The Constellations return with ‘King of the Gutter’

Elijah Jones releases album five years after its conception

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Photo credit: Blake Davis
KING OF THE GUTTER: Elijah Jones of the Constellations.

The Constellations hit a high mark in 2012. After completing two cross-country tours, and finding notable commercial success — the soul-rock outfit’s music was featured in television shows such as “Suits” and “Vampire Diaries,” as well as the 2011 comedy film Horrible Bosses — frontman Elijah Jones seemed to be on top of the world. But the Constellations' activity came to an abrupt stop, and the group cancelled touring in 2013, leaving Jones to work on a new record while he attempted to piece things together in the depths of his drug addiction and heavy drinking. Jones moved to Nashville in 2014 and left the tracks of the Constellations’ third record sitting in friend and colleague Dan Dixon’s studio, untouched for nearly five years.

Jones still lives in Nashville and has been sober since he relocated; for the first few years he left music alone and focused on building a new foundation for his life. Dixon and Jones reconvened in 2018, and dusted off the songs they’d left behind. Together, with a “fuck it, let’s run it” attitude, leaving no disappointment or self-pity to chance.

Jones returns to Atlanta on Saturday, March 30, with a fresh lineup, borrowing members of Dixon’s band PLS PLS, to perform the new songs. Jones took a few minutes to discuss the album that chronicled his downfall, facing his fears of playing music in sobriety, and releasing his music after all this time.

CL: When you picked the songs back up, they had been sitting recorded since you left Atlanta in 2014 to to begin your recovery in sobriety, correct?

EJ: Yeah. Some of them weren’t finished, we just put a little polish on them. But for the most part, they were done and they’d just been sitting since 2013, which was a really difficult time. Throughout recording, I was pretty deep into some pretty sick chemical dependency and heavy drinking. In 2014, everything fell apart… Dan Dixon and my manager worked together to get me into MusicCares and a long-term rehab. That’s how I ended up in Nashville.

What is your relationship with Dan Dixon?

Dan and I had been making records in Atlanta separately for a long time. We were friends with a mutual respect. The first thing we worked on together was a cover of “Cocaine,” an old blues song by Abner Jay. Graham Marsh, the Grammy-winning producer and half of Atlanta indie-pop/trip-hop duo CLAVVS got the ball rolling for us to do this thing and we did it. That was the first time Dan and I worked together, and we realized we liked each other’s style. When I took time off from touring with the Constellations I ran into him and he invited me to come in and record. Eventually that turned into the next Constellations record, King of the Gutter.

What held you back from finishing the record once you got sober?

I was scared of being on stage sober, of not being relevant, and that nobody would care. I was scared that I would go back to drinking and using again. It’s like one couldn’t exist without the other. The main part was getting back on stage and feeling naked without having something in my system. I didn’t think I could do it. I didn’t think it was going to be fun anymore, even though it hadn’t been fun for a long time with drugs and alcohol. All of that stopped working a long time ago. It was just me maintaining this thing that really didn’t make any sense. It was just all I knew. Pretty cliche. But I thought that’s how you did it; I didn’t know there was another way.

So why now?

A friend of mine from Milwaukee noticed us on a playlist and getting a bunch of plays on Spotify and he talked me into looking at the record. I remember listening to it and thinking, “We should just put it out. If people are interested, awesome. If they’re not, it’s not going to ultimately matter” (laughs). Why not just put it out for the world? Once we did that, we polished them up and put a couple singles out and got some reaction. Just felt like the next thing. I’m really excited about it, cause I’m loving the lineup I have. I didn’t think I was going to want to revisit some of the songs, you know… But it’s a lot of fun.

The album does sound like it comes from a pretty rocky place, to say the least.

Yeah, it’s strange. I listen to it now and it’s stuff I didn’t know I was facing at the time. I was documenting my downfall… There’s even language in it that I use now in recovery in those songs and I don’t know where that came from. It really is like art imitating life. I feel like something out there in the universe was telling me that I’d had enough and I needed some help. I wasn’t ready at the time to face that, but somehow I was able to document some of it. I wasn’t brave enough to admit that to anyone out loud, but I was brave enough to put it in song. At the time, I was truly afraid of everything. I couldn’t face the day without some kind of chemical crutch. I was afraid of failure and afraid of people around me — them realizing that I really had a problem and what life would look like if I had to actually do something about the problem. Afraid of change. Afraid of it all.

Any glaring examples of that language you mentioned?

In “All That Remains” there’s a line about being afraid of it all: “I don’t know what I am/But I know what I’m not.” Further on into that song: “If you leave me on the mountain / There’s only one way down / That’s my answer.” I don’t know if I knew what I was talking about at the time, but that seemed to be the only answer, to kill myself. I didn’t know how to live life like that anymore, but I didn’t know how to do anything else. Later on, in “Can’t Do Right,”... That song is just chronicling the feeling of trying to do right and just keep failing. Trying to live a life I think my parents wanted for me, that some higher power wanted for me. I just wasn’t able to do it; I tried and I failed. Then I tried and I failed. Just feeling lost out on a dirt road. That whole Robert Johnson thing with the crossroad, like I accidentally sold my soul to the devil or something a long time ago.

Since you’ve been in Nashville, you’ve been playing in your new project, Elijah Jones & the Tenderness. What was it like going back up stage after some time off?

The Tenderness project was just a way for me to continue to write, to continue to work. I put a band together for it, ‘cause playing on my own was just too terrifying. I remember [our first show] at the Springwater, which is a divey little bar in Nashville. I don’t even remember the first two songs. I felt like my voice was shaking the entire time, my hands were shaking. By the third song, it was like, “Okay, I’m good. This is what I like to do.” I remembered what I liked about playing live again. All that fear just went away, and I had a blast. I think that’s what’s changed the most; I don’t really care about being successful. I don’t even know what that is, honestly. The part that I love is writing songs and playing them live for people. The rest of it is just… static.

What is life like for you now in Nashville and in your recovery?

Life is still hard (laughs). You know? I still feel sad and isolated and alone, sometimes, but I have people in my life who care about me and I have a good support system. I have a great relationship with my family. Those things that are most important for me are the things I forgot about when I was in full-on Constellations mode. So things are okay, they’re alright today. There’s ups and downs, but I can live with all of it today. I don’t have to self-destruct anymore over the littlest bumps in the road. -CL-

The Constellations play Aisle 5 on Sat., March 30. With PLS PLS. $15. 9 p.m. 1123 Euclid Ave. N.E. www.aisle5atl.com.

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