I don't care for not-so-vintage tees or blue-black hair. And I barf in my mouth a little when I see underage hipsters (rather than, let's say wizened ex-Marines) sporting tattoos of hearts afire. But danged if I'm not still a sucker for a hopelessly thin crush-Rocker — quivery chin and all. So how can they simultaneously piss me off and steal my heart? This is what I ask of Ellison, since they are some who've seamlessly amalgamated their Rock from bits of homegrown Folk and Midwest Emo.
Why can't I quit you? And can I borrow your jeans?
"Hold on a second," laughs lead singer Josh Hill. "Sure, there's a 'look' for every genre of music, but we're not dictating the fads here. And no matter how passionate we are about our music, it wouldn't come across the same if we wore dirty sweatpants."
Go on, I'm listening ...
"There comes a point when you have to get serious about what you're doing," Hill continues. "Getting drunk and rocking out is fun ... but it's cool to play music, too."
Ellison's songs, written primarily by Hill when he was playing solo acoustic, are brooding and heartfelt stuff that begs to be backed by a band. Translating surprisingly well to electric, the songs involve do-or-die notions of romance that dudes simply aren't supposed to feel — but thankfully do. In some ways, this reverse rebellion is easier to grasp on their recordings than at a live show, perhaps for the same reason a break-up is easier to do over the phone. Ergo, it will be interesting to watch Ellison's evolution, as they learn to capture the sincerity and composure needed to hit home with a live audience. Of course, we'll all be sobbing into our hankies and getting burning heart tattoos after the show. But all for art, right?
Indecisive and Halfhearted, Ellison's six-song EP, is anything but what its title suggests. It is veritably teeming with those rhythmically hesitant, perfectly-poised guitar turns that bands like Copeland use to embody youth on the cusp of ... something. Ellison, similarly, aren't afraid to bend slightly theatrical, as in "Your Goodbyes" — my favorite — a jumpy mixture of belting vocals playing a game of snake with piano and drums.
Vocal harmonies are the key to making "Simple Request" the resigned, exhausted memoir that it is. Lyrics like "It's all your fault/Do I ask too much?/It's a simple request/Stay away/It's for the best" aren't necessarily innovative, but the dual assault, backed by quieter, more pensive chord progression, brings the subtle sentiment into the all-too-real light of love's sputtering end.
An old boss used to say, "I didn't learn guitar to save the whales." If that booty-gettin' statement at all encompasses the moth-to-flame manner in which young men are drawn to The Biz, then Ellison (bassist J.D. Carlson, drummer Mitch Wyatt, guitarist Ian Bolender) have the game licked. However, a brief chat unmasks a fully above-the-waist agenda. It's less backstage-with-Def-Leppard and more 'round-the-campfire-with-Chris-Carrabba (of Dashboard Confessional)'.
Evidently, JT Woodruff (of Hawthorne Heights) feels it, too. Woodruff's new label, Carbon Copy Media (working upstream with Victory Records), recently signed Ellison. Ellison's full-length disc (recorded in large part at home by Wyatt) is slated for a May release and the group already has several opening slots with Hawthorne Heights scheduled for this spring.
"I think everyone was comfortable with the decision to sign, especially considering that (Hawthorne Heights) has sold 700,000 records," says Hill. "The best part about working with JT is that we found out that we could do a lot on our own."
And in terms of the "chick" factor? "Well, JT said we shouldn't spend money on the road; we're supposed to make money," Hill says. "He said to ask girls at the shows to put us up for the night. You know, girls have food and cleaner houses and all that. Plus, we wouldn't be spending money on hotels."
Someone should tell those girls what they're in for.
ELLISON (ellisonsite.com) plays the Mad Hatter on March 30.