Impounded Inquiries

Jesse Elliott

These United States

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These United States by Sarah Law

Inquiry comes in many forms – a child’s raw pawing, the studied examination of academics, the bluster of politicians, the curved funhouse wisdom of pop culture figures. It’s an intrinsic part of the American character, and sadly an aspect that’s being boot-stomped in the 21st century, where this country seems to increasingly delight in ignorance, distraction and blind tribalism. So it’s uplifting to find a band called These United States keeping this forward reaching pioneer spirit alive in their own rag ‘n’ bone way, bringing their tiny caravan to any city that’ll have them and shaking their moneymakers until a few kernels of wisdom and joy hit the collection plate.

In only a few years TUS have evolved into such a lovely unit – melodic yet rough edged, playful yet capable of tearful sincerity. They are the children of Dylan’s Rolling Thunder bunch, the late 60s Woodstock refugees and Woody Guthrie, yet also tempered by some very modern touches, not the least their honest POV on the state o’ things. There’s more than a little bardic about them, but the peels of pedal steel and gorgeously trundling drums help extend the ever-testing palm at the end of their collective mind, creating a thing all their own, a gift they give with wide arms to those willing to dream aloud by their side.

Their latest slab is called What Lasts, which niftily straddles the yawning abyss and winks at what’s staring back. Death is a tough dance partner and yet These United States take him for quite a spin, further streamlining their jangle into a sharp point that slips between our ribs, waking us up to the idea that “this life, right here, right now” is precious and good despite all the faults and failings. As they note, “There is no justice, just this occasional grace,” and still there are myriad reasons to smile and stare skyward and let wonder have its way with us. That they make this heady ontology caper a jig and kick up sawdust is also wonderfully American and more reason still that they deserve their name.

Given what thoughtful guys they are, we wanted to see what TUS singer-songwriter-gad-a-bout Jesse Elliott had to say to our philosophical meander.

What’s the first thing that springs to mind when you see the word “God”?
Everybody’s got one – you just gotta find it. And then you’ve found the person, and then everything opens and you can start figuring out what it actually means, together. I wanna find God in everyone I meet.
Which has the better cosmology, Star Wars or Star Trek? Why?
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Its rules seem more fluid, and, in that sense, more accurate – taking account for the ever-evolving nature of our understanding of time, space, treks, wars, civilizations, particles, black holes, whales, etc. We change so much. We’ll never stop changing. Hitchhiker’s know how to ride this.
Name one album that has spiritual resonance for you.
Graceland still makes me think I can believe – maybe even that anyone can, in the best of moments, on the best of songs. The Myth of Fingerprints – whew.
Woody Allen once said, “I don’t know the question but sex is definitely the answer.” So, what’s the question?
See Question #1.
You can have a dinner party with any three people throughout human history. Who do you invite, what’s on the menu and what intoxicant do you share for dessert?
Walt Whitman, Albert Einstein, Jim Henson. The menu is infinite, of course. They discover a new desert plant for dessert. It’s all a very, very serious explosion of joy and empathy. Everyone else is invited. Walt passes out first, with such a broad smile on his face that the rest of us can’t help but talk till dawn. We make plans to shoot a 16mm film, go skydiving for the first time – over Montana, maybe – Albert meantime swearing that he has to visit Ben’s Chili Bowl in DC soon, too. We gotta make these things happen. We call up Cleopatra, Joan of Arc, Amelia Earhart – why stop now?

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