As the saying goes, breaking up is hard to do. And there is no sweeter revenge than bouncing back better than ever.
For Elk City, 2005 saw the departure of co-singer/songwriter Peter Langland-Hassan, leaving both singer/bassist Renee LoBue and drummer/producer Ray Katchem to pick up the pieces. But instead of sweeping the broken musical marriage under the rug, Renee LoBue, with help from Katchem, took things into her own hands, collecting the remnants of Elk City and urging the group into new – better – territory.
The result is New Believers, an indie-pop effort that has drawn comparisons to Great Greats like David Bowie and earned the band far more praise and acknowledgement than either of the group’s prior releases. SSv caught up with the extremely genuine LoBue to chat about the new record, believing in yourself and the challenges of a successful cover song.
SSv: So the new album is called New Believers. Does that refer to the changes the band has gone through in the past few years? Or what does it refer to?
Renee LoBue: Yeah, I mean, there’s really no mystery there. That’s absolutely what it’s about. It’s about changes happening and believing in yourself all the while. It’s really sort of a two-fold sort of thing. It’s about us believing in ourselves and carrying on and continuing to make great music, but it’s also about enlisting more New Believers, you know, meaning finding new people who are interested in listening to our music. So many times we are New Believers by making music and people who listen to the music are New Believers by listening to it.
SSv: One of the things that I was wondering was, I know you were a frontwoman before Elk City, but did you have any trouble when Peter left, adjusting to being the primary focus and vocalist again?
LoBue: You know, no. [laughs] Very bluntly put, not at all ’cause my focus wasn’t really on being the primary vocalist. And I think that’s because, I wasn’t as much focused on being the primary vocalist. I was really focused on being put in the position of being the primary songwriter. I knew that I had to do the work and basically, if Elk City were to continue, I had to write the songs, and they had to be pretty good, so that we could get a deal and so that we could continue. If we wanted to play shows, if we wanted to go on tour, I had to write songs. If we wanted to record another record, I had to write songs. So really my primary focus was to get down to business and pretty much, pump out some songs so that this band can continue and I can continue doing what I do.
People have been wonderful and I think about it and sometimes I get tears in my eyes. I do, because it means everything to me.
And it means so much to me and I enjoy it so much that I made that my top priority. Along the way it was weird because then I realized ‘Oh, yeah, and I guess I’ll be the primary vocalist too’ but I hadn’t really thought of that until after we recorded the songs and we were playing around.
SSv: So for you, it was definitely more of a songwriter focus than a ‘I’m the frontwoman’ sort of thing?
LoBue: Yeah, and it still is, I mean, because in any type of band with any kind of music, your songs are what carry you. That’s the foundation that you stand on, and if you write good songs they’ll literally and figuratively take you places. They’ll take you to Europe, they’ll take you to playing shows. Songs are the things that carry you and are the foundation for being out there in the world, at least they are for me.
SSv: So, in knowing that, did it change your songwriting process at all?
SSv: How so?
LoBue: It changed my songwriting process in so many ways. I learned so much about myself and about music by being put in the position of being the primary songwriter. In a lot of ways it’s the best thing that ever happened to me because it taught me discipline. I really had to, if I was going to write songs, have the discipline to stay at home and really keep working on things until I felt that I had a number of good songs.
It taught me greater respect for myself. It taught me to believe in myself, hence, again, New Believers. It taught me that, as Hallmark card as this may sound, as hokey as this may sound, I really do believe that in anything in our lives that we want to accomplish, if we really believe in ourselves and if we back that belief up with the work of doing what we need to do, we can accomplish anything that we want. And this experience has really influenced my belief in that.
I’ve always had great respect for the musicians that I work with, but this taught me an even greater respect. It taught me about the power of, I’m not going to say perseverance because I didn’t feel that this was anything difficult that I had to persevere though, but it taught me the power of belief in oneself and really continuing to do what you want to do.
SSv: I haven’t gotten my copy of the record in the mail yet, but from what I’ve heard so far, the songs are great.
LoBue: Thank you very much, thank you. I mean this is really a joyous experience, for me and for the rest of the band. It was a joyous experience writing the songs. It was a joyous experience recording them. And then along the way we started playing with Sean Eden from Luna who’s now in the band and Barbara Endes who’s now playing bass and we’ve since also let a fifth member into the band, a keyboard player. It’s wonderful to go back to France after a couple of years and have a new album and be so well received and have us be better than ever. It’s really been a very, I’ll use the word again, a joyous experience.
SSv: Most of what I’ve read, the praise for your new album, says you guys have come back better and stronger. Were you expecting those kinds of reactions? Did you expect to come back and be so well received?
LoBue: No, because I was so focused on the work. The songs were written and the album was recorded and it was just being released and I was focused now on playing shows and writing songs for the next album. When I stopped for a moment, and was like ‘hey, people are really liking this’ and I was really, really, very, very pleasantly surprised by the reaction. I’m so appreciative of that. It just makes me feel good and I don’t take any of that for granted. But was I surprised by the reaction? Yes.
