Now/It's: An Interview with Scott Krueger and Sean Truskowski (Elliot Root)

A little while back (a couple weeks or so, because how long is “a little while back,” actually?), we featured a recap of band on the verge of further ascension. Full disclosure, the word “ascension” was used to a mirthful extent. While airy verbiage has always been a playful tenant of these ledes, we’ll do our best to avoid over-indulging too much this time around with the grandiosity of word. But such a sentiment is a (relatively) nice segue into our feature interview for this week, with Scott Krueger and Sean Truskowski, of the aforementioned band on the rise, Elliot Root. As referenced in the write-up covering the band’s sold out, two night residency at 3rd & Lindsley, Elliot Root finds themselves in an incredibly invigorating position - they’ve “chipped away” at the machine that is Nashville and begun to carve themselves out quite the nice little section (vague, I know) that’s all their own. They’re not even full year behind the release of their debut LP, Conjure, but it would (presumably) already be constituted as a banner year. Krueger and Truskowski discuss the nature of being a new band finding themselves thrust upon a new threshold of their career, as well as some fleeting glances at the nature of the beast that is Nashville’s music scene. Furthermore, they discuss their home state of Wisconsin and the immense pride they take in their place of origin, as well as playfully ruminate and rib their interviewer’s fancy for self-deprecation and sardonicism. Plenty to dive into, and plenty to be gleaned from Scott and Sean. Enjoy.

Now/It's met with Scott Krueger and Sean Truskowski at Barista Parlor Golden Sound, in the Gulch neighborhood of Nashville.

Sean - How you doing, man?

N/I - Doing well, how are you?

Sean - Very good. Coming off a solid weekend.

N/I - I’d say so! What have you guys been up to today?

Sean - Nothing today. We had some meetings yesterday. Follow up stuff after the shows, but pretty tame thus far.

N/I - So what did you guys think of the shows, then? Obviously, they were sold out, so that’s always nice.

Scott - Yeah, they were great.

N/I - I feel like 3rd & Lindsley is a pretty good barometer for gauging where you stand in Nashville.

Scott - We were super stoked. It’s always awesome to sell a show out, and then two is better.

N/I - And in Nashville, your proverbial hometown…

Scott - That’s tough to do in Nashville. It’s historically tough, for whatever reason, to get crowds in Nashville. We’ve been fortunate to not really have that problem, somehow. We’ve been lucky.

N/I - Absolutely. Those shows were the end to your most recent run on the road, right? The Conjure Tour.

Scott - Right. We toured before [the release] and then right after, most recently. We were out with some friends of ours - this band called Rainbow Kitten Surprise - it was really cool. So we’ve been calling pretty much everything that we’ve been doing part of the Conjure Tour, for the record, but [the most recent run] was our first headline portion of the tour.

N/I - And you guys are all pleased with that, I’m sure.

Scott - Oh yeah. It’s great. We went to a lot of places where we hadn’t spent a lot of time.

N/I - Where are some of those places? Less regional stuff?

Scott - Right, less regional stuff. In the Northeast. Obviously, we’ve done a lot in the South, the Southeast, and a little in the West, but things had been hit or miss in the Northeast and the Midwest prior to this tour, but this time it was great. People came out, which is always cool.

N/I - It definitely is…. And just to clarify, Mel and Todd won’t be joining us?

Sean - Correct. It’s just us today.

N/I - No worries. Just wanted to clarify.

Sean - Scott does most of the speaking. It’s better that way [laughs].

Scott - I don’t let them talk [laughs].

N/I - You’re the Commander in Chief?

Sean - He definitely is [laughs].

Scott - No. Not really. I think everyone makes me do it, obviously, we all speak whenever we’re moved to.

N/I - Well it’s funny, because you are the front man, and I’d imagine some journalists might direct every question just to Scott. Or they direct every question to Sean. It can be tough to gather a fair split amongst four people with limited time. Do you guys have ways to circumvent that?

Sean - Well, Mel and I stay quiet pretty much most of the time. The dorkiness gets too great when all of us start speaking together.

N/I - Why is that? Too many inside jokes?

