As questions go, it’s an obvious one.
“People ask us (that) all the time,” Corey Parnell said through a wry smile. “None of us are named Elliot.”
Indeed, Parnell’s band mates in Elliot include a Casey (Parnell, guitar), an Evan (Earwicker, keys), a Tim (Heil, bass) and a Mike (Summers, drums). The five guys — all in their mid- to late-20s, all graduates of Mountain View High School — are longtime friends who’ve played music together before, but in this incarnation for just under two years.
And they didn’t choose a name until a year ago, Earwicker said.
The story is sort of long, but it’s worth knowing because, y’know, who is Elliot? Here’s the short version:
“We were playing in Mexico … and our friend who lives down there took us out to this remote, middle-of-nowhere beach,” Corey Parnell said. “No cell service. Nobody around. And a monsoon had just come through and all the trees were down, it was totally ugly, diapers were washed up on the beach.
“We ended up getting our van stuck in the sand. Like, really stuck,” he continued. “And all of a sudden, this little boy comes walking randomly out of the jungle, no more than 7 years old, wearing a red Speedo and red water socks. He’s a little British boy, and he’s like, ‘Hello, mates!’”
The boy’s family was camping near the beach, waiting for some passport issues to be cleared up, Parnell said. And while the band worked to get their van moving again, the boy played the role of fledgling philosopher.
“He kept saying these brilliant, Yoda-like statements,” Parnell said. “At one point, at the peak of our frustration, he looks up and he goes, ‘Don’t worry, mate. It’s all part of the adventure.’ And we were like, ‘You are a wise sage of a boy.’”
At this point, you can probably guess the boy’s name. Here’s a hint: His namesake band will play tonight at the Domino Room (see “If you go”).
For Elliot (the band), the adventure began way back in high school, when the Parnells (who are brothers) and Summers played in a grunge-inspired trio called Go For Broke. That band attracted a little bit of interest from record labels, but ultimately imploded, clearing the way for the trio to make music with their friends, Earwicker and Heil.
After high school, the quintet scattered, heading off to college, to Boise, to Portland, wherever. Eventually, though, these “Central Oregon kids” ended up back home.
“We all landed in Bend again with a real desire to try to make something of this,” Parnell said. “We decided to have a go at it based around some of the songs that we were all separately writing. We just thought, ‘This is good material that deserves to be put into a band scenario.’”
Before Elliott even played many gigs, the band began recording songs for what would eventually be their first full-length album, “Rocketships,” released last fall. All five guys write music, and they found “a good synergy” in their songwriting, Parnell said.
“We put a lot of thought into making a song memorable,” he said. “We want to write songs that people can sing along to and remember.”
The band is meeting that goal. “Rocketships” is an album packed not only with hooky melodies, but an expansive sound that’s as close to arena-ready as you’ll find from a Central Oregon band. The guys draw influence from all over, from funk and soul singers like Stevie Wonder and Ryan Shaw, to bluesman Jonny Lang, to some of the biggest rock bands going: OneRepublic, Death Cab for Cutie and U2, to name a few.
But while Elliot makes pop-rock on a grand scale, designed to reach the folks in Row ZZ of the upper level, the band’s lyrics focus more on personal themes, such as love and hurt, broken people in a broken world, searching and spirituality.
Each of the guys has a day job; Heil’s an appraiser, Summers does wood flooring, Earwicker and the Parnells are graphic designers. Both Parnells are also part-time pastors at Westside Church in Bend, so it’s not surprising that the subject of faith permeates these songs, even if it’s often in an indirect way.
“You are my one true affection. I’m awestruck and starry eyed,” Parnell sings on “The Way to Feel Alive.” The song’s chorus ends with: “Loving you makes me feel alive.”
Is it a love song to God? Or another person? Or both?
“We’re Christians by faith, not by musical genre,” Parnell said. “We want our music to inspire faith and spirituality in people, and moral thoughts, and we want people to do good because of it. But we also don’t want people to feel like somehow our motivation is to save them.
“I don’t think that I could ever not write about my spirituality, and we’re not going to try to hide who we are, but at the same time, we just don’t want to be pigeonholed,” he continued. “We just want to be known as a really kick-butt, good band.”
To that end, Elliot is wary of embracing the “cheesy” subculture that surrounds what many people think of as Christian music, Earwicker said.
“You can be people of faith without looking like that subculture does,” he said. “Matisyahu didn’t sound like a traditional Orthodox Jew, but he had mass appeal, and I think there’s mass appeal to be found even in music that is positive and speaks to faith without requiring people to embrace … the beliefs of the culture.”
As for the future, these five men hope to make a living playing music, but they have no desire to be famous. They want to record another album and play their songs for people, and they hope their music can “have a positive influence on the world,” Earwicker said.
And they’ll do it their way. The all-inclusive way. The Elliot way.
“We just want to give people the sense that anybody is welcome at an Elliot show,” Parnell said. “We want people to feel like they belong, like it’s a family thing. That’s what we’re trying to do. Grassroots. Family. That’s what this band is.”