SSv: After Peter left the band, did you or Ray ever think for a second that ‘oh my god, this band is over!’ or was it an immediate decision that you know you would come back better?
LoBue: I think there were a few days where that stuff went through our minds and then we sort of slapped ourselves and said ‘Wait a minute! We’re musicians! This is what we do!’ and automatically the plan was set. ‘We’ll put together another band and we’ll do another album and I’ll write all the songs-I don’t know how we’re going to do that, but I’ll figure it out.’ And then once you put a plan into action, those thoughts really do fade away because you’re so focused, again, on work and that’s when really all of the joy started happening and we just had so much fun doing it.
But, yeah, there were a few days where it was like ‘This is over, what do we do?’ but all of a sudden we started making phone calls to a bunch of friends, Sean Eden and a bunch of other people and, another broad sweeping notion, but another thing I’ve learned though making this record is that people are wonderful. They really are. People have been so wonderful to us: the musicians that we’ve worked with, the clubs that have booked us, both in the United States and Europe, the labels that have taken on our record, the people who write us e-mails, the people who do things like call us up and ask us to do interviews. People have been wonderful and I think about it and sometimes I get tears in my eyes. I do, because it means everything to me.
SSv: Knowing that you and Ray have worked together for so long, even before Elk City, how has your musical relationship changed over the years? And why do you think that the two of you work so well together?
LoBue: I think we’ve realized over the years that there’s a reason. It’s not by accident that we’ve worked together for so long. Our relationship is really built on mutual respect and admiration. I would not want to be playing with another drummer. I would not want another person to be producing these records. And I also know that he believes in me, and what I do. I respect him and he respects me and that’s what keeps bringing us back together, musically.
I truly admire what he does and that’s another reason, too. I’m a fan of his and he’s a fan of mine and we have this amazing working relationship. He’s phenomenal. He’s patient and he’s one of the best people that I know, all around. He’s smart and he’s open and he’s a phenomenal drummer and he is such a wonderful engineer and producer. So I’d say, in short, that it’s mutual admiration and respect.
SSv: So you all have covered “Everybody Hurts” by R.E.M. and you’ve also contributed to a Pixies tribute and a Neil Young tribute. What’s the biggest challenge you guys face when you’re recording a cover song?
LoBue: The biggest challenge is always ‘how can we make this different’. If we’re doing a cover and it sounds like the original, then there’s no reason why we should be doing it. The big question is, what new twist can we put on this? Because if we can put a twist on what we’re covering, then we’ve succeeded. If it sounds like the original, then we shouldn’t even do it. But if we can make it our own-that’s the big challenge how can we make this our own?
SSv: I’m so glad you said that! Because I hate it when I hear cover versions of songs, and they just sound like crappy versions of the originals.
LoBue: And especially when the originals are fantastic! We’re not trying to improve on them because they don’t need improvement. If we make it our own, then people will put on our record and say ‘Hey, that’s Elk City’ then we’ve accomplished something and we’ve made it our own and we can include it in our group of songs and it sounds like something from us. So that’s always the goal, if we can’t do that, then we won’t do them.
And it’s really pretty hard to pass up when you’re asked to do songs by bands or artists who you really admire. So that’s pretty much how we got involved, and ironically, then, it’s like we almost feel like we’re a cover band at this point because we keep doing covers, so much so that we thought ‘well, we had better lie low with this. We can’t do this.’ We’re going to put out one of those records, like Kidz Bop, where it’s all covers, except it will be Elk City Bop, like all covers. You know those little kids albums, they have like kids covering, like, Britney Spears or the Backstreet Boys? It could be Elk City Bop!
SSv: Man, I found one of those Kidz Bop CDs in a friend’s car one time and she had no idea how it got there. It was just weird.
LoBue: That is just wrong! How did it get there, what was she doing?
SSv: I know, if somebody found something like that in my car, there’s no way I would admit to it, but I was like ‘where did this come from, dude?’
LoBue: But yeah, Elk City ahs to lay low on the covers because pretty soon we’ll get our own infomercial. Like ‘and then, they also covered … but wait! There’s more! You’ll get …’ and we’re like ok, we need to calm down with this cover business.
SSv: It’s good exposure though.
LoBue: You know what, it was just so much fun to do. When you’re asked to cover “Everybody Hurts” and you’re asked to cover “Helpless” and you do “Monkey Gone to Heaven” It’s a lot of fun to do.
SSv: Awesome, well, what are Elk City’s plans for 2008?
LoBue: Well, we’re starting to record another record and we hope to release it in 2008. We’re really excited about it. We are going to be touring in Europe and hopefully the United States and we’re going to be in Spain quite a lot over the next few months and then probably going to go to a few other countries in Europe to play and yeah, we’re definitely putting out a new record in 2008 and touring.