Sean - Definitely too many inside jokes.

Scott - It’s so weird.

Sean - It’s hard to find focus sometimes when that happens.

Scott - We spend so much time together, traveling, that we have a million inside jokes. Plus, we just have that rapport with each other, so you forget that someone who’s interviewing you isn’t in on that joke, and we just slip it in and make fun of each other a lot. It’s hard to put on a persona or any sort of face with the people who see you when you really need to take a shit in the morning.

N/I - Being around other people 24/7 has a way of doing that .

Scott - You can’t get away with anything. We try not to do that too often.

N/I - How long have you all been together, as the foursome we now know as Elliot Root?

Scott - Sean and I were kind of the founders of the band. We’ve been working together a little while longer in Nashville, chipping away at the seem, like everyone does. But the four of us have been a band together, officially, or at least the way it is now, for three or four years now.

N/I - So how do you two know each other, then?

Scott - We’re both from Wisconsin.

 Scott Krueger

Scott Krueger

N/I - Okay. What part?

Scott - Southeastern. Kenosha. And we grew up near each other, but Sean is six years older than I am, so we didn’t really know each other well. Actually, I didn’t even meet Sean until he was already in Nashville. He moved to Nashville before I did. I met him through his cousin, Jake, who was one of my - when I first started playing music at all - Jake was still in Wisconsin, and he introduced me to Sean. He was the go between.

Sean - He pulled the family, “Hey man, can I record at the studio you work at?” thing. So that’s how we met.

N/I - So what brought you down to Nashville, then?

Sean - Recording engineering. I went to Full Sail down in Orlando, and then moved to Nashville - it’s long - thirteen, fourteen years ago. It’s sad.

N/I - And were you doing production and everything that comes with it?

Sean - Did recording, engineering, production, and like I said, that’s how we met and that kind of kicked off the first phase of us working together. We just got into the studio, learning and understanding how the other works. I was very young in the industry at that time, too.

N/I - That’s fair. So you’re cutting your teeth, and then Scott comes down and does the same, with you, and slowly but surely, you’re building a rapport - but at what point do you guys decide to actually start a project together?

Scott - God… [laughs]. It’s hard to say. At those early stages, you always think that everything you’re doing is so legit.

N/I - Absolutely.

Scott - When you’re starting out, you start and restart constantly. We probably “started” a project over twenty times over a few years.

Sean - I don’t think there was necessarily a moment of “Hey! Do you want to start working together?” It was pretty organic.

Scott - It was one little happy accident after another, and then somehow we wound up with how we’re doing it.

N/I - Right. It sounds more serendipitous in the case of your guys’ scenario. I’m always curious - especially as someone who never really entertains the idea of playing music - I have no idea how to approach that. Some people have told me they spotted someone playing on their own and then got them on board, and others, not so. But it sounds like things were more natural for you guys, which inevitably has lent itself to the longevity of you two working together, and eventually Elliot Root, once everyone else joins.

Sean - Definitely.

N/I - So with Conjure, has it been a year since the record came out? Probably not, right?

Sean - Not even. It was August.

N/I - So creeping closer to it, but not quite. In that time since, have you guys seen things change or shift with regard to the album? Did you have a lot of anticipation leading up to the release? Or was it some sort of a “throw it out and see what sticks” scenario?

[Scott looks at Sean]

Sean - Oh, me?

Scott - If you want.

Sean - I think there was definitely anticipation, because it took about a year and a half, almost two years by the time it came out, from when demos started to release out into the world. And before then, we had only done the three EPs, two of which are still up. So I think there’s a… not an apprehension, but an unknown, because we knew it was a pretty big step in a different direction. Or at least, a bigger picture of the EPs, so it seemed like it meant more. It was deeper. It had more. You’re putting yourself out there. That was the first “Hey, here we are.” kind of moment. Rather than a snapshot like the EPs. So I think there was an anticipation for how people would receive it, but we didn’t have many indicators of how things were going to be. “10,000” came out…. How far did “10,000” come out before the record? Four, five months?

 Sean Truskowski

Sean Truskowski

Scott - I think it was more like three. We kind of snuck a few tracks out before the release.

