Mark Sasso is standing on a precipice. In two months, the Elliott BROOD frontman will release a batch of new songs, Days Into Nights , and right now there's gaping void staring at him.
It's a strange time, having no idea how the world will react and now, he says, "There's nothing we can do." He laughs.
The new album is the Toronto band's first in three years and the first under their new label, Paper Bag Records. Sasso, along with guitarist Laforet and drummer Stephen Pikin, have been road testing the songs all summer but really there's no way to know how they'll be received until people hear the final recorded versions.
"It is kind of hard to say what is ever going to happen to them, you know?" Sasso says by phone from his Toronto home. "You just kind of throw them out there and hope someone cares for them. They're almost orphaned by you by making an album and you hope that someone kind of takes care of them."
The album was inspired by a road trip the band took from the Netherlands to Spain while they were on a European tour in 2007. They had a five-day break between shows and decided to drive along the Belgian and French coast. They wound up at Juno Beach and other historic battlefields. The experience had a profound effect an all three men and they decided, while stuck in midsummer Parisian traffic several weeks later, that they'd make an album inspired by the trip.
Day Into Years , due out on Sept. 27, is arguably the strongest batch of rustic alt-roots the band has delivered to date. It's as dark and death-obsessed as one would expect of an album influenced by war, but this is also Elliott BROOD we're talking about, who bills itself as "death country."
But the new album has breaks of exquisite country folk that are among the finest the band has recorded. "Northern Air" may be a contender for best Canadian song of the year. It's a tale of brief respite in the countryside from the struggles that characterize the remainder of the album, which Sasso says is a "solitary struggle album."
"The basic theme is the struggle of life, to survive through bitter moments and tough moments," he says.
He was reading fiction like All Quiet on the Western Front and biographies of Stalin, so his head was filled with these tales of people forced into doing things they wouldn't normally do - join the army under conscription, kill "enemies" and the like - and found a thematic connection between people struggling to stay alive, either at home or at war.
The lyrics are a puzzle of fictional narratives and personal reflections. He says he approaches the song the way an actor would, by only letting the bits of his personal life seep in that can add an emotional dimension to an otherwise made up story.
But whether it's age, experience or something else entirely, Days Into Years has become Elliott BROOD's most personal, and emotionally arresting, album to date. Their previous albums, 2005's Juno-nominated Ambassador and 2008's, Polaris Prize-shortlisted Mountain Meadows, were written from the perspective of an omniscient narrator but the new album is written all in the first person.
"I don't think we set out to do that but it's become a very personal album. It's like a very matter of fact, written from a first person point of view for the entire record, which we've never done before. We didn't set out to do that either," Sasso says.
He adds: "We kind of feel those emotions or else we wouldn't be able to sing those words. For me, I dive head long into it and try to encapsulate those emotions. If we didn't believe it or we didn't sing it with the passion that you need to have then the song won't be on the album."
That passion is there because each one of these songs, he says, is like one of his children. They are one of his brood and no matter what he believes in it, even if no one else does.
"Whatever happens, it doesn't really matter," he says. "It kind of is birthed and then it becomes somebody else's. It's just like a child and you want your child to be loved. No matter what, you're going to love it. They go out there and whatever happens you can't control what life happens to them."