Luke Elliot press picture. Photos by Jorn Veberg (2)

American singer, songwriter Luke Elliot is chatting to me on the phone from his hometown of New Jersey, which for Luke is rare. He’s spent so much time traveling recently that “home is kind of all over the place right now,”  he says. On Friday September 22nd Luke Elliot will release his debut album, Dressed For The Occasion, a 9 track recording on which the music is absorbing, dark and intellectual,  delivered in an earnest and intriguing manner. He’s been compared to Cohen, Cave and Waits and while he’s got a long way to go to achieve those lofty heights, they’re reasonable signposts to help describe Elliot’s art. Here’s how our chat panned out. By Greg Phillips

Hi Luke. Judging by your press release, it sounds like you had as many literary heroes as music heroes growing up. Would that be a fair statement?

I think that is pretty accurate. I read a lot as a kid.

If you didn’t put these song ideas to music, could you see yourself as a novelist or poet?

The music and the words work in a very particular way but I was certainly writing short stories and little poems and things before I started writing music, probably around ten or eleven. I would get up before school and write things down. In some way I guess I would have done that in some way, yeah.

What kind of music got you through your teens? Any particular album you wore out?

Probably This Year’s Model by Elvis Costello. I listened to Elvis Costello a lot as a teenager, a tremendous amount actually.

Some of the more epic songs on your album reminded me of Nick Cave. Is he an influence at all?

I think Nick Cave became influential to me later. The press has drawn all of these comparisons with me and Nick. I mean he is a hero of mine but he didn’t become a hero until later on. I don’t think I really discovered him until my early 20s.

Did you play in other bands in New Jersey or have you always played under your own name?

It was always under my own name. I was never a good enough musician to accompany anybody in that way. I have a different kind of thing. Unless I was playing my own music or leading the band, I don’t think I would be very good at accompanying. It was always my material.

Luke Elliot press picture. Photos by Jorn Veberg (1)How did you come to record this album in Norway?

I met a Norwegian journalist backstage in New York at a concert. I randomly let him know I was a musician and he wrote about me in the largest paper in that country. We got asked to come over for a tour, so we went over and somebody asked me to cut a record. I said I had no money and he said that’s no problem.  We did the tour and on the third concert, we had a booking agent in the country so we just cut the album there. It was a strange course of events.

A song is pretty much a blank canvas until it’s recorded. You could use any kind of instrumentation and get a completely different vibe. When you come up with a song, does the style and tempo come to mind immediately or do try different approaches to a song before you arrive at final version?

I try lots of different things with whatever comes to mind at first but … you know, I also let the band work that out too. Whoever I am playing with, I let them fill in the tempo or make changes here and there but I guess I have a general feel for it. I try to stay open minded in the studio with how other people are reacting to it. I always think it is dangerous to go in with a set idea of how something should sound because usually when I try to make something sound that way it’s not working and you have to go along with the process.

The track Let It Rain On Me is just piano and voice. Did you try it with other instrumentation as well?

There was a lot of talk about doing violin or having a whole orchestra behind it but I thought that I didn’t want it to sound too pompous and I think we really wanted to keep that song as simplistic as possible. We didn’t want to overdo it. We ended up just leaving it as simple as can be … piano and vocals.

The opening track Get ‘Em While They’re Hot has a great strings intro, it’s kinda sinister. Was that something that you included right from the start or was it an afterthought?

We got into a rehearsal before we started recording it and the violinist just randomly did that and I said put it at the beginning of the song. It just kinda happened, it wasn’t a planned thing but it worked quite well for the song I think.

And a great intro to the album too …

Thank you very much.

What was it about Reason to Believe that made you want to record a cover?

I love Tim Hardin but what made me do that was … I think I was in the lower east side taking the subway and I heard somebody playing that song. I guess just someone busking and I ended up missing my train just listening to this guy play the song. I had never heard the song played that way and I went home immediately and learned it. There was something about the way it worked that really felt natural to me and for the record. It felt like it had a place on this album.

I love the tone of the acoustic guitar on the track Trouble, before the electric kicks in. What was guitar?

It was a studio guitar, a Gibson I think … a 60s Gibson.

I see you play some guitar live on stage. What’s your main guitar?

On stage I have recently been using a Martin jumbo.

Would you consider piano to be your main instrument?


Do you have a particular piano at home that you use for writing?

The thing is .. home is kind of all over the place right now. I prefer when I can to use Bosendorfer but I will pretty much deal with whatever they have in front of me. As long as I can get a sound out of it, I will make something happen.

Luke Elliot press picture. Photos by Jorn Veberg (3)As a songwriter, are you able to switch off your creative side and be in a moment or are your receptors always up?

I think they are always up. I am kind of always working, always planning the next thing. But yeah I would say unfortunately they are always up which is not always a good thing. It can be very distracting.

Your press bio says you’re a superstitious guy. Any there any pre-gig rituals that you have to go through?

I used to have to not shave the day before a show. For some reason, I don’t know why but I had this obsessive thing where I couldn’t have a shave one day before a show. I had to  shave the day before that. I forced myself out of that about two years ago. That was one of them but aside form that, drinking tea. I drink as much tea as possible before a show. I don’t have anything like wearing the same underwear for three days in row or anything like that but the shaving thing was there.

I love your band that features in the Paste Magazine session video of you performing the album’s title track, Dressed For The Occasion. Will you be touring with those guys?

Those were the guys from The Swans. They were accompanying me for that particular session and I am talking to some of them now about doing an Australian tour, which I am positive we are going to end up doing. So I might bring a couple of them out there with me.  I met those guys back stage at a Nick Cave concert. My friend Larry Mullins (Toby Dammit) who is on tour with Nick now was playing drums for me in Norway. He is from Knoxville but he lives in Oslo and he invited me to the show and backstage I met couple of the guys from The Swans and we hit it off and they ended up doing the session with me.

Do you not a have a set band at the moment?

Right now we are flying over a couple of guys from Norway to do the US tour but I switch it up.

It sounds like an Australian tour announcement is imminent …

I would say that is coming relatively soon. I am positive.

What’s on for the rest of year and into 2018?

This year we have a US tour coming up at the end of September. I’m sure  an Australian tour … some more European shows then we’ll get on to the next record.