Sean - So we put “10,000” out - which was not really - I don’t think it’s the best image of the record as a whole. It’s a great song, I think it fits, but you don’t listen to “10,000” and immediately “get” the whole record. Because it’s a big adventure going through that whole record. The songs change quite a bit throughout. So I don’t really know what we anticipated at the time. I don’t remember feeling any sort of way. It was very unknown.

N/I - I figure that’s normal

Scott - It’s kind of that way with everything.

N/I - If not, at least a little healthier. Just for one’s own sanity.

Sean - [Laughs] Well, we were losing our minds for a little bit.

N/I - Why is that?

Sean - Because it’s art. You’re putting art out into the masses, and you’re hoping people enjoy it. You hope it moves them.

N/I - To respond or connect in some capacity, sure.

Sean - But there’s a very high probability that it won’t. So you just don’t know.

N/I - That’s fair.

Scott - And it was the first step in a lot of ways, for us. We had put the EPs out, but when we were putting those out, it was such a small snapshot of a band in a complete developmental phase. Just figuring things out, and not even really solidified as a band yet. We were still kind of just chipping away at what we really wanted to do. We didn’t do much supporting of the EPs. We just put them out. Punks and Poets kind of caught on, got some steam, but we didn’t really follow through on it, because it was really the time for us to push, we still had this other music to work on, so Conjure, in a lot of ways, was the first fully realized project, even if you look back at the past six months of the record being out, it’s still just a very small stepping stone, even though it felt so big at the time. It was the first time we really partnered with any major music companies. We signed a [publishing] deal with Sony ATV, and we put the record out pseudo-independently, but with a record label, Thirty Tigers. It’s more of like an independent distribution thing, but a worldwide release, nonetheless. So in a lot of ways, there was more expectation to catch with, albeit small expectations for an introduction, which was more than we were used to. Certainly some anticipation.

N/I - But not necessarily apprehension…. Well, maybe some in terms of would people respond, but still no hardline return expectations.

Scott - No one’s straining, hoping that it surpasses this many streams or sales.

N/I - No profit margin, or loss. That’s a weird thing to do, anyway.

Sean - Right. With Thirty Tigers serving as the record label - being the person we distributed through - there was no expectation of not selling enough units, we’d be dropped. We didn’t feel that way by any means. And Spotify reacted to it favorably. We did those instant gratification tracks - was that in July? I think before we put the record out.

Scott - I’m terrible with timelines.

Sean - They had some instant gratification tracks….

Scott - I love that you’re spending the full term, [over-enunciating] “Instant gratification.”

Sean - Well hey, if you say “instant grat tracks” it just doesn’t sound quite as good [laughs].

N/I - Well, you know, industry jargon can be picked up or sometimes fly over people’s heads. I appreciate it.

Sean - [Laughs] Okay.

Scott - Instantly gratifying [laughs]. But yeah, Spotify helped push some of the songs right away and then playlisted some stuff.

Sean - We got three out of four of the “instant grat” tracks. We got the New Music Friday, which was cool. So once we got to that point, the pressure was sort of off, because Spotify was responding to it. The playisters were into it.

N/I - So how does that work? As a layman, myself, how do you wind up with the “instant grat” stuff?

Sean - I don’t know, actually.

Scott - Just through our team, at Thirty Tigers, and through our publisher [Sony ATV]. We have some cool connections with Spotify, and with some playlisters there. There are some really great playlisters there. Just a lot of cool people there. They slide the music in and see what happens. If they like it or not, and fortunately, they liked it, so when we were in New York, we went and had a few meetings, and they told us they would help as much as they could.

N/I - Sure. The more you interface with the people at Spotify or wherever, the more benefit you inevitably will find.

Scott - Right. So it was pretty organic, and it was just cool. They haven’t requested a lot of us… It’s weird, I don’t want to spend too much time behind the curtain of how Spotify works, but everyone knows that their model is changing. I think it was a little more freeform, but now it’s kind of like the new radio, in a lot of ways.

N/I - Which definitely helps with certain financial aspects.

