Lead singer Eliot Sloan was nice enough to call us from his studio to
discuss the band’s history and the new CD.
How did you get
involved in music?
My mom had me in piano lessons since I was six years old. It’s a good
thing… It’s funny; she had me, my brother and two of my sisters
every Saturday morning going over to Mr. McRae’s house and taking piano
lessons. I don’t even remember how it came about, it was just like one
day she was like, “You’re taking piano lessons.” It was like, uh,
okay. It wasn’t like “Do you want to take piano?” It was “You are
taking piano lessons.” There was always a piano in the house. It was
like, sure, why not? As years went by, one by one all my brothers and
sisters, once they got to a certain age, my mother allowed them to go,
“Okay, do you still want to take them or do you not want to take them?”
A couple of them hung around a little longer than others, but pretty
much when everybody got like fourteen or fifteen, they just started
dropping out. I just stuck with it. I was like, this is cool. I
don’t mind this. I was kind of getting the hang of things. But I never
learned how to read music. I knew what the notes were, but never knew
how to sight read. I would have my instructor play the song a couple of
times and then I would play it back. He was like, “That’s good and
everything, but I’m trying to teach you notes.” (laughs) It
ended up working out. I stuck with it and when I got out of high school
I got in my first band. I was in a band in high school, but we didn’t
really play much. We tried out for a talent show that the school
wouldn’t let us play at. Funny, I don’t know if you’re familiar with
Cincinnati, but there’s a school called The School of Creative
Performing Arts – which probably most cities have. I was like, all
right, I’ll try that. I’ll try to go to school there. I didn’t even
pass the audition. They didn’t even accept me. I think I was really
nervous at the audition. But it didn’t discourage me man. When I got
out of high school I got in this one band, we started playing around a
Was that the band you
were in with Eddie Hedges before Blessid Union?
Yeah. The Movies.
How did Blessid Union
of Souls come about?
Well, Eddie introduced me to Jeff [Pence], who had another cover band
called Slam. We used to play five-six nights a week, five sets a night,
up and down the east coast. We had a great time, man. Jeff just said
one day, “Hey, man, do you want to go into the studio and try to write
some songs? Try to record?” I said sure. Why not?
I read that the
band’s name is a reference to the TV series
Is that true?
Yeah, I got it off an episode of M*A*S*H. I sure did. I grew up
watching it and then I stopped watching it for a while. I remember
seeing this one episode where Frank Burns was trying to make time with
Hot Lips Houlihan. He wanted to sleep in her tent that night, but he
couldn’t because there was this lady Colonel who was at the 4077. The
only place that she could stay was in Margaret’s tent, because somebody
was in the VIP tent for whatever reason. And he’s like, “Margaret, is
this the only place that she can stay?” She goes, “It’s the only place
in officer’s country.” He goes, “But Margaret, I need our
togetherness. I need the blessed union of our souls.” I was like:
that’s pretty cool. I don’t know why I remembered that, because it was
like two years later before we actually formed the band. It’s crazy. I
just remembered that.
Home became a
smash hit and “I Believe” was a top ten hit. Even before the Home
album came out, it was a big regional hit and spread around the
country. How surreal was it to suddenly be all over radio and
Very. Very. Very surreal. Especially because, knowing me and I’m just
some kid from Pleasant Ridge who took piano lessons at six. It was
always a dream – man, one day it would be cool to hear one of our songs
on the radio. Every band thinks of that, you know what I mean? To hear
it on the radio once or twice. (chuckles) But as a result it
ended up being the fourth most played song of that year, which was
crazy. Crazy, man.
One thing I love
about the band is that you mix in lots of styles – you have rock, soul,
pop, folk, even a touch of country. Are you looking to experiment with
styles when you write a song or is it something that just comes
naturally to you as a singer/songwriter?
