Many years in the making, Jessie Elliot debuted his documentary, ‘A Picture of the Three of Us,’ at the Highland Park Independent Film Festival
. The film follows Elliot as he tours the country with his band, These United States
, playing 33 shows in 33 cities with 33 different lineups. Elliot was joined by two constants, Tom Hnatow and Robby Cosenza, who, according to Elliot, “[Kept] the wheels on” so “Members of the other band [could] focus on adding to the music rather than holding the song together.”
The movie is directed by Jared Varava, a longtime friend of Elliot. Varava made the noteworthy choice of exclusively focusing on the positive, explaining after the screening that he had no interest in documenting the typical dramatic fights you might see in other films. There was one very moving moment; however, which involved Robby Cosenza’s relationship with his biological father, whom he hadn’t seen in 17 years. Cosenza casually mentioned their plan to reunite at a show on the road, and his band-mates seemed silently concerned and supportive. While it was certainly a moral choice for Varava to exclude their reunion from the film, it was always curious. Is the purpose of a documentary to actually document the most material elements of your journey, or is it simply to edit together the most flattering film possible?
Jesse Elliot has since disbanded These United States in favor of his new project, Ark Life. Though I’ll miss These United States, this was certainly a thoughtful sendoff. To catch the entire documentary, visit PASTE.
Fifty percent of my taste in music is about the music, and the other fifty percent is about an artist’s personality. And Jesse Elliott of These United States has a great personality. I’m admittedly a new fan of his music, which I discovered when I noticed his joint tour with Trampled by Turtles — another great band. Once I found his music, I played every These United States album for about two weeks straight, an obsession that was solidified immediately after listening to Crimes. And because of my insatiable desire to pick the brain of artists I like, I reached out to his team for an interview. I knew it would be good, but I couldn’t predict the extent of his openness. He’s not just a good musician, he’s an interesting guy. In fact, I might have a new crush. Enjoy the interview!
I know your band started with different members. Why the rotation?
In the beginning it was a matter of practicality. We had a lot of different sounds in our mind that we weren’t capable of making ourselves, so we had to recruit other people. I think it mostly came out of liking different kinds of music and wanting to interpret songs in different ways.
What made you stick with your current band members?
It’s still a little bit of a free flowing thing, because all the people I play with have always played in their own projects with other people. I think of it as a big extended family, and people are free to come and go as it makes sense for their own lives. That’s been good and bad but mostly good, and in the long term it keeps most of us as relatively sane creative collaborators.
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