Can you hear a life’s timeline in the way a person sings? Or a family’s history in the sound of an old guitar? After listening to Landon Elliott’s music, I’m more inclined to believe that you can.
Elliott’s voice is characterized by grit, feeling, and flexibility — all qualities that reflect the journey that led him from North Carolina’s Outer Banks, where he grew up, to Elizabeth City, where he attended college, to Richmond, where he and his wife now reside with their two children. “We just slowly meandered up to Richmond over the years,” Elliott joked during a recent chat at Black Hand Coffee Company’s Cafe Nostra.
Here in Richmond, he’s found a tight-knit musical home at American Paradox Records, which has overseen a multi-genre winning streak of releases in the past few years. With Elliott’s full-length debut poised to extend that streak in the coming months, I asked him about being part of that community, and how his past helped shape his sound.
Did the quiet of the Outer Banks off-seasons help you develop as a musician?
I feel like solitude is a great opportunity to process what’s going on around you. The songs I feel connected with are ones that stem out of chaotic, trying times. Getting married, having kids, moving to a new city, the political and social issues around us, work being overwhelming… those are the times where I feel sparks of creativity. It’s actually in the midst of chaos that I think my best thoughts come out, because I’m processing, and trying to make sense of what’s going on.
How are you enjoying working with American Paradox founder Scott Lane?[Lane has] a great ear and is in sync with the heartbeat of our music community… It’s so cool that American Paradox has bridged so many genres, too. I’m doing more indie alternative rock and roll, Kenneka [Cook] put out an incredible neo-soul R&B record, Marcus [Tenney] did a beautiful jazz record, Sid [Kingsley] has his Americana piano record, and the sonics of each one are so different. Yet our AP family is very tight-knit.
What was your recording schedule like?
We started plugging away at this record back in September 2017… We hustled for two, three weeks trying to lay a foundation for the record, because I was about to have my second kid, and Scott was about to move, and there were a ton of moving pieces around us. Once my son was born, we had to pull off for a little while… After things settled down personally, we got back into the swing of things and finished up the record.
Were your parents into music when you were growing up?
My dad and his family are from Ohio, and they all love 1970s and 1980s classic rock and roll. My dad raised me on Journey, Def Leppard, AC/DC, Whitesnake, Mötley Crüe. My first concert with my dad was KISS at eight or nine years old. So there’s a ton of rock influence there… My mom loved country music. I remember [her] singing karaoke, and she’d sing at music festivals. We even moved to Nashville for two years and she pursued a music career… She recorded this really beautiful single during her time there, so that’s a gem for our family. I remember being six or seven years old, watching my mom doing the thing and thought it was so cool.[My grandfather] was a deep-sea fisherman for 30-plus years of his life… the acoustic guitar that I play was the guitar that he took around on his boat. That guitar has been more places than I have. It’s been all the way up [and] around to Alaska and back. He would come home and people would want to see him after these long trips. We’d do these big fish fries at the house and a guitar would inevitably come out at some point and he would sing and play Elvis and Johnny Cash. That was how it all started — watching my family doing it and [thinking] “I could do that.”
You’ve gotten to do a few tours recently. Do you enjoy interacting with audiences?
Absolutely. Music is such a communal thing… It’s one thing to just hide behind the mic and guitar and [say] “Here’s my songs” and leave. It’s another thing to actually [say] “Here are my songs” and share a little bit of yourself in conversation, and follow up. Those are some of the best moments, where you get to hear someone else’s story and hear how your songs hit them. That follow-up, and that laying [of] roots — there’s a rewarding feeling, like “I have friends in new places.” It opens up your world and pops the bubble that you live in, and invites more people in.