Interview: Sarah Lee Guthrie & Jim Greer of U.S. Elevator

This week we chatted with Sarah Lee Guthrie and Jim Greer, one half of the quartet that makes up U.S. Elevator. U.S. Elevator features husband-and-wife duo Sarah Lee and Johnny Irion and Brandon “The Bastard Prince” Arnovick and Jim “Diamond Jim” Greer of the Rondo Brothers. In the latest installment of our interview series, Sarah Lee and Jim discuss their group’s sound, their bi-coastal influences, and their favorite musicians at the moment.

Twenty Two: Let’s start with the basics. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Sarah Lee: Johnny and I live in Western Massachusetts (where I grew up; Johnny is from the Carolinas). Most of time we spend on the road in our van and in airplanes and trains, doing roughly 180 shows a year in US and Europe. We spend a lot of time in elevators, hence the name. We are songwriters through and through, always working to write a better song than the last. When not on the road, we love, well, playing music in our house.

We teamed up with The Rondo Brothers about a year ago via Ninth Street Opus, who put out “Bright Examples,” a Sarah Lee and Johnny album. The folks there had the idea that Jim and Brandon should produce a few tracks with us singing and them masterminding the arrangements. We started compiling a list of songs we wanted to try and the list got so long and interesting. The recordings really started coming to life and it became like a “thing,” so we named it and decided to release these tracks a little at a time just to see what would happen.

Jim: We combine Blueberry Mountain with West Coast sunshine. We understand where we came from, and where we are going. We got together in San Francisco, recorded a lot of music and helped each other out.

Twenty Two: How would you describe U.S. Elevator’s sound?

Sarah Lee: In addition to the songwriting we love old records, traditional sounding and progressive pop songs too. U.S. Elevator is a blend of the familiarity of songs from our past mixed with the freshness of the futuristic wave of electronics. It is folk meets groove. It’s mountain meets city. It’s Sarah Lee and Johnny meets the Rondo Brothers. We created what we think is a truly unique journey for our listeners.

Jim: The sound is New England cosmic country mixed with West Coast tripster-hop.

Twenty Two: What’s the process you go through when you’re developing new music?

Sarah Lee: The process for this band is much different than any other typical approach. Jim and Brandon tend to lay the foundation for the tracks, creating the bed that Johnny and I get to lay our voices in. Even happens while on different coasts… We’ve been able to send in the tracks that we started in our home studio to the Rondos in their studio and back and forth until we’ve got something. Every once in a while we’ve all gotten together out in SF to freak out and make tracks together.

Jim: We play songs for each other and then see where the mood goes from there, using recording gear and our telepathic communication.

Twenty Two: Where do you find your inspiration?

Sarah Lee: Usually in front of me… sometimes inside.

Jim: Inspiration seems to come from what everyone truly likes the most deep down, fulfilling all yearnings of who we really want to be.

Twenty Two: How has living in Massachusetts and San Francisco, respectively, influenced your work?

Sarah Lee: Two completely different worlds can really help put a different perspective on things. What’s cool in SF is beyond Massachusetts and what’s cool in Massachusetts could be missed by a city cat. The subtle whispers of the trees and the bustling bodies of the streets are both very cool. I love the idea of capturing both in a project like this.

Jim: Living bi-coastally is no big deal at all, and we see each other quite often!

Twenty Two: Who are some of your favorite musicians at the moment?

Sarah Lee: Oh, so many. I tend to listen to everything! Johnny’s been playing lots of Muddy WatersDvořák, Wilco, and Chris Bell. I’ve been leaning toward some our friends like Vetiver, Nicki Bluhm, The Winterpills as well as some Carole King, Bobby Charles and Elton John…  just to name a few.

Jim: Favorite musicians: Phil Collins and Pete Best.

Twenty Two: When you’re not working, how do you spend your time?

Sarah Lee: Pickin’ blueberries and weeds out of the garden. Taking hikes in the woods. Cooking and baking and visiting family and friends. Hangin’ out with kids. Playin’ Twister and softball.

Jim: When we aren’t working we all have kids and that’s probably what we’re doing.

Twenty Two: What can we expect to see from U.S. Elevator in the future?

Sarah Lee: More singles! Obscure tracks and ones you know, but might not recognize.

Jim: You will see a regular string of music coming from us every few months!

A special thanks to Sarah Lee and Jim for giving us the opportunity to learn more about U.S. Elevator. You can keep up with U.S. Elevator by checking out their website, while you can follow Sarah Lee and Johnny on their website, Facebook, YouTube, and MySpace and The Rondo Brothers on their website, Facebook, Twitter, and Vimeo.

Click on the images below to see more from U.S. Elevator.

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