Arts & Entertainment

Press Pass: These United States

Should Jesse Elliott and his bandmates in These United States claim the Wammie award for Best Pop Rock Duo or Group, don’t expect the band to be in attendance. presspass

Should Jesse Elliott and his bandmates in These United States claim the Wammie award for Best Pop Rock Duo or Group, don’t expect the band to be in attendance.


These United States (Courtesy Photo)

It’s not that Elliott or his cohorts (Justin  Craig, Collin Kellogg, J. Tom Hnatow and Robby Cosenza) aren’t honored by the nomination by the Washington Area Music Association (WAMA), far from it, it’s just they’ve got someplace they’ve just got to be – on the road.

“I’ve always liked the D.C. music scene,” Elliott says. “I’m excited about a lot of the stuff I’ve heard cropping up, but I don’t pretend to know much about it. I haven’t been around it as much as I’d like to be. We’ve been playing a couple hundred dates a year for the last year and a half and that just takes us out of town a lot.”

When at home in the District, the band, which also has roots in Lexington, Ky., has wrapped themselves in the D.C.-area’s talent from the start. When Elliott first started up These United States, he did so using a rotating collective of area talent. He later put together the Federal Reserve collective, that included Kitty Hawk, Vandaveer, Revival, Rose and Lovehandles among other local acts ( As momentum increased for These United States, and some of those other bands, the Federal Reserve was depleted by too many out of town shows, a sad circumstance with happy ramifications, namely an up-tick in success for all, according to Elliott.

Besides, though they’ve embraced the local scene, the road is where These United States long to be. On their MySpace page, the band describes their music rather uniquely with a peculiar one-word label: grime. What exactly does that mean?

“That’s kinda how we roll. We’re pretty grimy dudes,” Elliott says. “I think if there’s anything people like to comment on us about, right off the bat, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, we’re all bearded and shaggy and we usually have three days of funk on us from spending so much time together in the van. It’s the real life living conditions of a small, unimportant band on the road. That’s where you pick up the grime.”

It’s also a characteristic of their dedication to their trade. Prior to the start of their current tour — which takes them from Colorado to Washington State, down the West Coast to California and eventually south to Austin, Texas, for South By Southwest — the band decided to kick back and relax with a short vacation to New York City. Shortly into the trip, they found their way into a studio to record a new track they’d been working on. So much for vacation.

“Just being a small, unimportant band in America we really enjoy that,” Elliott says. “Just getting out there and getting grimy. It’s all related to that grime. Just the experience — the five of us have opportunities to make music. We all have the opportunity to get out there and see things and meet new people and play this stuff we love.  We love getting out in these towns and peddling our wares.”

Those wares will contain a new album come the summer, a collection Elliott calls “a lush, mellow, bastard kind of an album and quickly veered away from that in 10 different directions.” That eclecticism is one of the band’s most prominent traits. Even single songs sometimes seem to go in every possible direction at once.

“We come to one point where we agree we’re going to have one sound that we cultivate perfectly over 10 songs and get to the heart of the sound. Then we get there and we’re like, yeah, but there’s all these other sounds we like. Then we start veering off pretty quickly,” Elliott says.

“We all have pretty different musical tastes, so arranging songs together is more a battle of what style gets to win out. It’s a Darwinian struggle. Survival of the … something-est.”

That, uh, “natural” selection process has given the band its distinctive flair, incorporating elements of folk, blues, rock and pop with a gypsy soul. And that flair is something the WAMA could reward with a Wammie on Feb. 28. But sadly, fans will have to wait a little while to again see this “grimy” group in person.

• For more on These United States, visit