All The Real Girls features members of Death Cab for Cutie, Built to Spill
“Here, sweeping melodies coexist with twangy, pastoral instrumentation, as Donovan, like a young Conor Oberst, recounts a farewell party for a fallen loved one.”- Consequence of Sound
Seattle’s All the Real Girls have released their debut album, Elk City.
The twelve songs that make up Elk City were all inspired by the stories told by an eccentric, 70-something year old chainsmoker named Jo who singer-songwriter Peter Donovan met while shooting the independent film Lost On Purpose.
“This older woman was telling me about her sister, who had passed away recently, pretty unexpected in her sleep, and she was saying they have this really old tradition in her family, when somebody dies…” Says Donovan.
“She stopped all the clocks in the house right at the time she found her sister and then invited a bunch of people over to drink wine and play cards and they would all take turns sitting in with the body, saying goodbye.
The whole thing seemed really bizarre to me at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I kinda liked the idea that when this person died, her whole experience was basically just a big going away party, with all her closest friends, and that’s where the song came from.”
Elk City, was produced by John Goodmanson (Nada Surf, Sleater-Kinney, Los Campesinos!) and features Jason McGerr (Death Cab For Cutie), Jim Roth (Built To Spill), Steve Fisk (Pell Mell), Eric Corson (The Long Winters), Eric Howk (The Lashes) & Shelby Earl.
When singer Peter Donovan listens to Elk City, his band’s new album, he can’t help but think about the menthol cigarettes that helped inspire it. “She must have smoked a whole pack by the end of the night,” he remembers, laughing.
Donovan was living just outside Bakersfield, California and working on an independent film, Lost on Purpose. “The character I played was a struggling singer-songwriter who pays the bills by working as a ranch hand on a dairy farm,” Donovan said, adding: “Typecasting, obviously.”
After shooting wrapped one day, he walked into a bar in town and found himself with an improbable drinking buddy: “Her name was Jo. She was probably in her 70s, super tall, wearing this bright yellow dress, and a pair of these ridiculous Coke bottle glasses.”
They got to talking. The woman, joined by her geriatric Basset Hound Winston, had been driving all day, en route to the Pacific Ocean from Oklahoma – and she was in the mood to chat.
“She started giving me her entire family history, like five generations of it,” Donovan recalls. “Adultery, botched kidnappings, crazy cult leaders, schizophrenic starlets. It was nuts. She basically just inhaled white wine, smoked like a chimney, and told me these crazy, amazing stories all night.”
Donovan had just completed the songs he contributed to Lost on Purpose and wasn’t expecting to be writing new music anytime soon. “I wasn’t thinking at all about more songwriting, but these stories were just too good. I started picturing all these crazy, sordid characters intersecting each other’s lives in some tiny Oklahoma town.” Donovan said. “I was writing as soon as I got back to my room.”
Donovan brought the songs to producer John Goodmanson (Sleater-Kinney, Nada Surf), hoping to enlist him to help record the album. “I wasn’t totally sure how he’d respond to it, but he was on board right away, which was huge.” Donovan says. “His records all have this amazing balance between melody and chaos, which I love. I knew John was the only guy for this.”
Goodmanson and the band, which includes Jason McGerr (Death Cab for Cutie) and Jim Roth (Built to Spill), set up shop at Robert Lang Studios in Seattle and hunkered down to begin recording. “Once all those other guys got their hands on the songs, that’s when the whole thing really started to come into focus,” Donovan said.
Donovan says he tried his best to be faithful to what the woman told him of her family history, though admits there is some creative license on the record. “I had to sneak a little bit of me in there.”
Though, in the end, “fluid storytelling,” as Donovan puts it, may just be hard to avoid with stories like these.
But in the end, Jo probably won’t mind.
“As she was leaving, she told me she embellished some parts,” Donovan laughs. “But she never said how much or which parts.”