Hamilton, Ontario-based indie rock outfit Ellevator — Nabi Sue Bersche (vocals), Tyler Bersche (guitar) and Elliott Gwynne (bass, synths) — have received attention nationally and across the blogosphere for a sound and approach that draws equally from late-aughts guitar music, post-rock, U2, Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, Feist, Spoon and Death Cab for Cutie paired with lean, razor sharp hooks and Bersche’s earnest, pop star-like vocals. Thematically their work touches upon power, love and loss from lived-in, personal reflections and experiences.
Their self-titled EP amassed over a million streams across all of the digital streaming platforms. Adding to a growing profile, the members of Ellevator toured across North America with Our Lady Peace, Matthew Good, BANNERS, Cold War Kids, JOVM mainstay Rich Aucoin, Dear Rouge, Bishop Briggs, Arkells and Amber Run.
Ellevator’s long-awaited, full-length debut, the Chris Walla-produced The Words You Spoke Still Move Me officially dropped today. The 12-song album sees the Canadian outfit documenting universal experiences like existential longing, romantic power struggles and the never-ending work of true self-discovery with the deeply personal and highly specific — notably, Nabi Sue Bersche’s experiences entering into and leaving a religious cult.
In the lead-up to the album’s release, I’ve written about three of TWYSSMM‘s
“Easy,” a song that revealed a band boldly making a decided step forward in their sound and approach while seeing them embrace the fact that they’re a rock band: Earnest and lived-in lyrics are paired with enormous hooks, raw and passionate performances, deliberate craftsmanship and slick studio polish.
“Easy” may arguably be one of the most deeply personal songs on the album, with the song drawing directly and intimately from Nabi Sue Bersche’s life: For a period of her life, Nabi Sue Bersche was a member of a religious cult, and the song is a rumination on the good and evil things we are raised to believe without question. “I was raised in the world of charismatic Christianity – an offshoot of Pentecostalism,” Ellevator’s frontwoman explained. “God was magic and prophetic ecstasies happened every Sunday. As a child, I spoke in tongues and prayed until my body swayed with a gentle force like wind knocking me backward. A deep and abiding love of the natural world took hold of me. I witnessed firsthand the wild power of music – how it could uplift, ensnare, console, inspire.
“When I was 17 I moved to the other side of the world and joined what would most accurately be described as a cult. I prayed for strangers I met in parking lots. I shut my eyes and read the dappled light between my lashes like tea leaves that could divine the future. Vulnerability was a badge in that community so I learned to overshare. Teachings were given in the language of freedom while the stiff hand of purity reduced my body to a shameful temptation. Growing up like that gave me a love of music, a nose for bullshit, and a lot to unravel. This song is about the good and evil things we are raised to believe. I was held captive by an ideology that severely limited my life and my perspective of the world around me. It’s a process I’m still in the middle of, this work of extraction.”
TWYSSMM‘s second single was the 80s rock/pop-like anthem “Sacred Heart,” which featured an expansive arrangement centered around slashing power chords, twinkling keys and Nabi Sue Bersche’s yearning vocals. While sonically recalling John Mellencamp‘s early-to-mid 80s output, Rod Stewart’s “Young Turks” and Stevie Nicks, “Sacred Heart” details swooning and urgent, young love in its guilelessness, passion, fearlessness and neurotic self-consciousness.
“This one’s a love song about how intimacy and deep knowing can make it feel like there’s nothing left to discover, and choosing to push on anyway in search of new depths, “Ellevator’s Nabi Sue Bersche explained. “Ty [Tyler Bersche] (guitar) and I got married on a cold spring morning when I was 22 and he was 19. There wasn’t much chance to sell each other on our own myths, to be the mysterious stranger from outta town: we wrote our origin story together. Learning to love each other better has been a strange journey and the great gift of my life.”
“Party Trick,” TWYSSMM‘s third single was a slow-burning and atmospheric ballad that accurately captures the insecurity, anxiety and flightiness of a young person still figuring out who they are and what they are: They seemingly adopt and discard identities, interests and beliefs until they stumble onto something that maybe suits them. While drawing from deeply personal experience, the song is rooted into something incredibly universal — something we’ve all done at some point or another in our lives.
“A friend said to me that being in a band means never growing up,” Ellevator’s frontwoman says in press notes. “It’s easy to feel like Peter Pan on tour, all the trappings of adulthood a hundred truck stops and a thousand miles in the rearview. I started writing this song to my teenage self: a flighty, insecure kid posturing confidence. I’d jump around to all the different cliques like a self-styled Ferris Bueller, leaving just before friendships could settle in. Being on the road brought out those same old tendencies: keep it all on the level, don’t go too deep. Driving down the highway, floating through the hall/Everything is different, nothing’s changed at all.”
“STAR,” TWYSSMM‘s fourth and latest single continues a remarkable run of enormous, hook-driven anthems featuring twinkling keys, propulsive drumming, shimmering and angular guitar lines and a sinuous bass line paired with Nabi Sue Bersche’s plaintive vocals. Sonically “STAR” — to my ears, at least — is a slick synthesis of Stevie Nicks, U2 and Death Cab for Cutie while rooted in a both personal and universal experience: Our tendency to play dress up and attempt to put on our best airs for the outside world — especially through the lens of social media.
“There are so many ways to disguise ourselves I don’t think we even notice we’re dressing up anymore,” the Canadian outfit’s frontperson explains. “Good art has a human point of view, which is to say it’s nuanced, complicated. It often doesn’t have a clear agenda that’s easily distilled, packaged, and sold. Flattening that perspective into something that fits neatly between the clean lines of social media has been difficult for me. Learning how to do it has changed the way I see the world, brought out ugly instincts, and magnified my vanity and insecurity. The wildest part is that this sort of curation and performance is no longer reserved for people like me: artists who pay people lots of money to convince you to listen to our music. Any fourteen-year-old on TikTok has given at least as much careful attention to their brand as I have. But the neurochemical trick these platforms play is just the latest version of a very old phenomenon. We’ve always built our identities carefully: showing the world our good side is an intrinsic part of evolution, whether it’s holding our arms high to make the bear think we’re bigger than we are or an Instagram story of our eight-car-garage.
“I started writing this song about Sable Starr and the baby groupie scene from the 70s in West Hollywood. Writing about licked lips, hey sweethearts, and other abstractions of crude men is a natural place for me to write from. Like a lot of people, there’s a deep well of rage to draw from there. But it morphed into a song about me, how the fucked up aspects of my industry have shaped me, how I’ve bent to the wills of people and entities I don’t trust. When the road runs out, will I be waiting around? Will I still be pretending?”
Directed and shot by the band’s frequent collaborator Cam Veitch, the accompanying video for “STAR” is optimized for viewing on a mobile device in vertical full screen. But whether you’re watching it on a computer as I have or on a phone, we see the members of Ellevator adopting cartoonish. one-note personas, which only capture a small portion of the complicated, flawed people behind the person. But the likes, the shares, the fucking clout!