Monday, November 7, 2016

Elton Interviews Julien Ehrlich, Makes Fan Call to Maren Morris

Until very recently, Max Kakacek and Julien Ehrlich, who record under the name Whitney, were best known as former members of the Chicago band Smith Westerns. Now, “Light Upon the Lake,” the band’s debut album, is one of Sir Elton John’s favorite records of the year — a metric of success that is surreal, bordering on unthinkable, for the duo. “I just fell in love with the music,” John said, after it was recommended by a friend, the Guardian writer Alexis Petridis. “I went on the website and I saw the video for ‘No Woman.’ It was fantastic. I thought it was so wistful and so plaintive and no one else sounded like that.”


John was so enamored with Whitney that he has played them on the Beats1 radio show he hosts, “Elton John’s Rocket Hour.” “The whole purpose of me doing the Apple show is to play stuff that I like but to hopefully focus on new people,” he said, noting his displeasure with mainstream radio using colorful, unprintable language. “Anything I can do to put new music on the radio.” John, who is 69, is at work on his autobiography, and has begun looking back on a career that spans decades of exploits, musical and otherwise. But last week, he was more interested in talking to Whitney’s 25-year-old Ehrlich about his rapidly ascending new project. “You’re a newborn baby this year and you’re growing in the right direction,” John told Ehrlich, his tone paternal but not patronizing. “More power to you and thank you for the music, all right?” — NATHAN REESE

Sir Elton John: Julien, how are you?

Julien Ehrlich: I’m good. I’m slightly star-struck.

John: No, please don’t be. Listen, tell me about the band. It came together out of the breakup of Smith Westerns, right?

Ehrlich: Yeah, it did. We kind of let it go through the most organic process that we could’ve possibly found: Max got a tape machine and we just randomly wrote a song on there. It was fun.

John: Well, that comes across on the whole album, and that’s why I love it. Individuality and authentic voices are so needed in this day of mass-produced crap. I think you’ve hit on something very special. I know this is your first album in, but it seems to have done very well. How do you like playing live?

Ehrlich: I think it’s actually like the reason why we are where we are, to be honest.

John: Well I —

Ehrlich: In the beginning —

John: Yeah?

Ehrlich: What? No — really, you go. We can’t be interrupting each other. I can’t handle that with someone like you.

John: Well the thing is, I love making records, but the greatest thing for me is to play in front of an audience. When you have a really good night on stage, nothing else beats that feeling — that contact between people in the audience and yourself. That’s why I still work as hard as I do, because I’ve never lost that love of it.

Ehrlich: We try to smile on stage, because not a lot of 2016 indie bands necessarily go for that vibe. A lot of people try to be goth or something. They’re too cool. I think that’s something that you do so well, it’s just whatever feeling that you’re experiencing at the time. I feel like you like express it on stage and we aren’t really afraid to do that as well.

John: I’m not one of those artists that really feels a lot of pain on stage. I find joy. That’s what I get about you. That’s why I was attracted to your band, plus the fact that I think Max is absolutely gorgeous — but please don’t tell him that.

Ehrlich: [Laughs] Can I ask you something ... It’s a bit personal.

John: You can ask anything you want.

Ehrlich: When did you start feeling like you wanted to start a family?

John: You mean have children? I’ve been with David for 23 years, and we had a civil partnership and then we got married. We discussed having children, and I always said, “I’m so set in my ways. I am a working musician; I’m pretty much playing nonstop.”

Then one day we went to Donetsk in the Ukraine. We went to an orphanage and this little boy followed me around. I picked him up and he was so beautiful and so, so touching. He just clung to me. I did a press conference and the last question was, “Would you ever think of adopting a child?” And I said, “Well, little Lev, who had been following me around, I would love to adopt him.” Of course that went viral. That went round the world in a nanosecond.

