I feel I have to apologize to anyone reading this interview. First of all, I’m not much of an interviewer. Second of all, this isn’t much of an interview. Not that I really mind. You can’t tell from just reading this, but I think half of this interview involved the four of us, and anyone who happened to walk in on us, doubled over in laughter at something stupid we said or did.
The odd thing about interviewing The Elevator Division is that I feel like I’m interviewing (shameless plug) my band. True, they’re much more cleancut than we are, but a lot of the same personality traits are there. As such, much of what you’re about to read is essentially one long inside joke.
I guess we’ll start off with the basics. Where are you guys from? Who are you guys? How would you describe your music?
James: We’re James Hoskins, Paul Buzan, and Sam Hoskins from Kansas City, Missouri. If we had to describe our music, it’d be gloomy pop in the same vein as U2, The Cure, Radiohead.
Sam: But it’s kind of proggy…
Paul: That’s where the edit button is going to come into play. *Laughs*
Like Yes, kind of? A little Steely Dan in there.
Paul: A little Jethro Tull in there.
Sam: It’s got a real Phil Collins approach to it… real forward.
James: ‘80s influence…
Sam: Yeah, big time… Rocky IV. Karate Kid too.
And then there’s that Top Gun soundtrack too… a little Kenny Loggins. *Laughs*
Sam: Yeah, rad…
Paul: Lots of “rad”… *laughs* It didn’t take too long for that bastardized semblance, did it?
Not at all… lots of rad… totally fresh. Okay… so you guys just put a new CD out about a month ago, called Movement. It’s on a new record label, and it’s a pretty different sound than what you did with Imaginary Days. I know there was a lineup change there, as well as some other things.
Sam: Joe left our butts. *laughter*
Paul: Our lead singer quit. Not in a bad way, but just in the way those things go, so then we’re a threepiece, and it affected the direction the songs went. A little less of keyboard atmospheres, and more guitar-driven pop.
I noticed the CD was a lot less melodramatic.
Paul: Yeah, it was a little more straight ahead.
James: We wanted to work more on the songwriting, rather than on the ambience.
And you guys have been on tour lately, right?
Sam: Yeah, we just finished it.
Where all did you play?
Paul: The midwest region.
James: Let me give a shout-out to my friends in each town.
How did the tour go?
James: Really good.
Did the kids get into it?
Paul: Yeah, we played with a lot of good bands. We played with Ester Drang… a lot of really cool people to work with. It went really well.
(At this point, an annoying ska band started up in the tent next to the campsite. Needless to say, this brought out some vitriol.)
Man, I thought ska was dead at Cornerstone. I guess I was wrong…
James: Let’s go kill it.
Paul: We’ve got Godsgeeks to thank for that, keeping it alive.
All the high school kids out and about.
James: It was an encouraging tour.
Do you guys struggle a lot with your music, feeling if it’s up to par with what you want to do, what you’re really trying to accomplish?
James: Some of us more than others. (All eyes turn to Paul.)
Paul: Apparently I’ve got a problem.
I think it’s a common thing with bass players.
Paul: It must be. We must have some sort of inferiority. I think it’s fine. I feel really good about the record we made. I think it reflects where we were at that time. I know we’re certainly ready to explore different areas and we’re moving in those directions. Maybe we’ll bring some of the keyboard stuff back. But as far as Movement is concerned, it turned out really well. And I’m pretty happy with it.
What do you think each of you bring to the band, in terms of the songwriting process? If you had to describe each other…
Sam: All I’ll say is that I bring the rock.
Paul: Sam brings a lot of rock… Sammy and Jamie are cousins so they grew up together. Jamie and I have been best friends for a long time. It’s not like we’re one unit now, but it’s almost like one person will have an idea and without even having to say anything, it’s like “Oh yeah, keep going with that.” It’s almost like an unspoken, intuitive thing instead of each person having a very different vision. We all have a different vision, but again the context of working in the Division, it sort of winds up as one thing, instead of three dissimilar objects that kind of come together. It becomes this unified whole.
That didn’t really answer the question, did it?
Whatever you want to say, man. I’ll do some judicious editing.
Paul: You’re going to have to do a lot of editing.
I’ll tighten it up for you, man. Are there any particular favorites on the new album?
Paul: “Eighty-Eight” and “A Model Citizen”.
