The Constellations perform 'Speak Easy' live for BalconyTV Los Angeles
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THE CONSTELLATIONS - SPEAK EASY
PRESENTED BY XAVIER BRINKMAN
The Constellations could have called their debut album After Hours. Sure, Martin Scorsese already used that name for his 1985 black comedy, but the two works share much in common. Both are wide screen spectacles rife with seedy scenes and eccentric personalities, propelled by a manic energy that hustles the audience deeper into the unexpected. But Southern Gothic was a better choice. Because The Constellations stomping ground is Atlanta, GA, and in the wee small hours of the morning, A-Town can get awfully bizarre.
The record is all about what happens in Atlanta from 2 AM until noon. Your tour guide on this madcap adventure is the magnetic frontman and vocalist Elijah Jones, the ringleader of the twisted circus that is The Constellations, who spent two years writing and recording the album with producer Ben H. Allen (Animal Collective, Gnarls Barkley), along with some storied cronies from the local scene. Not that they set out with specific intentions. Far from it. "All of us wanted to do a record about Atlanta, but we never said it in words," recalls Jones. "But the deeper we got into it, the more we realized we were writing a concept album."
Atlanta has been providing the backdrop and soundtrack for Jones life since childhood. Now he wanted to share his hometown's underbelly with the rest of the world. "Atlanta is a huge city, but it still has a small town feel to it," explains the singer. "Everybody knows everybody, you run into the same people at the same bars every week. So it's still kind of Mayberry, but with all the yummy stuff that comes along with being a big city—and all the bad stuff, too."
"Atlanta is strange," he adds, "because we're all basically pushed together." The hip-hop heads, punk rockers, and indie kids all rub shoulders and mix it up. Southern Gothic reflects that inclusive diversity in its far-reaching sound. "The record was designed to sound lyrically and melodically very thought out, and sonically very disorganized," comments Allen. One expects nothing less from a singer who cites Tom Waits and Cee-Lo of Goodie Mob and Gnarls Barkley as his musical heroes, working with a producer who name-checks Fela Kuti and Gorillaz among their record's key influences.
Because Southern Gothic was created on the artists' own time and own dime, as an experimental studio project, no thought was initially given to recreating the songs live. No, that only came after it turned out there was plenty of demand for The Constellations to do exactly that. "We'd put in fifty billion handclaps and shakers, all kinds of crazy stuff," admits Jones. "That's why we have eight band members." Although the line-up would go through numerous changes, today its stable core finds Jones accompanied by a five-piece combo and the non-stop shimmy, shout and wail of two female back-up singers.
Well before The Constellations had settled into its current incarnation, their explosive shows were selling out all over the city. Wes Hoffman had been putting on parties at Atlanta hot spot Star Bar, and booked one the earliest Constellations gigs. "The first thing I noticed was the freshness of the music," he remembers. Lyrics about Atlanta made things more appealing. But the key was seeing how fired up the crowd got. "I knew this band was on to something from how people responded." When the group told him they couldn't play a subsequent gig because their bassist was unavailable, Hoffman stepped in and learned the bass parts himself. He's been part on the team ever since.
Cindi Avnet: Producer / Talent Booker
Brandon Wade: Cinematographer
Recorded By: Karla Barrera
Mixed By: Karla Barrera
Gabe Dauer: Editor
Atara Gottschalk: Co-Producer / Talent Booker
Leah Hobbs: Associate Producer
Lydia Reed: Production Assistant
Chloe Robinson: Photography
Courtney Arwin: Balcony Location
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