We get to know a singer-songwriter from New Jersey who looked to gritty, cinematic Americana and found success in Norway
Name: Luke Elliot
Location: New Jersey via Norway
Style: Piano-driven, cinematic Americana with a bitter edge, for those who like Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave
Look out for: Debut album Dressed For The Occasion out now in Norway and due for full European release on 22 April
Born in New Jersey, singer-songwriter Luke Elliot had his roots firmly planted in the geography of traditional rock ‘n’ roll and Americana, before a twist of fate in his late 20s would take the troubadour across the Atlantic to kindred spirits in the unlikeliest of places. However, Luke’s story started much earlier when he started taking piano lessons at the age of eight. “I was always fumbling around with my own ideas or taking other people’s songs and moulding them into my own,” recalls Luke. “I would show up at practices with my teacher and show her things I was working.” Alongside these initial songwriting efforts, Luke started performing live, firstly with piano recitals and then taking to the stage in bands at high school, occasionally playing local venues and cafés.
Reaching his teenage years, a different instrument beckoned. “I decided I wanted to play guitar when I was about 12 or 13, so I decided to teach myself and would switch back and forth between piano and guitar. I began thinking the guitar was much cooler and that only dorks play piano, and I wanted to be a rock ‘n’ roll guy.” But on reflection, Luke admits that, “When I got a little older and realised the piano was actually great.” He’ll comfortably jump between both instruments depending on how he feels, but never considered himself as an actual musician. “I’ve never really thought I was a very good piano player and I’m probably a very poor guitar player. I just use them to get the song out.”
Rather than committing to becoming a full-time musician at that point, Luke felt the need for the safety net of a nine-to-five job and fell into a variety of sales jobs – “telemarketing, selling advertising for newspapers, I worked in cigar shops, I was in restaurants. I did whatever I could.” But spare time was still taken up with songwriting, gradually releasing music and building the skills needed to make it the serious career choice it has become in recent years. After putting out two EPs himself – Death Of A Widow and Provisions – in New York, an introduction to Rihanna’s ex-manager, Christa Shaub, led to a chance meeting with an influential Norwegian journalist. “It was the weirdest thing… I told him I was a musician, he listened to the music, then the next thing I knew he had written about me in the biggest newspaper there and we got asked over for our first tour.”
It was this moment that meant a temporary move to Oslo and signing to Norwegian label, Indie Recordings. Producer John Agnello (Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, Kurt Vile, The War On Drugs) flew over to work with Luke and created what would be his debut album, Dressed For The Occasion. With some traction already building there, the record was released in Norway first, where it broke into the Top 10 of the iTunes chart. Luke wasn’t surprised by his success so far from home soil, explaining that, “the Norwegian music scene is very American-based – they’re really into Americana music – so it was actually quite an easy transition.”
With the album poised for release across the rest of Europe and ultimately North America as well, Luke has plans to tour and is even working on the follow-up in Los Angeles. “I’ve had a backing band in Norway who are fantastic, that I hope I’ll be bringing with me to the UK. Right now I’m staying with my friend Larry [Mullins] in LA who is Iggy Pop’s drummer, so I’m pretty sure we’ll be using him for some upcoming shows. The house has a grand piano and an upright, and cool organs, so I’m just sitting here and getting work done.”
Find out more about Luke at lukeelliot.com and listen to the latest single Trouble below. Also look out for him performing live throughout the UK and Europe in 2016.