The reader’s companion to Andy Elwell's ‘No One You Will Ever Know’It’s about time we all got to know this former Greyhound — and his acoustic-based body of work — a little better.
Singer/songwriter Andy Elwell is going places — both literally and figuratively.
The Duluth East alumnus will kick off his Hexagon Tour later this month in Minneapolis (where he currently rests his head), which will take him through the South and all the way up to New England.
On top of that face-to-face exposure, the former Greyhound has also had some of his music licensed on such high-profile shows as MTV’s “The Hills.”
Needless to say, it’s about time we all got to know this former Spoogees/Islero member — and his acoustic-based body of work — a little better.
With that in mind, we turned over our track-by-track coverage of “No One You Will Ever Know,” the follow-up to the equally engaging “New Ground,” exclusively to Elwell. Thankfully, the former Duluthian was gracious enough to give those out in Budgeteerland a little behind-the-scenes look at his new album:
1. “Her Salt”
I wrote “Her Salt” in the late fall of 2008. I had just been on tour for a couple months and it was one of the first songs I wrote for what later became “No One You Will Ever Know.” This one was loads of fun to record; there [is a] ridiculous number of instruments on the track, one of which is a gong. Renee Klitzke, who sings backup and plays cello on this song, said that most people get to use a gong only once in their career. Dale Kirvelay (also formerly of Islero), who plays drums on the record, had a heck of a time smashing the gong while he and I held it up. [One of the other once-in-a-lifetime musical employments is a] children’s choir. I guess I have to come up with a way to involve a children’s choir on the next record.
2. “At My Best”
“At My Best” is one of the oldest songs on the record. I wrote it when I lived in southern California in 2006. It is really surprising how songs get looked over and then you revisit them, only to find out how to show them in the best light. The first line in the song is actually verbatim from a conversation I had with a certain aspiring filmmaker — and, at the time, Internet TV host — at a shoot I was doing for a website. The premise was that the host would ask you questions and take online questions; I would answer and then play a song.
At some point afterward while I was wrapping cables, and I don’t remember the context, I said, “… At my best I’m self-sufficient.” She said, “How about your worst?” Then I said, “I’m useless.”
“Everest” is one of my favorites on the record. It is very simple, yet the way the different parts overlap with each other I feel gives it a really full and warm texture. On the first demo I made of “Everest,” it was just guitar and vocals, with the guitar being pounded on to a point of distortion.
In the studio, we decided that instead of using volume to indicate crescendo and intensity we would use texture, which is a philosophy we used on a good part of the record.
“Housewarming” is also a pretty old song. I bypassed putting it on “New Ground” for some reason. I am glad I did, though; I don’t feel like I was at a place then to make the song what it ended up to be. It is also a song where the title has very little to do with the context.
I was subletting a room in Minneapolis and there was no heat in the house and I had a horrible cold. As I sat at the end of the bed, unable to breathe through my nose and freezing, I wrote this song — which, oddly enough, has mostly a springtime or summer feel to it. It is also the first song on the record to feature my good friend Margaret Lane on backing vocals. She also sang on my last record, “New Ground.”
5. “Give Him Your Heart”
“Give Him Your Heart” was a song that just happened. I wrote it in about 20 minutes in my apartment, mostly by accident. When I wrote it and demoed it, it was just the first half of the song. I figured that it had to be longer, so I just aped the vocal line with the harmonica and that was that. It is probably the most country-like jam on the record. We recorded another country-ish song, called “Central Time,” but decided to leave it off the record for the sake of time.
6. “From the Blood of Winter”
To me, this song is the biggest surprise on “No One You Will Ever Know.” I originally wrote all the music first and wrote the lyrics later, which is the opposite of how I usually do it. Most times it all happens at once. One interesting fact is the first part I wrote — what became the pizzicato viola part — was written on a bells set while watching the Showtime program “Dexter.” “From the Blood of Winter” was not originally slated to be on “No One You Will Ever Know,” but my comrade/engineer/co-producer insisted we give it a go.
From that point we did our part and then violinist Amy Tobin showed up and blew us away by recording her part in mostly one take.
Also, the synth parts are by Grant Cutler of Lookbook fame.
This also is the only song on the record where the string arrangements were written on the spot by the players; on the other songs I had charted them out beforehand.
7. “Maybe If You Can Hear Me”
I started to write the lyrics to “Maybe If You Can Hear Me” on a scrap of an envelope while driving to Fargo with the steering wheel as the table.
I understand that is not the safest way to write songs, but, if you have to write something down, you have to write it down.
It is also a song where I tried to be as honest and straightforward with what I was feeling and just put it out there without getting wordy or adjective-heavy.
8. “That Blood”
Originally “That Blood” was a bit different. It had a lot of noise and a sample from “The Deer Hunter” at the beginning. It ended up being a contradiction between the lyrics and the music. But I like that. As far as what it is about, that is up to whoever is listening to it. The vocal reprise is one of my favorite parts on the record — it kind of comes out of nowhere.
Aside from me singing three or four parts, also singing here are Grant Cutler, Renee Klitzke, Margaret Lane and Paul Flynn.
9. “Scent of Gas”
I feel like “Scent of Gas” represents the spectrum of what is heard on “No One You Will Ever Know.” It goes from finger picking and vocals to full-out band with strings and electric guitar. All the songs on the record took a lot of time to get to sound right, but this one was the most difficult for me — almost to a point of paranoia. But, thanks to Peter Bregman, we got it together.
10. “Waiting on the Weather”
I started writing “Waiting on the Weather” after returning from SXSW in 2009. I was walking home from the coffee shop and, as all of us Minnesotans know, late March/early April in our state can be the emotional-rollercoaster weather period of the year. All of us are ready for warm, but the weather isn’t ready to give it to us yet. I felt like that was a great metaphor for patience, perseverance and taking advantage of what is in front of you and not hesitating in life.
11. “The Morning Sun”
“The Morning Sun” is my favorite song on the record, although it may be the most different from the other tracks. It is a bittersweet lullaby of a song. It can be taken from a position of positivity or a position of longing. When we finished recording the strings, I almost had to laugh. There we were, with no vocals recorded yet, and it could’ve been a Disney song. I mean, there has got to be music when the characters kiss, right? Margaret Lane is singing again on this one. We also shot a video in Duluth a few weeks back for this song.
12. “Crow’s Feet Smile”
If the “The Morning Sun” is a lullaby, then “Crow’s Feet Smile” is a salute or cheers — a somber song to raise a glass to. I never really wrote it to be a song. It was just a few lines I sang over some guitar I recorded in my room. Once again, thanks to Peter Bregman for insisting it be included on “No One You Will Ever Know.”
NEWS TO USE
East High School alumnus Andy Elwell will perform at 7 p.m. Friday, May 21, at Harbor City Theater, 332 W. Michigan St. Also on the bill: The People Say Fox, Lions & Creators, Excuse Me Princess and the Medical Underground. Cost is $5.