Scott - Helps you keep moving along. But they got behind us, and are still working with us while operating independently on this record, and being able to say that is cool. We feel very fortunate to have them in our corner.

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N/I - Absolutely. I think this is something that - using you guys as an example - you’re in a really cool spot, where you come off of two sold out shows, a really strong tour in support of what turned into a really strong album release. So in terms of the Industry-side of things - without getting too Wizard of Oz, behind the curtain - what do you guys do now? I know the summer isn’t really peak touring season. There are festivals.

Scott - There are festivals, for sure. I think we’re going to continue on with touring, we’ll be touring for sure. And continuing to support the record, and fortunately, some new doors are opening. It’s been another introduction for us into the industry on a more solidified level of “this is what we can do as a band.” And even though the record is six months old, we still feel like we have a lot to say with it. Of course, in the ever evolving digital music landscape, you always have to be creating new things. That works for us, because we just want to be making music all the time, so new music, I’m sure. I don’t know if we’re going to be making another album in the next five months, but we’re already writing and working on stuff, seeing where some of these doors lead.

N/I - That’s great. And you and your wife are expecting - congratulations on that.

Scott - That’s right. Thanks.

N/I - There’s a lot of good stuff going on with all thing Elliot Root in the future.

Scott - Absolutely. We’re excited.

Sean - Absolutely.

N/I - So are you guys both living in Nashville, now?

Sean - We’re based out of Nashville, but I actually live part-time in Southeastern Wisconsin. I have three children and a wife and all that stuff up there. We hub out of Nashville, but we’re going to be going for a break, with the baby coming, so I’ll be up there. It’s hard to explain that to everybody, so when they ask if you’re a Nashville band, it can be tough.

N/I - Well I ask because I remember someone mentioning that you weren’t going to be in town a certain day.

Sean - Right. Actually, I leave tonight.

N/I - So how long will that be for?

Sean - Until I’m hailed back, I suppose. Or something comes up.

Scott - We’ve locked in a small window for me and my wife on the touring schedule, so the plan was sort of to tour as close to the due date as possible, and then take a little time, and then pick up in the summer, do some festivals, and in the meantime work on some music.

N/I - So were you guys demoing out on the road or anything? Writing?

Scott - To be quite honest, no [laughs].

N/I - Well that’s another thing that I’ve come to learn, it seems like most people don’t do a lot of writing, but every once and a while, there will be that one wild person who does.

Scott - Sure. It can be either or, for us. It’s not completely off the table, but this tour was super whirlwind. It started with a lot of radio, and then we did a couple tv things, and then it was just crazy schedule right off the bat. It was just exhausting right from the start. It just never came up, and I just feel like we’ve been trying to catch up the whole tour through being so tired, but being out on tour in and of itself - you’re always mentally taking notes, and writing in your mind, if you will. Collecting a lot of human data as you’re out there. So it’s always fruitful whether you’re writing songs in the hotel room, or just taking in inspiration in one form or another.

N/I - So that’s what the “human data” is? Inspiration?

Scott - Yeah. I would say so.

N/I - I figured I’d ask, because that could mean you’re literally taking in someone else’s experience. It’s open to interpretation.

Scott - Right. I would add that it’s always inspiring. Even the nitty gritty. Even being exhausted, that’s inspiring. It’s inspiring to be exhausted and make it happen. I have yet to find the end of the reserves of energy, which is always inspiring.

N/I - Well that’s good, it’s a great problem to have.

Scott - You can be like “I think we’re going to be on for a while today, but we’re going to push to 2 AM. We’re going to make it to 2 AM tonight.”

Sean - I think that makes you a masochist [laughs].

N/I - That could be some sort of strange sadomasochistic streak.

Sean - If you’re inspired by the agony of touring, then you have to be….

Scott - Well everyone knows how fucked up things can get in this industry, and how all over the place entertainers are in general. We’re all masochists.

Sean - You have to be at least thirty percent masochist [laughs].

N/I - Hey, before we go any further, I wanted to check and see how we’re doing on time.

Scott - You’re the only thing we have on the agenda today, man. Let’s get dinner after this, let’s go bowling….

N/I - Well then let’s start from the beginning. Let’s talk about Wisconsin….

