For their debut album, Southern Gothic (Virgin), The Constellations chose the theme of what happens in Atlanta from 2 a.m. until noon -- which is apparently quite a lot of partying and soulful jams. Via phone from his home, frontman and emcee Elijah Jones talked with City Paper about how he and the sprawling band translated a portrait of his city into a blend of dark funk, hip hop, dance rock, glammy sleaze -- even an Atlanta-centric reworking of the Tom Waits song, "Step Right Up." And it never hurts a party to have Cee-Lo swing by.
Since your record is kind of a concept album, could you describe Atlanta for Pittsburghers?
It's a growing metropolitan city; it still keeps that kind of small-town feel to it, though, at the same time. Everybody knows each other and runs into each other in the scene. And we applied that to the record -- a mixture of the different sounds that are coming out of here.
Where there used to be a hip-hop night or a punk-rock night or a Brit-pop night, whatever you want to call it, you find more acts like indie bands opening for hip-hop artists and vice versa. I think that mixture is something I don't know if I've seen in a lot of other cities.
Is there a real connection between the audiences for different genres, or do the clubs just not care about making a coherent bill?
It could be both. I think most times, a lot of the kids that I know that are in punk-rock bands and so on, you look at their iPods and they've got Outkast and Ludacris and Goodie Mob and stuff. So I think it does make sense, I think there is an audience for that. It was definitely important for me to do more than just one thing on the record. We tried our best to make an honest record and let the songs write themselves.
What about working with the guests on the record -- Cee-Lo and Asher Roth?
Cee-Lo has been an idol of mine since I was a kid, listening to Outkast and Goodie Mob. I've gone to the record store and bought anything that he's put out, and have always been absolutely amazed by what he does. Working with him was a dream come true, honestly. He's definitely one of my number-one influences -- him being on one end of the spectrum and Tom Waits being on the other.
And Asher -- Ben Allen, our producer, was working on his record when we were still kinda tying up some of the bookings for this record. We needed a verse for "We're Here to Save the Day," and lots of emcees came to mind, but Asher came in and he nailed it, it was perfect.
Has Cee-Lo provided a kind of broader musical roadmap for you?
Gnarls Barkley coming out made sense to us -- people can open their minds and you don't have to dumb the music down for your audience. There is a market out there for furthering pop music and opening up genres, you know? Which is something Cee-Lo's done, and groups like the Gorillaz, and a lot of the stuff Dangermouse works on -- they're all genre-bending, but not in a calculated, cheesy way, but in an honest way.
For the song "Felicia," you were inspired by Iggy Pop and Lou Reed?
It definitely is a kind of dance-, hip-hop-influenced thing, I guess, but I like to think of it more as if Iggy Pop or Lou Reed was given a dance track to go over.
You've mentioned taking on different personas -- any you can pin down in particular?
Absolutely, man, absolutely. On "We're Here to Save the Day," I take on a kind of Beat-poet-meets-hip-hop persona, calling out the industry and calling out false emcees or false producers. And "Let's Take a Ride" is more of a dirty, drug-addict type -- I kinda picture Nicolas Cage's character in Leaving Las Vegas, that kind of character who is desperate but finds the beauty in that desperation and that sorrow. And so on. I think each song kinda has a character. Some of them are actually me, though.
The Constellations with Electric Six. 9:30 p.m. Tue., Sept. 21 (doors at 9 p.m.). Brillobox, 4104 Penn Ave., Bloomfield. $14. 412-621-4900