Just like America is built on a melting pot of cultures, regional differences, and pizza-style preferences, These United States—who play two CMJ shows at Pianos on Wednesday, at noon and 7 p.m.—are a lot of things: They're a little bit rock, a little bit psychedelic, and while they can be deadly serious, the band's sound is often playful. Their third album, Everything Touches Everything, doesn’t make it any easier to pin the mercurial band down, and as it turns out, singer-guitarist Jesse Elliott can’t get a firm grasp on the band’s inherent contradiction—which is exactly where the fun comes in.
A.V. Club: You’ve been pretty successful using social networking and other online tools to cultivate a substantial Internet following. How does that translate to the real world?
Jesse Elliott: I’ll be totally candid with you, it doesn’t seem if there’s a ton of connection between the two worlds. On one hand, there's live shows and real life, and the Internet and how people get to your music digitally on the other hand. Sometimes it almost seems like two different kinds of crowds, but there is some overlap. I think a lot of people these days look at it like the end-all-be-all—as long as you have enough of a social network online, they think they’re a real rock 'n' roll band. I’m not sure if that’s true.
AVC: Society seems to be slowly coming to an understanding that the virtual world and the real world aren’t very tightly connected at all.
JE: People who spend a lot of time online and love to interact with other human beings in that way maybe are staying home on Thursday night checking out your latest new and weird live track instead of coming out to see you. I think different people experience life in different ways.
AVC: You released Everything Touches Everything because Barack Obama won the presidential election, but had another album in reserve in John McCain won. How did that whole idea come about?
JE: We had one album that was rooted in some sort of traditionalism, a little more somber. We had this other album in the works that’s over the top and full of hope. I was like, “It kind of breaks down to how the whole election shakes out.” I figured it’d be fun to let people decide. We didn’t write the albums for candidates or political parties. We wrote them for moods of the country. We were like, “Let’s let the people decide what album they want to hear.” It just seemed like a fun way to entertain ourselves.
AVC: Is the album that would have been released if McCain prevailed now lost to alternate history?
JE: It’s iced. It’s back on the shelf. We have other stuff cooking too. It may reform into something else.
AVC: In many reviews of Everything Touches Everything, you’re described as an eccentric band. How do you feel about being tagged with that description?
JE: We don’t think of ourselves as all that quirky. I guess I don’t really know what that means, really. It’s kind of an adjective you use when you’re not quite sure what you want to say. It’s like [Bob Dylan's] “Ballad Of A Thin Man.” Something’s happening, but you just don’t know what it is, so you use the word “quirky.” There was a review that said “These guys are trying too hard to be eccentric.” It’s kind of funny to us, because at the same time, we’re getting panned on the other side for being a mediocre bar-rock band. I kind of feel like both of those things are true. I feel like we’re a weird, zany, eccentric, mediocre bar rock band. I’m totally happy with both of those.