The Constellations with Electric Six
9 p.m. Tuesday
113 N. Crawford, Norman
$15 advance, $17 door
$17 advance, $19 door under 21
The Constellations don't fit comfortably in any box, and that's by design.
The creation of Elijah Jones and producer Ben Allen (Animal Collective, Gnarls Barkley), the outfit's recent debut, "Southern Gothic," blends funk, psychedelia, Tom Waits-hued cabaret, groove-driven rock and Beck-inflected hip-hop. It's something that emerged organically from sessions helmed by Jones and Allen, and features a handful of Atlanta-area musicians.
"Ben called me one day and let me know that he was working on this kind of project where he was just inviting musicians in to work, and write songs together. The first day I came in, I wrote something, and from that point on, (we) were together in the studio," Jones said.
The entire process was loosey-goosey, with no goal or intention, which helps explain the record's wide-ranging sound, from the spacey electro-rock jams to cowbell-banging soul-rock.
"We played on stuff that was not even instruments. We'd mike a window seal, and I'd bang on it with my hand and we'd put it on the record. It was " on a day-to-day basis " one of the most creative things I've ever done," Jones said.
One of the defining moments came midway through the process when Allen suggested the group record a cover, and release it on the Web, just to judge the response. Jones suggested Waits' "Step Right Up," but couldn't quite master Waits' delivery and tone. Allen suggested Jones take the track home and write his own words to make it his own.
The trick worked, and became one of the album's signature songs, a dark, carnivalesque tune that captures the shadowy freak show of Atlanta's early morning nightlife. That theme runs through the entire disc.
"It definitely is the centerpiece. It's one of those songs that people either love or hate. We're that kind of band," Jones said. "There was never a point in time where I was, 'All right, I'm going to write another song about Atlanta.' I was in that mind frame, and that's what we were all connecting with, and we just rolled with it. We didn't even realize until we saw 70 percent of the work that we apparently wrote a concept record."
The product of a religious household, Jones gravitates toward the darker side of life, from seedy, street-corner hookers to "cocaine vulture" hipsters "with their complicated hairdos."
"I grew up in the church, and I still keep that in my heart. Definitely. But I have a different philosophy than my dad and mom would maybe approve of. I think without shedding light on the dark, you can't really talk about the good all the time. Sometimes, you have to talk about the bad," he said.
When the album began to take shape, Jones was taken by its quality and quickly assembled a band to play live shows. But he wasn't content to stick to Atlanta.
"It was too good of a record to sit on it and have it be a hometown favorite," he said. "I wanted it to reach as many people as possible."
Steady touring helped The Constellations build a reputation along the East Coast and eventually earned them a Virgin Records deal. Growing up with indie-rock snobs, Jones was initially intimidated by the major label, but sold when he met their reps.
"They didn't just hear or see money signs with the lead single," he said. "Everybody had their own favorite song. That's really what I was looking for: someone who got the record and would push the record as a whole and not just this one song."
Jones couldn't be more excited to head out on their first national tour. He continues to write and push his music in new directions, which he sees as key.
"It's about just not taking yourself so seriously, and at the same time, taking your art very seriously and not dumbing it down. Challenging your audience to reach out." he said. "Chris Parker