Closing the curtain on the 2011 DeLuna Fest, Mutemath covered the crowd of Pensacola Beach with music and light. The canopy of darkness and stars served as backdrop to the New Orleans group’s festival performance.
Day 3: A final day that included performances by Colour Revolt, The Constellations, The Parlotones, Wanda Jackson, The Airborne Toxic Event, and Cowboymouth leading up to the finish by Mutemath.
A few after hours after their Main Stage performance, Elijah Jones (vocals), Wes Hoffman (bass), and Shabnam Bashiri (background vocals, Keyboard, Percussion) of Atlanta, Georgia’s The Constellations took a few minutes to talk festivals, favorite albums, their greatest moments, Elijah’s near arrest on the beach and more.
What is the biggest thing you get from The Constellations Experience? Is it performing, songwriting…
Wes: A hangover (everybody laughs). Yeah. I think the performance. It’s different for every member. For me, personally, it’s the performance. It’s the most invigorating aspect of it. Recording is close. Those are the two most gratifying things, but for me, walking onstage and playing in front of people is the most gratifying thing.
Shabnam: I agree with the Wester. Recording is great, but being onstage as a band, being in a band together is something you can’t explain to people. You bond together like family members. It’s like I have five brothers.
(Elijah Jones sits down at our table)
Elijah: I hope you don’t think I’m like your brother.
Wes: Hay! Enter Elijah Jones.
Shabnam: You get to interpret. We get to interpret the songs. We each kind of interpret the songs live and in a little bit of a different way. Seeing people faces and meeting people every night is big.
Who is the enforcer, the big brother that says you have to do this?
Shabnam: That’s me.
Elijah: I’m the one that gets beat up.
Wes: Honestly, the big brother is probably the youngest member in the band, Trevor Birdsong (guitarist), oddly enough. Everybody assumes a different role. When you tour with six people, and as many as nine as we’ve had in the past, everyone assumes a different role in the group dynamic. Sometimes he can be the voice of reason. Maybe sometimes I am.
Shabnam: We switch off a little bit, it’s funny to me, I’ll have people that we work with whether it’s from labels or whatever, that are just kind of, “Oh yeah, you’re the responsible one.” And I’m like, “You don’t know me at all.” (laughs) I’m the responsible one? I’m the one carrying around a bottle of whiskey all day.”
Wes: But you do it so well though.
Elijah: You look pretty with it.
Shabnam: Thank you.
Elijah: I almost got arrested right outside. You were there to save me.
Shabnam: I was like “Don’t worry!” The guy was like, “You can’t have that bottle out here.” I was like “I got it. I’ll take it. Don’t worry.”
Elijah, what gets you off the most about The Constellations?
Elijah: Honestly, I think my experience is a little different. I love writing and recording. That’s my favorite thing to do. I’ve been in many bands and Constellations is the first time I have free reign to do whatever the hell I want and write however I want. I don’t look at music as just one thing and I don’t want to pigeonhole myself or put myself in a box. I want to do everything that I’m inspired by. And Constellations opened doors to let me do that; working with Ben Allen and his trust in me to let me do that. Absolutely, that’s my favorite thing. Walking in the studio and like, “Let’s just write a song. Let’s not call it anything. Let’s not try and make this song this way or that way. Let’s just let it breath and let it live and let it blossom.
Shabnam: For me, I think Elijah has a talent for writing. Everybody tries to take part in it, but his way of taking real life stories and putting them into song is really inspiring.
Elijah: Well, Thank you.
Shabnam: You’re welcome. We’ve been on the road together for a few years and you get to watch certain situations that we’re in and the next day he’ll write a song about it. And like, “I was there. I saw that.” And then you put your input into it. It is a very gratifying experience. When you talk about memories with pictures or something like that. This is a whole other level.
I have to ask you Elijiah, last time I saw you, you were rockin’ the big beard.
Elijah: Yeah, I had to shave the beard.
You had to?Elijah: Yeah, it’s too freakin’ hot, man. That thing was like a chow-chow on my face. It was terrible.
Wes: I got a chow-chow on my head.
Elijah: I miss it. I definitely miss it. Sometimes I’ll stroke my face and “Awwww! What happened?”
Shabnam: I don’t miss it at all.
Wes, would you ever cut your afro?
Elijah: If he ever cuts his hair, he’s kicked out of the band.
Shabnam: The funny thing is, other people that he grew up with, that he went to high school with or something will be like “Oh, I’ll show you pictures of Wes without his afro.” And I’m like “I don’t want to see that. I have no desire to see that.” Wes has an afro as far as I know.
