August 19th of this year saw the release of western soul rock ‘n’ roll band Ark Life’s debut album The Dream of You & Me. The five-piece band has been touring coast to coast all summer in support of it and will continue to play shows on up through November. Despite their busy schedule touring around, providing the world with most excellent harmonies, humorous antics and necessary folk rock singalong songs, lead singer Jesse Elliott took time to answer a few questions from FDRMX.
Noted for their full and beautiful harmonies, courtesy of Lindsey Giles (who also plays keys), Anna Morsett (who’s the bassist as well), and Natalie Tate (who plays guitar in addition to Jesse), the band decided to track most of their debut album live in order to capture the sonic magic that happens when the four singers of Ark Life all open their mouths.
“We actually ended up doing more of the vocals at once than we’d originally planned,” Jesse explains. “It’s really hard from a technical standpoint to get each of those sonically isolated enough when you’re all rocking and singing in the same big room together, but the ladies of Ark Life were feeling it, and ran with it, and in a lot of cases we chose to keep the original vocals rather than replace them with more pristine overdubs.
“We replaced a lot of mine,” Jesse admits, “but that’s mostly because I have a pretty difficult non-voice when it comes to singing, so we had to try a bunch of different microphones and pre-amps and settings and thingamabobs and wangdoodles and whathaveyou in order to get something approaching a useable sound.”
Whatever those thingamabobs, wangdoodles, and whathaveyous were, they certainly paid off in the end, as both the lead vocals and backup harmonies on The Dream of You & Me will have your heart throbbing when you aren’t trying desperately to sing along as if you too were a part of their seamless blend of voices. Tracking separately would risk losing that warm, live sound. “It was mostly live, certainly much more of it live than we’d originally planned, with Marc Benning at Hideaway Studios,” Jesse extrapolates. “But it’s also really fun to go back in and re-think and deconstruct some of that, once you’ve got a good live energetic foundation you’re happy with. And Eric D. Johnson, the Fruit Bats guy who produced it for us,” he continues, “is a master of studio trickery and goodtimery, so we took our time on the subtle finishing touches.”
The attention to detail is audible, to say the least, not just in the harmonious vocals, folk rock guitars, bass, and keys, but also Ben Desoto’s substantially solid drums and percussion. After all, what is a rock band without its reliable provider of beats? When asked about any obstacles unique to being a handful of a band, Jesse says it can get tricky, but the fun of being part of a rock ‘n’ roll band really makes it a non-issue. “Sure, yeah,” he says in response, “it’s just more permutations of relationships you have to try and stay mindful of — it’s being married to four other people instead of just one, and then living 24 hours a day in the same small space with all of those partners at once. Not something we’d wish upon even the most devout Mormon, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun when you’re doing it in a rock and roll band. A handful. That’s great. Like five digits. I like that. I’m going to steal that. You’ve been notified.”
The handful of them inspire each other musically, too, creating their classic yet unique “western soul rock n roll” sound. As for the inspiration that generated the group’s name, Jesse says it’s because they like animals. And bands. And therefore, bands with animal names. We had to ask what each member’s favorite animal is and why.
“Anna likes squirrels, on account of their wild wave-like tails,” begins Jesse. “Natalie digs sharks — the coolest since 420 million years ago, says she. Ben prefers Oscar the Grouch, who ‘speaks to [him].’ I’ll go with armadillos, strange mystical South American hermits til they took part in the Great American Interchange. For Lindsay, it’s a tie between horses and ponies — both healing, one magnificent, one hilarious.”
When they’re not doing music together, they’re… doing music together. Hailing from Denver, one of the hippest cities for music and fun, Ark Life support fellow music buds when they’re not playing shows of their own. “Yeah, Denver’s the best,” Jess agrees. “Hep, even. Mountains, sunshine, a live music venue every 30 or 40 feet. We just saw our buddy Tyler Lee Holter play a sold-out Red Rocks show opening for The Big Lebowski on the big — no, huge! — screen. Just this weekend played Tour de Fat, this wild bicycle and beer and costume carnival that New Belgium puts on all across the U.S.”
“But the strange thing is,” he muses, “they’ve also become good buds of ours now, just up the road from here, and help us put on album release parties in parking lots which feature genuine old school shaved ice sold from an ancient ski mountain gondola people lifter thing. This is how Colorado rolls.”
You can order Ark Life’s first full length The Dream of You & Me released via Misra Records and the Greater Than Collective on CD or vinyl and get a free download of “Let Your Heart Break” here. Read a track-by-track album review of their debut LP on the Encyclopedia of Music. Find out more about the band and their tour on Ark Life’s Facebook. Ark Life fans, don’t fret, for though there are no plans set for post-November yet, the band is showing no signs of stopping. “We honestly haven’t thought much about next year yet, this one’s been such a blast,” comments Jesse. “We’re still a new band, and we came together so accidentally that I honestly don’t think any of us thought it would even last this long. But here we are, lasting, odd armadillos.”