Sam: “Tempo of Three”.
James: I like all of them, except I have a couple ones that I like less, like a couple children that I like less.
Paul: But what’s your favorite kid? That’s what he’s asking.
James: I don’t have a favorite.
Paul: They’re not going to get their feelings hurt, Jamie.
James: They might, you don’t know.
They’ll turn on you during a concert…
James: I can’t narrow it down to one. Probably like “Eighty-Eight”, “Alone”, and “A Model Citizen”… and “Asleep At the Wheel”.
Paul: That was half the record, right there. *Laughter*
Who writes most of the lyrics?
Paul: It’s split between Jamie and I.
What are you usually trying to communicate in the songs? Are there any stories behind the songs, or is it more of just impressions? Every band has different stories behind their lyrics, what their lyrics are trying to accomplish.
Paul: This record was pretty personal. The last one was a bit more poetic in its phrasing. The ideas were a little more…
There was a lot of imagery, a lot of Psalm-derived imagery in the first one. This one seems a lot more direct.
Paul: Yeah, we wanted to focus… It’s not in any way a concept record, but we had one idea and the songs were all written out of the same idea. So it’s kind of like different looks at the same idea. The idea of people losing themselves, be it through growing up… maybe focusing on the wrong things, making wrong decisions, making right decisions and being a different person. Just that movement of a person. I know each of us has a different take on it.
(At this point, I had a sudden brainfart and couldn’t remember what I was going to ask next. I turned off the tape recorded to regain my composure, to no avail.)
Um… I am the worst interviewer in the world! I should’ve written these questions down but I didn’t.
Paul: Make sure you note that the tape recorder was turned off for awhile.
Oh I’ve ruined the whole spirit of the thing. Crap! There goes my journalistic integrity right down the tubes… shot to hell!
(Suddenly, the tables were turned on me.)
James: Why don’t we just quit and work for Opus?
Paul: Yeah, we’ll switch.
So I’ll be in the Elevator Division and you guys will run Opus?
Paul: We’ll do a complete switcharound. You and Nolan can be the Elevator Division. Do you guys have a comp coming out (referring to my band, A Dim Halo)?
Yeah, hopefully sometime soon. We haven’t heard from those guys in about a month. They’ll probably attribute our songs to some other band. And we’re just feverishly writing new stuff. We have a couple shows coming up in July.
Paul: In the Nebraska area?
Yeah. You and The People and The Fi and The Billions… you all seem to have this community going on. Is that indicative of the Kansas City scene in general?
Paul: Yeah, it’s really cool. There’s a lot of really cool people to work with, a lot of cool bands. The bands are all really supportive. It’s kind of hard to get people to shows. If this community between the Kansas City people was in a big metro area, there’d probably be tons of people at shows. But it’s not that big…
So you end up with shows where it’s just the bands?
Paul: Yeah, people are either out on tour or practicing. Everyone’s in a band, so that’s kind of a bummer. But there are a lot of cool bands.
Any talk of collaborations? For example, you’ve got the Fi, which has some members of the People in it. Has there ever been any talk of some big project?
Paul: Yeah, there’s been talk of a Kansas City comp, but nothing’s ever come of it. I know Jamie just sang on the Casket Lottery’s new album. There’s always that going on, people will sit in on a song. But it’d be cool to do something like a four-way comp of Kansas City bands.
Your first record came out on Ashland Recordings. The new one just came out on Department Records.
Paul: Which is just us…
Just you guys?
Paul: It’s just the 3 of us, and Danny Gibson, Alyssa Johnston, and anyone else who helps us out that we can’t pay.
Are there any plans for doing any more releases, of opening it up to other bands?
Paul: Yeah, there’s been a lot of talk about that. Nothing’s set in stone. We’ve talked to the Billions about doing stuff, but I don’t want to say it and then be like “Well, we’re not going to sign you.” It’s not going to be like a signing thing. It’ll be more like everyone splits costs. It’ll be like an umbrella for us all to associate ourselves with. But I doubt it will remain just music… it might become like Department Media, like books ’cause we’ve got a lot of really cool designers in the area. Look at Sammy… “Me no like read.”
Sam: Well, I’m not going to make any books.
Obviously, Sam hasn’t been informed of the plans for Department.
(At this point, the interview digresses into a jumbled argument over whether or not Department will carry books.)
