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  • Elanors
    Tuesday, January 9, 2007

    Noah Harris is a quiet, reserved, and intelligent young man. Talking to him about his band Elanors, one quickly discovers that this ambitious young man is a very talented, very visionary fellow. The music on his latest album, Movements, is gorgeous, lush, and a rather dark affair, full of atmospheres and melodies that are complex on first listen, but stay with you long after the album has finished. Here, he talks about some of his new material, and from the demo for "Fathers and Sons," it's quite clear that he is a young man with a great deal of promise. Seek out Movements; you will be glad you did.

    When you formed Elanors, were you in pursuit of a particular sound?

    That's a good question. At the start, Elanors was just me, working on an eight-track. At that point, it was all pretty formless, in terms of style. It was my first batch of songs, really; they were the first songs I felt good about releasing. So the early stuff had a different aesthetic. They were more influenced by pretty simple jazz forms; they were straightforward compositions. With Movements, a lot of those songs came from getting to know Dan Johnson and Judah Johnson. I've been a big fan of theirs, so it worked out well when it all came together. I realize now, in hindsight, that a lot of those songs were written with Dan in mind. When I brought those songs to him, it was through him that they started to take on their character and their sound. I was definitely influenced by him. The aesthetic of the record was really born at the moment when he and I got tog ether and realized that the songs were perfect for him to produce. We had decided before that that working together was something we wanted to do. In the early days of working together, we talked a lot about Sade's album, Lovers Rock. The songs on Movements aren't necessarily like Lover's Rock; those songs are much more circular; they're shorter, they're simple, and they repeat ideas a lot. The songs on my album are longer, more drawn out, and less focused on the pop style. We wanted to bring out the character of that album for Movements. I definitely hear the influence in the guitar tones, the mood, and especially on the approach to the drums. Rodrigo's bass parts also drive it in that direction. That's the only touching point outside of our own work, that Sade album.

    Judah Johnson's latest album, Be Where I Be, was released almost simultaneously with Movements, and listening to the two albums, one can't help but notice how interchangeable some of the musical ideas are.

    They came out at the same time, but they were recorded a bit differently. The Judah record was recorded, like, two and a half years prior to Movements. It was the last big thing Dan had worked on until our record; they had tracked the record. I remember working on Movements in Detroit, and Dan was getting final mixes back for his record, so it was very fresh in his mind, and I was just hearing it for the first time, so his record definitely spilled over into the Elanors' creative process at the time.

    Did you join Judah Johnson before you started on Movements?

    No. After we finished mastering Movements, we were shopping for labels, and Dan was helping me find a rhythm section; at the time, we lived in Champaign, so he was mining the Chicago/Flameshovel crowd. He and Rob know a lot of people, so he called people to see if they would work with us and join our live band. The search didn't go particularly well, so after that, Dan said, "You know what, I'll do it. I'll play drums." He had done a lot of the programming and had played a lot of the drum parts on the record. So he wanted to do it, and at the same time, during that same conversation, he said, "I’m putting out this Judah record, and I'd really love it if you'd play keys for us," so I said yes. It was all very exciting!

    When we were setting up this interview, you said you were trying to separate the connection between Judah and Elanors, that you wanted to distance your band from Dan's, because you wanted a separate identity. I don't know if you've done any major songwriting since Movements, but do you see a new sonic direction forming in your songwriting now, since you're moving away from the influences on Movements?

    Oh, absolutely. That's actually what's precipitating my decision to move on from this arrangement. It's because my songwriting is moving in a new direction for me, and it's time consuming for them, so I figured it's time to leave the guys in Judah to their own thing, because they have their own band to consider. I don't want to tie up their time--it's precious for any band, the time needed for practicing and composing. When I listened to the songs I was writing, I knew it was time to push in a new direction. I have a clear vision about what I'm doing and where I want to go. It doesn't have anything to do with a band or traditional indie-rock sounds or anything like that.

    What is the new direction you're going in, then?

    It's a very lonely, piano ballad sound. It's a big production, only in the sense that the productions themselves are grand. I've been playing them by myself, but I may add some things to them in the future.

    It's more Christopher O'Riley than Radiohead, then?

    (Laughs) Yeah.

    How do you feel about the constant Radiohead comparisons?

    I like Radiohead, so I don't get angry about it. The main comparison has been that my vocal inflections are similar, and I don't necessarily hear that. But I can sort of see why people think that when I listen to certain textures, for sure. But I was getting that comparison way before Movements came out.

    In terms of new material, do you have anything recorded yet?

    I'm taking a gradual step in that direction. My approach right now is not going to take the traditional, "go in the studio, record, and then release a record" kind of thing. That will happen eventually, of course. Because of the nature of the songs and the way they are performed, I'm trying to collect pieces of media, like recorded live versions or studio live version, that will represent the songs at a certain stage in time, and then I want to share those versions with my listeners, and let people hear them and appreciate them for a while. I have a lot of recording plans for them. I have some completed, and I've started to make a few of them available online. I'm going to be recording a bigger batch of songs in the studio in a few weeks, and probably have some more formal sessions in January or February. During those sessions, I'm going to have a lot more documentary and multimedia elements involved. I want to capture the whole experience of the songs, to help people better appreciate the aesthetic.

    It sounds like you're really into the idea of creation. This material you're working on right now, it's just you by yourself?

    It is. It's me by myself, making music, but at the same time, it's very communal. I want to keep the recording process a kind of communal experience, so I have an idea of not keeping recording as such an isolated thing.

    You don't like working with a band, do you?

    As far as my music goes, I find it to be much more comfortable for me to work by myself. I love making music with other people; I've worked with Judah for a while, and I've recorded with people like The Wandering Suns, and those were all great experiences that I've loved, but when it comes to all of the trappings of making my music with other people, that's where it breaks down for me. Not the actual creation> I'm just happy to make music. I've written songs I think anyone would hear and think they're lonely songs that shouldn't have a band around them. I've probably written them that way because I like to isolate myself during the creative process.

    Ultimately, then, do you want each album to be a completely different experience? I listened to some of your debut album online, and it didn't sound much like Movements at all.

    Yeah, I think that's probably what will happen. That's what's happened so far. I know what my next record will sound like to a degree, and I know what my songs will be like, but beyond that, it's hard to say. Part of me hopes that there is an arc of maturation as a songwriter, and I'm hoping not to plateau, as far as style goes. I've gone through some huge style changes, I feel. I don't want to put any of that behind me, but it's hard to say. My songwriting has changed so much over the year, so much so that what I'm doing now is what I've felt most. At the time I was performing and writing the earlier Elanors material, the band brought new life into me. By the time we were actually making Movements, the songs weren't songs I wanted to be singing, but Dan reinvented them for me, and gave them back as something I wanted to be part of, and I wanted to sing them again. The songs on the first record, by the time the album came out, I had no desire to be associated with them. The material I've been writing and recording recently has been the most enduring material I've ever created. This is the first time in ten years that I can look back in ten years at what I've done and respect it, because of the continuum I've been on as an artist, and I'm no longer "growing" or in a "transitional" or "learning" phase. This music really suits me and my talents and my voice quite well, and my compositional ability has matured as well. I think I've reached a string of songwriting that will continue for quite a while, and in the future, I hope to push myself in bigger and grander ways.

    Elanors' latest record, Movements, is available now on Parasol

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