Having written more than 40 songs while out on the road touring, the band teamed with the National guitarist Aaron Dessner on the recording effort, spending two weeks at Dreamland in upstate New York, a nineteenth-century church that had been converted into a homey studio. There, the singers found the space to inspire the emotional gravity necessary for the material and the acoustics they were looking for.
“These are true stories,” says guitarist Brian Elmquist. “These aren’t things we made up. We tried to write some songs that had nothing to do with our personal stories, but we just didn’t respond to them. But we’re best buds, so we know each others’ personal stuff and trust each other to figure out what needs to be said and how to say it.”
For instance, Elmquist wrote “Call to War” about his own struggles during his twenties, but gave the song to Kanene Pipkin to sing on the album.
“The content is painful and brutal, but the imagery, the vocals, they build something delicate and ethereal,” she said. “That kind of contrast illuminates the true beauty and power of a song.”
When Gretsch caught up with Elmquist, however, we enjoyed hearing about a happier memory from his youth.
“So for Christmas my dad wanted to get me a guitar because I had been talking about it and I had picked up other people’s guitars,” recalled Elmquist. “He told me he would buy me a guitar for Christmas but I was like, ‘No I want a Nintendo,’ or some games or some clothes or shoes or something stupid. Right after that, I knew there was a guitar upstairs in the attic so I went up in the attic and got him to help me restring.
“But the reason I wanted to (play) was I watched Slash play the lead in ‘November Rain’ and that was the first thing I sat in front of and learned how to play every note. I couldn’t play it for real until I was in my 20s, but him standing on that piano at the end of ‘November Rain’ is just … and like when the train is coming by. Who wouldn’t want to play music?”
Elmquist also explains what turned him on to Gretsch guitars, and reveals that “Heaven Don’t Call Me Home” was a tribute to the rockabilly style of Brian Setzer.
Watch the full package below.