Studio Visit appears in Sunday editions of The News-Gazette. Here, Melissa Merli visits with musician Kevin Elliott, also the host of "From the Joshua Tree Inn" on WEFT..
Q: Your second album, "It's a Circus Here, Dolores," was released by a label, right?
A: Yes, It's Soona Songs in Jonesborough, Tenn.
Q: Is a recording contract still the holy grail for most musicians?
A: It is. The last several years, I've gone to the Folk Alliance conference. One year it was in Memphis. On our way down Sandra (Ahten), my wife, said, "I bet you're going to get a label offer." I said, "No, I don't tour enough." But sure enough, this small label picked me up and did all the recording, producing and distribution.
Q: Are you working on a third album?
A: Yes. It doesn't have a title yet. I'm not sure what's going to be on it, but we'll do the recording in April. I have a lot of songs I need to polish up.
Q: Do you have any gigs coming up around here?
A: I don't at the moment. I just played at the Clark Bar for one of Todd's (Durnil) Singer-Songwriter Collective shows. I'll probably do more of those in the new year.
The only other thing I have booked is out of state, in Fredericksburg, Va., in the spring. It's part of a singer-songwriter showcase and radio broadcast. I just played one of those down in Johnson City, Tenn. That city has some notoriety. I think it's maybe one of the birthplaces of country music. I know it gets mentioned in a Bob Dylan song. Of course, so does Champaign.
Q: Dylan is one of your influences, right? Who are some of your others?
A: Yes. They're sort of the singer-songwriters of the 1960s and '70s. The Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel, for sure. A little bit after that I started appreciating some of the more edgy ones like Tom Waits and Randy Newman. I like some of the women, too, like Joni Mitchell.
Q: What's more important to you in your work? The lyrics or the music?
A: I think they both are. I think I really pay a lot of attention to the words. If they don't work for me then the song doesn't. I have a lot of love for melody and the way it interplays with acoustic guitar, especially fingerpick guitar. So my songs are likely to involve fingerpick guitar and well-deliberated lyrics.
Q: What are your lyrics about?
A: I mostly write brief character studies, or I tend to think about subject matter that's on my mind. Or if I come up with a guitar arrangement, I see what images are evoked from that. Then I free associate and see where that leads. Out of that process comes something more cohesive. It seems to always involve some character. Maybe it's all me.
Q: How old were you when you started playing guitar?
A: After a few false starts, I finally got to where I felt I could play a little bit when I was 18. I actually learned to play my freshman year of college. I missed my high school girlfriend, and I told myself every time I missed her I would play my guitar. That and meeting other guitarists in college are what got me over the hump.
Q: You have a psychological counseling service here in Champaign. Do you have a Ph.D. in psychology?
A: No, I just have my master's degree. I'm one of those persons who completed all the Ph.D. work but never wrote my dissertation. By that time I was working as director of psychological and chemical dependency services at the Pavilion. So I reluctantly let go of my Ph.D. aspirations. I started my own counseling business in 2002.
Q: When did you start hosting "From the Joshua Tree Inn" program at WEFT?
A: In 1996. I took it over from Jay (Rosenstein). Before long, it will be 17 years. Jay did it for nine years before that. So it's a long-running slot.
Editor's note: "From the Joshua Tree Inn" airs from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays on WEFT 90.1 FM. For more on Elliott, visit kevinelliottmusic.com.