Sean - [Laughs] Oh, you don’t want to get that intense, trust me.

N/I - My dad was born in Rice Lake, and that’s not quite Southeast Wisconsin, but it’s a little further North, and I’ve been up and around the area quite a bit - Eau Claires. I’ve been to that Eaux Claries festival before.

Sean - Oh, cool.

Scott - God. I want to go to that so bad.

N/I - It’s a lot of fun. I’m always curious with people from Wisconsin, especially in music - what’s your take on Bon Iver and Justin Vernon.

Scott - Oh man, we love him, of course.

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Sean - Huge fans. Huge fans.

Scott - I mean, we love him, and obviously, certainly very proud that he’s from Wisconsin. It’s pretty cool. I think one of the really great things about him is that he’s such a local scene supporter. There’s that festival, and then he has a hotel there now. He’s put small town music on the map, in a really big way. I feel like “support local” is a concept that’s been around forever, but it’s crazy to see someone who’s become internationally famous constantly refocus his efforts back to where he’s from. Especially being slightly - obviously, he’s a genius of sorts - but being in the vein of music that he creates, you would certainly expect him to end up in New York or LA or something. But the fact that he’s kept his studio there and when he did his press junkets for the record - he didn’t go out. He invited everyone to Eau Claire.

N/I - To the hotel, right?

Scott - That’s right. To the hotel. I think that’s incredible. So, very proud to have someone like that from Wisconsin. It’s very inspiring to see that, because I think it’s easy for someone to be the other way. I know a lot of musicians from Wisconsin and Illinois who say they’re from Chicago, because it’s easier to say, and it just sounds cooler. But it’s pretty fucking fearless and badass to be like “Yeah. I’m from Eau Claire.”

N/I - Totally. And that’s something that happens a lot here, in Nashville. [The city], in my experience, has been very quick to claim someone as a “Nashville” band. And sometimes that’s totally fair, because everyone may have actually met and formed the band in Nashville. Would you guys call yourselves a “Nashville” band?

Scott - Definitely. You’re right - we all met in Nashville, so it works out that way, technically.

Sean - We were born here - from a musical, creative perspective, it was born here.

N/I - And again, it’s just something that interests me to no end, as far as some people never really addressing that - and I’m not saying people need to - but you look at Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney of The Black Keys. They’re both from Akron, Ohio, but they both happen to live here now, but Nashville was pretty quick to be like “Hey!”

Sean - “That’s a Nashville band.”

N/I - “They’re ours now. They’re a Nashville band.” But they still are very much rooted in Akron. Anyway, through this site, I’m growing more and more drawn to the community aspect of Nashville and the way things are growing out more. With you guys being in this moment of “ascension” - I feel like I’ve been saying that a lot.

Sean - We’ll take that.

N/I - Especially with you guys, I think I may have used the word twice in that write-up from the show.

Scott - Oh, you wrote that?

N/I - I did. I hope that doesn’t read like I’m trying to talk myself, but it inevitably will. So for the record, I am not trying to do that.

Scott - No. I liked it, man. It was great.

Sean - It was really good [laughs].

Scott - I love that you’re self deprecating all throughout it, too.

N/I - Well that’s something that I hope people can appreciate, otherwise I just seem nuts.

Scott - It’s funny though - why does that happen to writers in general?

N/I - What’s that?

Scott - I resonate with the idea of air-quoting big words and sort of the grandiosity of it all. But why is it that you have to get to a certain level, or a certain space where you can accept grandiosity and the big story without being like “I don’t want to risk sounding like too much of a writer here?” But that’s funny, because I was thinking that while I was reading it. I appreciated that you did that, but I was also like, you don’t necessarily have to.

N/I - That’s a good question. In writing for bigger publications, the guidelines are a little more strict in terms of a defined readership, so you have to make sure things are one way or another. Sometimes you have to be really grandiose, and it’s just like “Okay, I don’t talk like this.” And other times, it’s the opposite. I think it’s just due to the fact that type of writing can be limited - there’s a very small space of which one can operate in, and you basically go at it one way or another.