Well a little bit of both. Everybody was coming from different
backgrounds. We were taking what everybody brought to the table and
tried to make it sound like us. Without moving it too much, let it be
what it’s going to be. Then put the production behind it that we were
doing and see if it fit. Some songs fit, some songs didn’t. Some songs
were too country, or too rock. We had to reel them in a little bit,
whatever. But pretty much that’s all we did – especially those first
couple of records, man.
In “I Believe” you do
a line about hoping your girlfriend’s father will see you as a person,
not just as a black man. There are certainly African-American rockers,
like yourself, Lenny Kravitz, Living Colour, Hootie, Splender – but it
seems most go into R&B/Hip Hop. Have you found that kind of acceptance
in the rock music scene in general?
Yeah, I mean you know… somewhat. Maybe I’m just blind, man; I honestly
don’t think about it that much. Sometimes I do, but it’s like we wrote
the song and I sing the song. Here we are. You know what I mean? It
is what it is.
Good, I’m glad to
hear it hasn’t been a problem for you…
I don’t think so. I don’t think it really has been. I’m not trying to
be anybody I’m not. I like R&B, but I never saw myself as an R&B
singer. Growing up, it seemed like every R&B song was all about making
love to some chick. I wanted to write a little deeper than that.
(sings) “‘I wanna make love to you, baby!” It’s just like every
song. (laughs) Don’t get me wrong, I love R&B. There is a lot
of great R&B stuff. It’s not all like that. But, you know, I grew up
listening to Led Zepplin, man. And Queen. Pink Floyd. Elton John.
For some reason, most of the artists I listened to were white. It’s
just what I liked. I think it was because of my brother, my cousins.
They were all into Black Sabbath. Blue Oyster Cult. Stuff like that.
That’s just what I listened to. What I like. I remember the first rap
song I ever heard was what a lot of people consider the first rap song
ever – “Rapper’s Delight” [by The Sugarhill Gang]. I despised it. I’d
actually get angry when I’d hear that. (laughs) This is crap!
I have much more respect for rap music now, because it’s a way of life
now. It’s not just a music or a genre.
You just mentioned
wanting to write about more serious subjects. I know the band is not a
religious band per se, but I did notice that on
Close to the Edge,
a few of the songs discussed God and praying. Do you see this album as
a spiritual album?
Yes. Well, not only this one, even the first one. On the first line of
our whole career is “Walk blindly to the light, reach out for his
hand.” A lot of our songs have spiritual undertones, which I love. I
love singing about God. I believe in God. I have no qualms about
standing up for what I believe in, whatever the consequences are. So,
yeah, I love writing about that. Our old producer [Emosia], who
co-wrote a lot of the songs felt the same way. Not trying to pour it on
people, but that’s just what came out. That’s the thing about this band
– we’ve always just wrote what came out. We didn’t listen to the radio
and go “Let’s write a song like that! Let’s write a song like
this.” We just went in, we wrote and whatever came out came out.
That’s what came out.
“I Still Believe in
Love” is a really beautiful song. Were you trying to revisit some of
the ideas of the old single “I Believe” looking at them from where you
are in life now?
I guess. Not intentionally. That melody was in my head for like two
years before I finally decided to write it. I guess because part of me
was thinking – man I don’t want people to believe I’m rewriting “I
Believe,” but I couldn’t call it anything else, you know what I mean?
(laughs) I was just like… I’m going to quit fighting it. Just
write the song and let it be what it is. I think that’s a great
anthem. That’s one of my favorite songs, right there.
Why did you decide to
Close To the Edge as an indie?
The situation was where we’d been through a bunch of labels – like six
or seven record labels. I don’t know, we’d love to be on a major label
that believed in us again, you know what I’m saying? Every band wants
to be on a major label behind it. It’s just not the reality anymore.
So, instead of waiting around for that, we’ve got to try to create
I believe “Could’ve
Been with You” is the single from the album. It’s a really terrific
song that I think could get some airplay if it gets noticed. How are
you working to get it in front of people than in the old days with the
studio machine behind you?