Paul: We’re getting our bickering on tape. We fight so much. We just can’t not fight. *Laughter*
Yeah, what were the trips in the van like for you guys? Any interesting tour stories?
Paul: Sam in the nude on numerous occasions.
James: That’s just tradition.
I think it’s a drummer thing, though.
James: We got a bird stuck in the grill of our van.
Sam: And on this trip, we hit another one.
Paul: We’re driving along the highway and we see this bird dive down. Sam’s driving and we see this little puff of feathers. We stop and there he is, like halfway in the grill. We had to pry him out. We try to pull him out and his wing falls off.
On the way up here, [Nolan and I] passed about 30 dead raccoons. We must have passed through the warzone.
Paul: I’ve never hit anything big.
James: Nothing beats when we passed through a manure truck crash. It looked liked there had been a mudslide that went across the highway and we’re like “What’s all this mud?” and then we smelled it. And then the guy was wiping up manure with his bare hands.
Sam: It smelled like sweet pickles, actual cow dung, and like Chinese food. Really old Chinese food.
You did some serious analysis on that manure spill.
(We took a break from the interview to listen to the awesome ska music that was filling the air. I edited out our commentary, but you can imagine…)
Here’s a pretty wide-open question. I know we’ve talked about this before. Coming to Cornerstone, with so many bands, what’s your impression of the “Christian” scene. There’s finally so many good bands coming out of the woodworks. How do you see your band fitting into that overall?
James: There’s a few bands that I really like and a lot of bands that don’t appeal to me at all. I don’t know… I hope that people can like it.
Paul: I think as far as the “Christian” scene… Ester Drang’s new record is absolutely incredible. The Billions are [having] great success. Starflyer has been putting out great records for years. These bands that are doing really viable art but it seems like the Christian market is a very elitist thing, like “this is our week”, and after that, it can go out to everybody. When we look at a thing like Cornerstone, it’s not just about music, but it’s something important to our faith.
But with bands like Ester Drang, those bands are getting recognized for just putting out great music. It’s almost like those markets are like melding. Burnt Toast Vinyl, Velvet Blue, and these younger labels coming out don’t seem interested in just marketing to just a Christian thing. But it is cool when you play 2 weeks of bars and then play a place with people that are like-minded. I think it’s really cool. With these independant labels, everyone’s doing their own thing and it’s like there’s 1 big scene and not 2 different ones.
I hope we can fit in there somewhere as far as making art that you don’t have to have a particular faith to like it. But hopefully our faith will come through in it.
I have one final question, but before I get to that, are there any last rants or raves you want to make on anything?
Paul: We really like you. You’re a great guy. Jason let us stay at his house and Jason bought our food. And Jason doesn’t say “bastard”.
What is the ultimate thing you want to achieve with your band? If you could see yourselves 5 years down the road and you’re still making music, what would you like people to remember the Elevator Division for?
James: My goal with the Elevator Division is, if it was 5 or 6 years down the road, that we could still be making music that we felt was honest and sincere and that there would be a large audience that could listen to it and value it… and we could make a comfortable living for our families with it.
Paul: As far as the artist in me is concerned, we try to make our faith an integral part of our music, but we’re only 21, 22 years old, and we’re still trying to find all the answers. So it’s not right for us yet to talk about some things, or say we know some answers.
Sam: I think that another way we could achieve these things is to be real, real people. By being people that they’ve never met before, but be real. Try and get friendships everywhere. That’s kind of what we’ve done in a lot of places. Just be friends with people and try and get people to buy the record.
James: That’s probably the most enjoyable part at this point because there’s not all these people wanting to buy our CDs and loving our music. That’s the most enjoyable part now, just meeting people and making friends wherever we go.
Sam: And you can get those people to bring their friends, and their friends bring their friends…
Paul: You can edit out all of our materialistic yearnings.
No, I think it’s perfectly legitimate. I think it’s every band’s desire to be able to make a living doing their art.
Paul: It’s just hard to balance the two.
James: I just want an Elevator Division… Behind The Music.
So who’s going to be passed out in a pool of their own vomit after a heroin overdose?
Sam: Just point the camera at me.
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I've also written for Christ and Pop Culture, ScreenAnarchy, Filmwell, and Christian Research Journal. I pay the bills by creating beautiful user interfaces and websites for Firespring and Red Bicycle.