Scott - Right. It’s funny, though. And I certainly wasn’t calling it out in any way, it just made me think.

N/I - Oh, you’re good!

Scott - After I read it, I liked it a lot. It’d be hard not to like.

N/I - Well if you think about anything, that’s as much as I can ask for.

Scott - It just weird that the environment of it requires that. It’s funny. Writing in general, especially in the landscape of right now. Freedom of speech is being called into question in a lot of ways. It’s just interesting to think about as a writer.

N/I - It certainly is. I don’t want to make it feel like I’m trying to entrap you by talking about free speech and everything - but what’s your guys’ take on that? Being in the public eye. When you play shows, it’s not like you rip through the set without any banter or conversation in between. I’m sure there are times when you feel moved to say something - are there moments where you hesitate due to the current state of affairs, especially as things are (seemingly) more documented?

Scott - Not really. I don’t think we really censor ourselves in that way. Of course, you don’t want to spend a lot of time at shows preaching to anybody, but we do have the availability of the open space where it is necessary at times. Fortunately, a lot of the focus of our show is centered around honesty and positivity in a lot of ways. I don’t really tread in that negative space, which might appear offensive to somebody. Where I think artists get in trouble is that they do feel the need to speak about something they feel negatively about, and then everybody kind of feels like they’re cramping their style at that point. I don’t know what it is, but it’s just harder for people to accept - and I don’t want to generalize too much - but people spend their hard earned money, they want to be entertained. And sometimes, audiences don’t want to be challenged by a very introspective or negatively placed thought process.

N/I - That’s fair.

Scott - But I feel like we just haven’t been called to be in that space yet, but if we were, I’d like to think I wouldn’t say no to it. I’d certainly track down what I was feeling.

N/I - That’s great.

Scott - I tend to like to do it through songs, more. If I’m ever going to have a challenging idea, I’ll just save it for a jam or something and freestyle over it. We have this song, “Hold On,” that we play this jam over, and it kind of this incoherent jam of freestyle, of a thought process about social media.

N/I - It’s a little more stream of consciousness.

Scott - Right. It’s just easier to digest when you’re singing it and expressing it in that manner rather than stopping the music and talking about the matter at hand.

N/I - Absolutely. There are some people who are very capable - like Henry Rollins - he can go with songs, comedy, and then really, really heavy humanist, realist purviews.

Sean - That’s his schtick, though.

N/I - That’s true.

Sean - That’s how he’s been identified. And to answer your question of “Are we worried about publications or the public perception?” We certainly empathize with the fact that everybody can get access to what you say out there. But we also respect the fact that everybody has an opinion about stuff. And we certainly have opinions about politics, religion, all that stuff. But from a social media standpoint, we try not to get too involved in the opinion shit. Because you can look at it however you want, and people with always look at it the way they want.

N/I - Right. There’s almost always going to be someone with a differing opinion because that’s just the way that people are.

Sean - So we just try to be calculated in those instances.

N/I - Or maybe just cognizant of those things.

Scott - Especially being a really young band, we’re sort of contradicting ourselves by saying we don’t censor ourselves, but in saying that we haven’t gotten to the space where we really need to. There also is the inherent aspect of being a young band that hasn’t necessarily earned the right to say that shit to your audience yet. In a lot of ways, we’re just proving that our music is good enough, so I’m not necessarily going to hop into the pulpit before they even know that [laughs].

N/I - That’s an interesting view, because I think some people would almost think the opposite of “I need to desperately establish what my purview is.”

Sean - But just because you get the ear of a certain mass of people, or publication, what validates our opinion as a human being over anyone else’s?

N/I - That’s fair.

Sean - And that’s a question that some people would say that because we’ve gotten to that point that we’ve earned a pedestal.

N/I - You’ve been granted license in one way or another.

Sean - And that’s cool if you want to, but like Scott said, we don’t necessarily feel validated to interject our opinion in that manner yet. We’re too busy interjecting our music and our emotions and our feelings and our experiences toward people in what we hope will become a neutral space. At a show, that’s a neutral space. Let’s have fun, let’s connect, let’s just love on each other for a second. That’s the goal.

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