When I spoke to Mat Cothran of the lo-fi indie band Elvis Depressedly, he was walking around Philly enjoying the weather and a rare day off in between touring.
“We just got back from Europe,” he tells me in his affable southern drawl. “Then we did a few weeks on the West Coast and we’re doing, like, a week on the East Coast, trying to hit a few spots before a full US tour in the fall.”
A quick glance at Elvis Depressedly’s touring schedule finds Norfolk on the “East Coast” list with the usual suspects like Brooklyn and Baltimore.
“I love the towns that aren’t usually on the route,” Mat tells me. “People seem less jaded. I’m from a small town where we never got bands, let alone bands that I like I liked – something cool or underground – so it’s cool to see that kind of enthusiasm in some of the less common towns to play in for sure.”
No stranger to small town vibes, Mat grew up in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where he garnered unexpected attention for his lo-fi bedroom recordings.
“I had a project called Coma Cinema that I started while I was in high school,” he explains, “and over the years, and kind of surprisingly to me, there was a lot of response to it. People were writing about the records and it was kind of crazy. I got to the point, even on this tiny scale, where I felt kind of nervous and overwhelmed so I thought ‘I’ll just start this new band.’”
His first release as Elvis Depressedly, the EP Save The Planet Kill Yourself, came out quietly in 2011, but word quickly spread and each subsequent release garnered more attention than the last, creating quite a stir in the blogs and on coveted mixtapes. Multi-instrumentalist Delaney Mills joined in 2013 and the praise kept coming.
It’s almost as if Mat’s plan has backfired.
“Eventually the Elvis band became something that takes up more of my time,” he tells me. “I didn’t want the same thing to happen [as with Coma Cinema], where, if there were some success with Elvis that I would feel frustrated or that I couldn’t express myself.”
But it certainly looks like there’s some success with Elvis Depressedly. “We were just in Europe and that’s just crazy to me,” Mat says. “I’m just some redneck from South Carolina.”
No matter how you measure success, Elvis Depressedly has long outlived the careers of their lo-fi peers. Mat couldn’t tell you why, though.
“It’s something I’m incredibly grateful for because I dropped out of high school,” he says. “I got a GED, I did some college and stuff, but, at least in those moments in my life, I wasn’t able to function in that way. Music is kind of like the only option for me. Music is the only thing I can do to sustain myself and contribute to society. A lot of the bands that were also getting written about when I first started are gone now. And I think a lot of them maybe wanted out. The music business is very stressful – just bad and negative and almost designed to wear you down. A lot of bands seem to get put on really hard and then used up, you know, put in a TV show, the manager makes several thousand dollars, the publishing company that they sold their publishing right to makes several thousand dollars, the artist makes a little bit and then they’re sort of pushed aside for the next thing. I think that, rightfully, really stresses people out. We’ve been really lucky in the sense that we’ve always had really awesome people that support us and listen to us. People are coming to our shows that have been listening for seven, eight years… I’m really grateful, there are a lot of bands that I really love that I probably haven’t listened to for that long.”
“I think we’ve been able to sort of fly under the radar in a lot the industry stuff in the music business,” he continues, “For a long time there was no label that pushed us, managers do not want to talk to us. But we don’t really need them. I think the fact that we’ve been able to avoid some of the gnarlier machines in the music business has contributed to our longevity and our ability to just kind of survive.”
Mat is honest, but he’s either slightly naïve or remarkably humble about his band’s appeal if he thinks Elvis Depressedly is just kind of surviving. The band signed to Run For Cover Records in 2014 and embarked on a few headlining tours. They’re working on a new album now and not slowing down anytime soon.
“We want people to feel like they’re among people that understand them,” Mat says about Elvis Depressedly’s live show. “We’re always super happy to meet people and talk to people before or after the show. We don’t hold ourselves up away from the audience because I have a lot of appreciation for these people. We try to play as many songs from all different eras and our audience is really cool in that they are very open to us playing things that are unheard. You’ll never see the same show twice from us, which is good for me because I can get sort of antsy. So we’re really lucky to have such a receptive audience at our shows.”
Mat promises that audience at Charlie’s this Wednesday will get to hear some new Elvis Depressedly tracks, but he’ll also “play the hits.” One look at the Facebook event page for this one, and it’s easy to tell that this is going to be a packed house (some of ya’ll are driving pretty far for this one), but it’ll still be intimate enough to go hang out with the band and they very much encourage you to do so. And whether success scares them away or gets them caught up in that machine, this could be your last chance.
Elvis Depressedly +Spencer Radcliffe and EE +Horse Jumper of Love +Berries takes place tomorrow at 7pm at Charlie’s. For more info, here it is on Facebook.