We ended up releasing that song to radio. We got some decent airplay
through an independent radio promotion company we went through. At the
same time, we kind of went through some of the same problems of not
having a ton of money and a ton of promotion behind it. I’m a realist.
I believe that the song stands up on its own, but, you know, promotion
costs money. (laughs) There wasn’t a whole lot of money behind
that single, so it didn’t get the airplay that we all wanted it to get.
It’s just the reality of things, man. It kind of sucks, but…
Today, there are so
many other outlets for music beyond just the radio – the internet,
television, ads and the movies. Do you think this opens things up for
an artist to get more notice?
It does, absolutely it does. But even online, they have to know it is
there. So we spend a lot of time on MySpace and the internet and trying
to get to as many people as we possibly can. That’s why we love to play
live, too. That’s one of the things we’ve always loved to do. If
that’s the way that we have to get it to people, then that’s what we’re
I really like you
older single “Hey Leonardo!” Was it fun writing a song with all those
topical references? Now when you do it live: do you update the
references or stay with the original ones?
No, you know why? We did a live version of that and it turned out
great. It was crazy, because at the breakdown towards the end we’re
talking about – like when I sing about Pavarotti, the audience, to hear
30,000 people sing that along with you is like… you know, I’m probably
not going to end up, you know, part of me thinks it might be a little
corny to try and change the names. I never even really thought about
it. We always just sing the song as is, because that’s what people
expect. But, I don’t know, maybe every now and then we’ll switch
around – throw a couple of new names in there or something.
After years of
recording, you had several years where you did not record. Why did you
take so long and what was it like getting back in the studio?
Well, going through different management companies and record labels, it
kind of took a while to put together another record and at least get to
the point where we felt like we had a good group of people to help
promote it. I’ve never really been out of the studio. I’m always
recording. In fact, I’m doing a session right now downstairs in my
studio. I’m always writing and I’m always recording. We’ve got two new
band members, from a couple of guys that left like in ’02. So, it was
new and exciting to do a new record with those guys. So, it never
really gets old.
When I first started
researching for this interview, I googled the band’s name and one of the
first things that came up was a band homepage, and yet I was thinking
that doesn’t look like them. It turns out that your co-founder Jeff
Pence's homepage. Is he no longer with the band and touring under the name
Yeah. I’ll tell you what; delete that from your favorites, okay? The
guy left the band on very bad terms… on his terms. I could go into
detail, man. He said some really awful things about us. He left the
band on his own accord. He didn’t participate in our last record
Perceptions, or Close to the Edge. To me, I equate it to
building a house together, then he leaves and he’s throwing stones at
it. It’s not cool. It’s totally not cool what he’s trying to do.
Nobody’s taking him seriously at all. It’s kind of a joke.
I did notice, when I
first looked at it – before I realized what the deal was – beyond the
fact that I didn’t recognize anyone in the pictures, it said stuff like
“Hire Blessid Union of Souls” and I’m thinking, that doesn’t sound right
for a band’s website….
Yeah. Hire them. Exactly. Something that a real band wouldn’t put on
there. A real band wouldn’t go “Hi, I’m Eliot Sloan, the President of
Blessid Union of Souls.” (laughs) Are you kidding me?
Whatever, man. It’s a joke. It’s a bad joke. He’s a punchline. We’ve
just moved on without him. Nobody fired him from the band. He didn’t
even tell anybody he quit. He just didn’t show up to a gig and he
hasn’t showed up in the last two years.
You just mentioned
Perception. I haven’t seen it, but I hear that several of the songs
on there reappear on the current CD. Why did you want to revisit these
Yes. We just didn’t want some of those songs to go to waste. “I Still
Believe in Love” and “Could Have Been with You” were on that record. I
was like, man, these songs never got the release to have a shot at
radio. So we did four new songs. We did a new mix of “Could Have Been
with You” that sounds a lot better than the original version. Only a
handful of people even knew about it, so we were just like, “Let’s keep
some of these songs and record four or five new songs on the record.”