Wes: It’s funny because you never really think about how insignificant or significant a hairdo is. But the truth is, yeah it is important. A lot of people know me because I’ve…
Elijah: He gets recognized everywhere we go. Everywhere.
Wes: Which is fun. Especially playing in a rock n’ roll band. That’s important. You have your image. As dumb as it seems…
Elijah: It helps us, man. We were at Lollapalooza…it was like 500,000 people and I was like “Wait a minute, where the hell is…oh there’s Wes. He’s right there.”
Shabnam: I haven’t cut my hair since I was 12 years old either.
Elijah: I just chopped mine after 5 years of growing this thing.
Shabnam: You trimmed some sides.
Elijah: It was still emotionally scaring.
Shabnam: I haven’t cut my hair since I was 12 so I….
Wes: Lollapalooza was last summer and it was incredible. Amazing.
Elijah: I don’t really remember it, but I heard it was amazing.
As far as an artist and as a fan, what has been your best concert experience?
Elijah: ACL (Austin City Limits). Opening up for Midlake at ACL was pretty awesome. In between Dawes and…
Shabnam: For me, it was Lollapalooza actually.
Wes: I liked Lollapalooza.
Shabnam: Lollapalooza, to be honest. I’ll be completely honest here. I remember at one point looking out into the sea of people. People were clapping along and my eyes watered for a second…
Elijah: Singing songs.
Shabnam: And I’m like, “Don’t cry. What are you doing you big sissy?”
Elijah: There’s no crying in rock n’ roll!
Shabnam: But I did. My eyes watered. It was the first time we really experienced a sea of people that you couldn’t see the end of. Singing along…
Wes: It’s pretty surreal. You can’t really think about it in terms of 40,000 people staring at you right now because you’d freak out if you actually start to think about it. And that’s the difference between playing festivals and playing clubs too. Because at festivals when you’re playing to that kind of crowd it’s slightly more impersonal because they’re back away from the stage and hanging on the gate. Whereas they’re might be 20,000 people, they’re might be 20 people. But when you’re playing in clubs and venues, they’re right there in front of you and you can really vibe off of that.
Elijah: The key is approaching it the same and trying to go in there and be like “Hey! We’re going to make this festival a sweaty, dirty club.
Smell the people.
Elijah: Oh yeah. I do.
Wes: I smell myself.
Shabnam: As a bigger band, like Wes was saying earlier, we’re six now, but we’ve been as big as nine and so stage sizing on a personal level, yeah it’s nice to have more space on stage sometimes, but at the end of the day, nothing will ever beat that feeling of being crammed together with your fans right up in your face. That super small club show. Nothing ever, ever, ever will beat that. You got to hold that near and dear. I can’t speak for other musicians, but I feel like most of them would probably agree. At least every once in awhile, you have to have that. It’s very important.
Wes: Keeps you grounded.
I was going to ask Jamie (Gordon. Keyboardist for The Constellations) this question, but I’ll ask you guys. I know that David (Bason) your manager also manages Andrew W. K., and it’s kind of obvious that Jamie is a big Andrew W. K. fan. Is there any chance of a tour or maybe even could collaborate on something in the future?
Elijah: You know, we’ve talked about that. I don’t know if that will ever happen.
Shabnam: I know he was thinking about doing some remixes for us.
Elijah: I would love that. He’s awesome. I respect the sh*t out of what he does. Absolutely. If that happens, it happens. You never want to force those kinds of things. Like collaborations have to really happen naturally.
Wes: Just vibe, you know.
Elijah: I’d be stoked about it. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I’m still going to be a big fan of his. James is absolutely in love with him. It’s funny because Jamie had his birthday the other day, a couple of weeks ago and Andrew actually called him and we put it on a speaker and…
Wes: For the whole bar to hear over the P.A. system.
Elijah: It was pretty funny. It was awesome.
Wes: We were on tour last summer and we were out on the west coast and we went by Dave and Pete’s office and Jamie raided all of Andrew’s merch and I’m pretty sure for the next month and a half, it was only Andrew W. K. t-shirts.
Shabnam: A month and a half? When did it ever stop? And to me that’s one of our strong points. When you look at the bands we’ve toured with, it’s ranged from everyone to Snoop Dogg to Robert Randolph to AWOLNATION…
Elijah: People don’t know how to define us.
Shabnam: They want you to say…
Elijah: “We are this.”
Shabnam: “What kind of music are you?”
Elijah: “We dress like this.”
Wes: It’s easier for marketing purposes. I understand why.
