Sparkling songcraft. Unbridled inspiration. Disciplined arrangements. PUSH/PULL, the forthcoming release from Champaign-Urbana, IL indie stalwarts Elsinore is a creative triumph by a band that cannot be discouraged.
What’s their secret?
Elsinore’s sunny secret is that they are part pop quartet, part lemonade stand. When life as a band, bootstrapping themselves out of the Midwestern mud into the limelight, gives them lemons, they make lemonade.
Cool, cool, sweet lemonade.
With the help of innumerable friends, mentors, allies, and like-minded experts—and without surrendering to the lure of the tortured artist “sad bastard” complex—they’ve taught themselves to be a fully professional band in an industry that doesn’t often smile on third-coast upstarts.
Lemons. The four met at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois. It’s okay if you haven’t heard of it. Ryan Groff, Mark Woolwine, Dave Pride, and Chris Eitel clicked, and, wasting no time, immediately recorded and released the 2004 EP Harmonic Impulsion.
After opening for him, they befriended Larry Gates (Curb Service, Lorenzo Goetz), member of the most popular act in nearby Champaign-Urbana. That’s Illinois’ big college town—home of Hum and even REO Speedwagon—maybe you’ve heard of that one? After playing some gigs in Champaign, they saw opportunity, graduated, and migrated northwest. Lemonade.
In Champaign-Urbana, they got apartments, restaurant jobs, and traction. For decades the C-U music scene has been kindled behind a red door with no sign in an iffy downtown alleyway—Mark Rubel’s Pogo Studio. With Rubel (HUM, Red Hot Valentines, The Vertebrats), Elsinore pooled their tip jars and recorded their first full-length Nothing For Design. From the veteran Rubel they got a lesson in good guitar tone, studio craftsmanship, and a revelation: older gear can be better. Now, Groff rocks a vintage Telecaster and amp both older than he is.
Lemons. During a period of downtime for Elsinore, Groff channeled his restlessness to hone his songwriting and arrangement skills with the 2007 solo release People in the Midwest. The record captured the attention of another inestimable C-U musical institution, the Parasol Records label, which would become Elsinore’s home for the next two full-lengths. Lemonade.
By now Elsinore had abandoned their rootsy Americana sound, cased their acoustics, and gone electric. And met two new friends: producers Anthony Gravino (Temple of Low Men) and Adam Schmitt (Adam Schmitt! Pop genius!). Working between Gravino’s Chicago studio and Schmitt’s Urbana studio, over the course of a dedicated two and a half years (an estimated 1000 hours of studio time interspersed with over 200 live shows from coast to coast), they produced the head-turning album Yes Yes Yes.
Lemons. The Roy Lichtenstein Foundation tried to sabotage the release of Yes Yes Yes, accusing the Elsinore cover artist of plagiarizing the master plagiarist himself. Elsinore could afford no representation against the Manhattan art elite, but when they posted their dilemma, including the cease and desist, on boingboing.net, the internet rallied to support the underdog rock band against the crushing tyranny of the bourgeois art industry. The Lichtenstein people retracted their threats with a vague apology, but not before they had inadvertently given Elsinore more publicity than Elsinore’s money could buy. Cheerfully, Elsinore thanked the dead artist’s rapacious estate, and told them they’d be receiving a copy of the record. Gratis. Thanks for the lemonade, New York!
Yes Yes Yes went on to be a smashing success. Six songs licensed to television helped Groff break ground on his own Perennial Sound Studio, an all-around creative space for writing, rehearsing, teaching, and recording music. Fuel to the fire, sugar to the lemonade. It was time for a new record.
The sessions for Yes Yes Yes had been inspired but scattered: The sessions for Yes Yes Yes had been inspired but scattered: over two years, two studios, two cities, and two producers with two sets of great ideas. The new record PUSH/PULL is the opposite process: a year and a half of rehearsal and preparation, counseled by seasoned producer Beau Sorenson (Death Cab for Cutie, Bob Mould), followed by a two-week, blistering, disciplined studio session. Foreplay, it turns out, is important. As they had tried to do with 2005’s On Display, with PUSH/PULL Elsinore sustains the momentum and successfully captures the juice of their live sound, while still building on the production level of Yes Yes Yes.
Lemons. After extensive preparation, five days before entering the recording studio to commit the implosive new material to tape, the eight-year-old quartet unexpectedly found itself a duo. In this heartbreak, Sorenson, Groff, and Elsinore keyboardist Mark Woolwine made lemonade, turned tragedy into opportunity, and shyly approached long-time musical crushes drummer James Treichler (The Dirty Feathers) and bassist Brad Threlkeld (Why I Like Robins). The new rhythm section accepted, strapped themselves into Groff/Woolwine’s meteoric musical rocketship, and the five-man supergroup re-entered Pogo Studio.
Groff penned the songs of PUSH/PULL while weathering a series of life-bending personal trials: coast-to-coast tours, childbirth, a near-death experience for the former drummer at the very end of Yes Yes Yes touring, and winter-born interpersonal tension. As a result, PUSH/PULL plays like a Palahniuk novel full of peaks and valleys, twists and turns. Lemonade.
Maybe there’s something about the tornadic Midwest that transforms humble musicians into song monsters. The ever-resilient Elsinore, for a moment on the ropes, has bounced back swinging. The brave next leap for an upward-bound band, PUSH/PULL parts the curtains on a new sunrise.