music video, complete with some last-minute decisions, such as putting Elliott himself in the video.
In the end, the video presents itself as a nearly surreal and chaotic dance. The pair of dancers fight and work together throughout the routine, visualizing the struggle of making a relationship work as Elliott sings, nearly motionless on the floor. At times, Abarbanell is seen leading. At others, it is Farrish. Occasionally they work together, and oftentimes their movements seem to contradict each other. In the end, they appear to make their differences work out, coming to lie down on opposite sides of Elliott as the song comes to a close.
“This is the first music video I’ve worked where the musician was in the video,” Usborne said. “It was fabulous, I loved it. It was very focused, and we all cared a lot about it; there was real heart behind it. The track was super catchy, and it all came together well. It was a real pleasure, and I’d love to work with them again.”
After the release of the music video, a new single will be released in September. Right now Elliott is on tour with fellow Richmonder Deau Eyes, and the last few dates of the tour will find them pairing up with Josiah Johnson, formerly of The Head and the Heart.
Locally, Elliott will also be playing at The Broadberry on September 28 for the Shack Up festival, thrown each year by The Shack Band. This will be his first year playing at The Shack Up, Elliott said, and one of his first times playing solo on a platform that big.
“I love the Broadberry,” Elliott said. “They’re all really good friends of mine. I’m looking forward to hamming it up with them. There’s a lot of bands I love on the bill.”
Top Photo by Joey Wharton
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