Elliott Pearson & the Passing Lane Goes Full Country on Its Debut EP

Elliott Pearson previously put in time with the Great Outdoors and Search Parties before stepping up as a bandleader.
Elliott Pearson previously put in time with the Great Outdoors and Search Parties before stepping up as a bandleader. LOREN DOUGHTY

As he enumerates his own musical history, country-flecked singer-songwriter Elliott Pearson stumbles on a truism that will resonate with most working musicians.

"Every band you're in, you think is gonna be the last band you're in," he says.

Of course, most bands are lucky to spit out a few albums before internal combustions or outside forces interfere, and Pearson has done time in enough well-regarded local outfits to know this intimately. The Wood River, Illinois, native crossed the river to play around St. Louis with the folksy Great Outdoors, and that band's dissolution led him to the muscular indie band Search Parties, which wore its love for Arcade Fire, Wilco and Springsteen nakedly.

"Relationships soured," Pearson says of the Great Outdoors. "The same thing happened a few more times and then I decided to do my own thing."

Doing his own thing is in keeping with Pearson's musical genesis, which was ignited when he harangued his father for a guitar. "He wanted me to play piano, but piano is lame and guitar is awesome," Pearson recalls of his intransigence. A trip to the music store to pick out a trumpet for his brother led to his first axe: a long-since-sold Austin guitar and, as he recalls, "a shitty little Crate combo amp."

Pearson's father was no match for his son's persistence. "I saw a guitar, and after wearing him down he bought it for me."

He now serves as the honcho in Elliott Pearson & the Passing Lane, which made its recorded debut with a three-song EP, Devil's Paradise, in early October and has already hit local stages and festivals around town. This group leans into explicitly country territory, with a heavy influence of still-ascendant voices like Isbell and Sturgill and Stapleton — "all the big guys in Nashville doing it themselves, not the pop garbage," as Pearson says.

"My music taste is just ever-evolving and eclectic," he continues, noting how past and present influences have collided in his latest project. "Springsteen is rock & roll, but those songs on Nebraska are basically country songs."

After Search Parties split, Pearson didn't have a master plan to kickstart a new band, and his role performing under his own name wasn't preordained. "I had a lot of these songs in my back pocket for years that never fit, and I sat on them," he says. As he began working on the songs that the Passing Lane would fill out, he found that twangy guitar and weepy pedal steel felt appropriate, fitting nicely against a warm and bristly voice that can hide its heart in a mumble or soar above a Telecaster's strings.

"It just seemed fitting to go the Americana route to tell the stories," he says.

Devil's Paradise is designed to give a brief taste of Pearson and Passing Lane's sound, from the end-of-love farewell "Lucky" to the soulful, trumpet-laced "Tennessee Soul." But such a brief introduction wasn't part of the plan, either.

"We made a ten-song LP at first and recently decided to pivot because we haven't been a band for that long and we wanted to get something out there," Pearson says of the EP, which finds the band sounding assured but still malleable.

After years of playing and singing in bands of great promise but faulty interpersonal dynamics, Pearson is a little more intentional this time around. The band is still democratic, he says, but since it's his name on the album, he feels the need to direct traffic more directly.

"I am trying to be more of a band leader now than I was," Pearson says. "I don't want to say I'm a pushover, but I'm kind of a pushover. In previous bands, if someone wasn't doing what I heard in my head, I always rationalized it in my head. Now I'm trying to be more active — not to put my foot down, but to say what it is I want."

Even still, Pearson finds that he is still occasionally on the business end of showbiz machinery. In a just-released video for "Lucky," Pearson walks through a leafy hiking trail, intoning the words of the song as he's decked all in black. As often happens, this was not the original plan, which involved the band playing at a church in Columbia, Illinois. The resulting video is bucolic, ruminative and, for its star, a reminder of a damned hot summer day.

"That video is really just me sweating my ass off in the woods," Pearson says. "I was dressed for a downtown video shoot, so I was wearing all black. It had rained the night before and there was no air moving through."

After six or seven takes, though, Pearson was ready to call it a day. He's happy with the resulting clip, even if he's typically nonchalant about the final product.

"It's just me walking through the woods, touching a bunch of leaves," he says.

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