Shabnam: It might turn some people off, but overall, I think for us as a band, we appreciate the fact that we can tour with anyone. Literally, we’ve toured with everyone from a jam band to Snoop Dogg, a rock band to…
Elijah: Indie rock.
Shabnam: We can tour with anything. It always works out for us.
Who would you like to collaborate with on a personal level?
Elijah: Tom Waits, Stevie Wonder, Cee Lo again, Goodie Mob, OutKast. The list goes on-and-on and on-and-on and on. Absolutely.
Elijah: Midlake. Bring em’ on.
Shabnam: I know for Elijah, if I’m not mistaken, it’s ironic that he’s always, as long as I’ve known him, he’s said that his two musical idols were Tom Waits and Cee Lo which we were fortunate enough to have Cee Lo on a song and then cover a song of Tom Waits that Tom Waits actually had to personally approve. So to have both of them involved in our first record is kind of just like…how do we beat that? I don’t know. That’s the beauty of this band. There’s a lot of different ways we can go with it. We can collaborate with a lot of different people.
Wes: I’d love to collaborate with George Jones.
Shabnam: A couple of months ago, we were in Vegas and we met the guys from Passion Pit and we’ve been talking with them about working on some stuff, like some remixes and stuff together. It’s a broad spectrum. We don’t have to be pigeonholed into one specific…”Ok, you have to do indie-rock.”
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Shabnam: That’s a good question.
Elijah: Don’t eat the brown acid. Aw man…I don’t know.
Shabnam: I very much respect bands who’ve been on the road for awhile and can give advice in terms of ways to really…like I was saying earlier, you become a family and at the same time, you got to figure out a way to make sure that you’re not that family that fights a lot and breaks up. The advice that I’ve been given from other bands is in relation to going with the flow and realizing that you’re one of six people, so you have to compromise in order…sometimes, someone is going to drive you nuts. You’re going to want to punch somebody in the face. It happens.
Elijah: I would say treat everyone that you meet like your best friend. Listen and hear and actually take in the information that they are giving you.
Wes: Something pertaining to persistence and not turning a blind eye to what other people’s opinion of you and really just trying to figure out what you want to do and staying true to that.
Elijah: You’re here on this planet for a reason.
Shabnam: I will say in relation to that question, we get asked a lot for our advice for upcoming bands and the one thing that I say over and over again…
Elijah: Get on the road. You got to take a leap of faith.
Shabnam: It’s not a fantasy land. The music industry is very different from where it used to be and if you really, truly want to be able to go out and play your music for people every night, you have to sacrifice things and do it. There are six people in this band right now and five of us live with our parents. None of us have cars…
Wes: And when they’re not living with their parents, they’re staying with me. (all laughs)
Shabnam: Wes is the only person that doesn’t live with his parents and we show up at his door almost every other night at least one of us…it’s not this happy, shiny thing where someone is going to show up and give you a check. You really have to be willing to give up the comforts of things like having your own place or having a car…
Wes: And just lose that perception.
Shabnam: And just do it for the love that you have for what you’re doing and the belief. I live with my parents. It’s not my favorite thing ever, but I believe that what we’re doing is worth it and it will ultimately pay off.
Your number one album of all time?
Shabnam: Good one.
Elijah: For me, Tom Waits “Bone Machine” or Goodie Mob’s “Soul Food”
Shabnam: I’m going to go with The Beatles “White album.”
Wes: Shab just kind of stole mine.
Wes: I’m a huge classic rock nut. I’m a huge Beatles fan. She said the White album so I’m going to go with “Exile on Main Street.” A classic Stones’ record.
Shabnam: There are just certain records that change the world.
Last question. Very serious question. Crunchy or Creamy peanut butter?
Elijah: (immediately) Crunchy!
Shabnam: I don’t like peanut butter.
Elijah: Texture’s weird.
Shabnam: I will eat peanut butter in a Reese’s Cup and that’s it.
Shabnam: I don’t eat peanut butter outside of a Reese’s Cup.
Elijah: Cruncy. (demonstratively) Extra Crunchy.
Shabnam: My family’s Persian and it’s funny because Elijah is so used to my parents now, we never ate peanut butter growing up. I don’t think it’s like a Persian thing…
Elijah: Constantly, “Where’s the peanut butter?”
Shabnam: …but now Elijah gets peanut butter all the time at the house and my mom and my grandmother are both hitting him up for his peanut butter. No joke. They’re like “Oh. You got that peanut butter. Let me have some of that.”
You’re the pusher.
Elijah: Peanut butter pusher.
Shabnam: I didn’t eat it much. So far I only like it in Reese’s cup.
– Michael L. Smith