We told everybody. We didn’t try to hide the fact that some of these
songs were already released. We immediately let everybody know some of
the songs are from Perception and there are some new ones. A few
real hardcore fans knew that it was from Perception. But for the
most part, most everybody else thought it was brand new.
Obviously “Back from
the Dead” is not about the band and the music industry specifically, but
did the idea of returning to the recording scene influence it?
Well, honestly it didn’t really have anything to do with that at all.
It’s a song about recovery. It’s actually a song about my bass player
[Tony Clark] recovering from alcoholism. That’s pretty much where that
song came from. We were sitting in a hotel one night – up to
three/four/five in the morning – just talking about his struggles with
it, which I knew about, because I’ve been in a band with him the past
thirteen years. The only reason I even talk about it is because he told
me it’s cool to go ahead and tell people what the song is really about.
Other than that I would have kept it really private. But it’s something
he struggled with. The song is about any and everybody that has
struggled with any kind of addiction. There’s hope. The band and our
songs – our main theme has been hope.
Yes, that’s something
I always liked about your band. So often rock bands have a tendency to
wallow in the dark side of things… Why does that interest you as a
You know what, that’s just something that comes out of me, man. That’s
just me. With the state of the world today, man, I think that’s one
thing that we need. (chuckles) Hope. It really is. Look
around. I’m sure you hear stuff every single day. A lot of people feel
like things are hopeless. A song like “Back from the Dead” just lets
you know – hey, whatever it is you’re going through, there is a light at
the end of the tunnel. For me personally, I believe in God and I
believe that God is the way to better things in life. To better
yourself as a person. As far as Tony’s concerned, him getting into
recovery and he plays in this band in church. Specifically, that’s what
helped bring him quote-unquote “back from the dead.”
In the end, how would
you like for people to see your music?
Hopeful. Positive. For people to hear our music and go, “Wow, there is
optimism.” One of the best complements that we get through email and
fan letters and stuff like that is how our music has been an anthem to a
lot of the things that people go through. When people listen to our
music I want our music to remind them of a time of their life – like
“Oh, wow, I remember when I was going through this. This was the music
that helped me get through.” I know when I listen to music that I grew
up with, that’s what I think of. Oh, wow, man, I remember those days.
That’s another thing a lot of people tell us. They remember what they
were going through. They remember where they were at when they first
heard “I Believe” and “Let Me Be the One” and “Light in Your Eyes.” “I
Wanna Be There.” All the singles that we had out before. I just want
people to look back and go, “Wow, they put out some good music.”
Nothing more and nothing less. “They put out some good music. Good
positive music.” I don’t know, without even really getting into the
music business, trying to have any kind of legacy or whatever – if I’m
going to have one, I want it to be a positive one.
Are there any
misconceptions you would like to clear up?
Misconceptions? (laughs) Well early on, I don’t know why,
people were comparing us to Hootie and the Blowfish. I guess because
the lead singer was black, I don’t know…. But, there were some
similarities in the fact that some of their songs and our songs – but we
have so many songs that have strings and big stuff like that, so I don’t
know. And I love those guys, you know? I’d love to do a big tour with
them. Other than that, no. Not really, not really. A couple of
articles had us compared to other bands – like vocal groups or
whatever. I guess because when “I Believe” came out that was all they
had to go on.
They think because
it’s a ballad, that’s all you do…
Yeah, exactly. That was the good and bad thing about coming out with a
song like that, you know? I don’t know, maybe that’s what they expect
every single time we put out a single, but the band kind of rocks out on
stage. I think a lot of times we surprise a lot of people on stage.
That’s always what we’ve loved to do. Live on stage, turning the
guitars up, but when it’s time for the ballads, we treat them with the
same respect as we do with the other songs.