We did try to adopt him, but the laws in the Ukraine are so draconian. It’s an ex-communist country and I was a gay man, David was gay. So that meant we couldn’t adopt him. After a year and a half of trying, it looked like the person that wasn’t getting thought of was the child. It became a drama about David and I trying to adopt a baby. I said, “We have to get this boy out of the orphanage.” We got him out, and his half brother, to his grandmother. David said, “Well, what do you think about children?” And I said, “This little boy was telling me something. I would say it’s kismet. He was saying, ‘You can be a father. This is a challenge that you’ve never faced, and you should face it.’”

We decided to go the surrogacy route and have children of our own. The dominoes fell very quickly. We had Zachary 6 years ago in December and then Elijah 4 years ago in January. It was only through fate, really. This little boy, if we hadn’t have met him, we’d never have had children. You’ll look back on your life and you see a lot of things come into your life through fate. You can’t plan the future — the future plans itself.

Ehrlich: Can I ask, what’s your favorite record of 2016?

John: My favorite records of this year are your album —

Ehrlich: Thank you.

John: — Parker Millsap, who’s from Oklahoma. Sarah Jarosz. Nao — she’s fabulous. Jason Isbell came out last year, so that doesn’t count. I love the Sturgill Simpson record. The Lemon Twigs, I’m crazy about that. They crack me up. Have you seen them at all?

Ehrlich: I’m actually decently good friends with them, yeah. They opened for us a couple of months ago.

John: Then this girl in England called Rosie Lowe, who I love, and then another girl called Laura Mvula who’s made a record in England that is amazing. I love Christine and the Queens.

Ehrlich: Have you gotten into “Blonde,” the new Frank Ocean record?

John: Yeah, I like that a lot, too. Is that your favorite record of the year?

Ehrlich: It definitely is at this point. It will always induce tears.

John: Isn’t that great, when something can do that to you? I love sad music. When I was doing a lot of drugs, I would hate what I was doing. I would be on my own doing coke and just hating myself. Then I’d be listening to Kate Bush and it would make me cry. Peter Gabriel would make me cry. I knew that one day I would get well, but if I hadn’t had the music with me during that period I would probably not be here. I would listen to Nico — she was the most depressing person to listen to with the most wonderful voice. I would listen to her and I’d think, “I’ll get well one day, I’ll get well one day.” That’s what music does to you.

Ehrlich: Can I point you toward a beautiful voice, actually? Her name is Weyes Blood. She has this song called “Generation Why” that you should listen to. I listened to it like six times today.

John: It’s so great that Dylan has won the Nobel Prize for literature.

Ehrlich: Yeah. It was sort of like a celebration when I read that headline.

John: Absolutely a celebration, because he’s been the voice of America from the ’60s and he still has something to say. “Modern Times” was a catalyst for me when I got into my 60s and I said, “What do I want to do with my recording?” I listened to that album and I said, “I just want to make records that are as good as that, or nearly as good as that.” Of course he should get it. I think it’s brilliant.

- NY Times


Country music sensation Maren Morris is still pinching herself after receiving a phone call from her idol Sir Elton John.

The young singer/songwriter's star is well and truly on the rise after she picked up the Best New Artist trophy at Wednesday's (02Nov16) CMA Awards in Nashville, Tennessee, but she already felt like a winner after the Rocket Man got in touch with her.

"You know, it’s crazy, but Elton John called me one day," the My Church singer tells Taste of Country, revealing the Brit told her he was a big fan of her break-out album Hero, which was nominated for a Best Album award at the CMAs.

"He was just a big fan of the music."

Maren admits she didn't pick up the first two times Elton called, because she didn't recognise the number on her cellphone, and when she finally answered, she refused to believe the Nikita singer was on the other end of the line until her manager texted her confirmation she was chatting to a music legend.

"He was so cool, he was so nice," Morris recalls, admitting she was speechless for much of the phone chat. "I couldn’t even form words except for, like, 'Thank you'. It was amazing."

- Belfast Telegraph

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