Interview: Everest Bassist Elijah Thomson on Recording Its New Record With Richard Swift and Its Favorite St. Louis Places

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Upon receipt of the initial mixes for the second Everest album, Neil Young and his long-time manager Elliot Roberts drove around in Young's car and listened to the material three times through. After reviewing the songs, Young had some notes to discuss with his young pupils of rock & roll. The legend advised the Los Angeles-based quintet to slightly revise their approach and tighten things up a bit.

The resulting album, On Approach, was initially set for release on Young's label, Vapor Records. (That was also the home for the band's debut, Ghost Notes.) But after an extremely successful SXSW showing opened a lot of new eyes to the band, Everest was upstreamed to Warner Brothers. While On Approach retains elements of the psychedelic jamming that made Ghost Notes such an intriguing listen, it also features a few left turns, most notably the percussively spiked vocals from frontman Russell Pollard on "Let Go," an unavoidable pop-infected riff-loaded jam that still stands tall as one of the great sleeper singles of last year.

"Let Go" opened many doors for Everest, namely a flurry of radio play and media appearances including a memorable Jimmy Fallon performance that led Questlove of the Roots to Tweet "instant fan of Everest. they kill. but their bass player is KILLLLLLLLLIN us right now on @latenightjimmy." While they might have seemingly received a golden ticket by grabbing a slot on Neil Young's label, Everest has fought and scrapped for every bit of success since then. The band is currently working on their third album and will use this current leg of tour dates (including the St. Louis show on Saturday, April 2, at the Firebird) to woodshed and develop some of the new material live. From talking with Everest bassist Elijah Thomson, it's very apparent that the band is excited with where things are heading.

Matt Wardlaw: Everest played quite a few shows in St. Louis last year, and I know that Joel [Graves, Everest guitarist] mentioned in a blog entry that you guys have been trying to get to the City Museum. What are some of the things that you enjoy doing when you're in the city? Elijah Thomson: You know, we haven't had too much time. I remember that one of the highlights is the barbecue and that pizza place called Pi, across the street from the Pageant. We haven't had a chance to do too much, but we usually stay right downtown by the Arch and love walking around. We have friends in town, and I have family in town as well, and we always love hanging out in St. Louis.

The band is working on a new record right now and you'll be previewing some of that material during your Firebird show -- what can you tell us about the new stuff? I look at our band as [being] on an upward trajectory. We recognize that our identity and sound is ever-developing. Our last record was called On Approach somewhat for that reason, because we could sense that we were on to something, but hadn't quite arrived yet, but we were still "on approach."

We're feeling like not so much that we've arrived, but we're really sort of latching onto something that we feel is unique and special, and [we're] pushing ourselves to places that we haven't gone [as far as] sonic territories. The big goal is always, I think, for most rock bands, to marry the live energy, find that in the studio and document it on records. I don't know if we've completely succeeded at that, partly just because of the nature of the last two records, which were relatively independently done, self-financed and self-produced for the most part.

Maybe the songs weren't quite developed enough, at least not as developed as they were once they had been road-tested a little bit. So this time, we're doing a lot of road testing - we did something out in California where we did three simultaneous residencies, month long residencies in San Diego, LA and San Francisco -- so basically like a mini-California tour once a week. We were able to run through a lot of the new songs and work out those kinks, and we're still doing that now, even on this trip.

We're recording with a guy named Richard Swift, who's a really great artist in his own right, and we were up in Oregon in a town called Cottage Grove, where he lives and has a studio. We spent the last week up there sussing out a lot of these songs and got four or five songs down, and we're planning on going back up there as soon as we're done with this trip. As someone who really enjoyed the first record, when I heard the second album, it was clear how much Everest had progressed as a band. Certainly, you've gotten a lot of run with "Let Go" leading to television, radio appearances and other things. When you got that one down on record, did you know you had something there? How much of a surprise was it when it started to take off? Well, that's a perfect example, because when that song was brought to the creative table so to speak, a lot of people including me were skeptical. Probably I'd say especially me, just trying to figure out: How can we make this our own? And that effort and then that reaction to that song, I had to certainly eat crow, since I was somewhat against it at the beginning, but I'm certainly not against it now. I definitely believe in it, but it still had to become an Everest song. And now I think things like that are what will affect the next batch of songs, where something that was maybe out of character became us and became something that was the main song people were identifying with us.

So it's not so much that we feel like we need to re-create "Let Go" over and over again, but we feel like it opens up a lot of opportunity creatively. Because now we feel like there might be other things that might seem out of character that might become our own sound. In a sense, no idea is taboo -- nothing is completely off the table. If something is sort of left-of-center or weird for us, we have to give it that time to become something that feels natural for us like "Let Go" has. I think there's just going to be more and more songs that are like that -- that's essentially what is going on right now. We'll bring in ideas that sometimes, it's like, "Oh yeah, that sounds like an Everest song," and sometimes, it's like, "Wow, we've never done anything like that before, and let's see where we can take this." It just becomes who we are -- there really shouldn't be any big taboo for us because anything we do is potentially Everest, and that's just what's going to be.

To be wary of that would be like Radiohead thinking they couldn't get away with using a drum machine or something, it's like, "Sure you can -- just use one and you got away with it," you know?

I don't like the idea that we have to stick to one formula or anything like that, because we love all kinds of records -- there's no sort of single genre that we're obsessed about; we love it all. The last 60 or 70 years of recorded music is what influences us the most. Seriously, there's not anything we're not listening to, so not that we want to be like a hodgepodge or potpourri, but taking all of those disparate influences and putting them in the blender and seeing what comes out, that's the essence of who we are. And it's not just who we listen to or anything like that, it's also our individual experiences and the other bands we've played in.

Russell [Pollard], our lead singer, is a phenomenal drummer. There actually were a couple of gigs where Davey [Latter], our regular drummer, couldn't make it, so Russ got behind the kit and sang the entire night and played drums. He's a totally different kind of drummer from Davey, and the result was an entirely different-sounding band and really awesomely so.

Russ' style is much more '60s and swingy and Mitch Mitchell-ly as far as where he played the grooves, so it took on this '60s Hendrix-y Who thing with all of the songs, just because the drummer changed. And so those kind of things aren't intimidating. It's more like, "Gosh, think of all we can do." We have so many different kinds of talents in this band that can be completely utilized -- almost everyone in the band [plays] drums, really, and plays guitar, bass and keyboards. We're all somewhat multifaceted in that regard but again, as far as I'm concerned, those are just tools in the tool belt that can be pulled out at any time -- like "Let Go" with Russ doing the double drums. He's not just a singer or a guitar player or a bass player -- he's a good bass player, too. We feel like there's several ways we can go with this stuff, which is a great feeling in a band. It's much better than feeling like you don't have anything else.

When do you think the record will be out? Hopefully by the fall, September or October, that's our goal. We'd definitely like it to be released this year and not next year so that we can keep the momentum going with what we're doing. We don't want to say that we're past On Approach, because we're still basically touring it, but we just have to keep these ideas going and getting them down on record and not get out of this creative phase and the really great things that are coming out of it. I'm really excited for anyone who knows Everest even a little bit; I think they're going to be highly intrigued with this next record, which is another ten steps forward and a lot of experience, blood, sweat and tears.

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