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Her Way

Singer-songwriter Elaine Greer learns how to play well with others.

With her wide eyes, shy demeanor and devastatingly adorable giggle, you'd think Elaine Greer would welcome musical input with a warm smile and how-do-ya-do.

"Oh, no, I'm not very good at it at all, actually," laughs the local singer-songwriter. "Most of the time I give [my bandmates] the recording and say, 'Here's the song, learn it.'"

Elaine Greer seeks lyrical pointers from the master.
Jim Dillon
Elaine Greer seeks lyrical pointers from the master.

Anything after that can get a bit, um, sticky.

"When people suggest changing [songs], I generally don't take it very well," she says. Her resistance doesn't stem from disrespect — after all, she does need people to play with — Greer just wants her songs to sound like, well, Elaine Greer.

"I think it's coming more from the place of I don't want it to lose the genuine kind of — I don't know, I guess it's not really a situation in which we all sit down and write together or anything like that," she explains. "So when someone does suggest changing it, I'm kind of like, 'Well, you know, you're not going to be here maybe for this show and then if we change it for this, then how am I going to be able to do it the same way by myself?'

"So, for a few different reasons, I'm pretty particular about keeping things one way. But it's not like I'm going to shoot down everything. I try to be open, I guess..." she says and laughs.

Those attempts were put to the test earlier this year when Greer finally broke tradition and headed to the studio to record the six-song Making Plans and Going Places. Her latest EP marks a change of pace from the past five years of recording her Feist-y, Rilo Kiley-esque sounds solo via her bedroom.

"It was kind of awkward for me because I hadn't really recorded with other people before, and not having that control actually kind of freaked me out," says Greer, no longer surprisingly.

"I've always done the home-recording thing where I'm just sitting in my bedroom like, 'Oh, I'm going to shake this salt shaker and see what I make for percussion,'" she says, imitating her former self by lowering her head and speaking in a voice similar to Disney's Goofy.

Greer might be a stickler onstage and in the studio, but she's not afraid to poke fun at herself off-camera. She entrusted her recording duties to News on the March guitarist/vocalist Joe Weber at his Master Bedroom Studios, conveniently located in NOTM headquarters, i.e., the band members' house. Yes, they all live together, but it wasn't exactly an easy transition for Greer.

"I actually had to kick Joe out of the room to do most of my vocals," she says. "They were very subpar, but once he left and just let me do it, they were much better."

Greer admits to putting up some fights, but she also gave in more than usual. Especially when it came to mixing the EP with Sugar Hill hero Steve Christensen. Not hard to believe, given Christensen's experience awards him a lot of "Yeah, I should probably listen to this guy" weight.

"I did put quite a bit of faith into his ability," says Greer.

In fact, Christensen frequently had to encourage Greer to speak up as he undressed her tunes.

"He definitely strips the songs down," she says, admitting they needed to be. "We definitely had these huge, grandiose productions, and he kind of brought them back. All the extra stuff, I thought was good, but he kind of had to say, 'Well, other people don't know these songs and they'll want to listen to the actual songs.'"

Local friends and sometime bandmates including (to name a few) NOTM's Austin Sepulvado (guitars, accordion) and Gillian Williams (cello), Wild Moccasins' Andrew Ortiz (drums) and Grandfather Child/Satin Hooks' Lucas Gorham (lap steel) all helped out. Greer says although all of their sounds stayed in, it was inevitable that some would be cut back.

"I kinda knew that was going to happen,"she says. "I knew we had overdone it with the adding on."

The final product, though, echoes Greer's musical and collaborative maturity. This is mostly thanks to her decision to re-record old favorites instead of rolling out all new tunes.

"A couple of them I've recorded before, like home recordings, but I didn't want to just leave it at that," she says. "I like these songs...and I think they deserve a good recording."

Longtime fans who remember Greer from her days at Super Happy Fun Land — both on her own and fronting duo The Bluebirds — will sense the years of rethinking, restructuring and retuning.

Greer's vocals are now slowed down, relaxed and unmistakably more confident. Nowhere is her leap into maturity more evident than on the rich, Gillian-Welch-like transformation of favorites like "The Key" and "Wild Things," which make perfect companions for new numbers like the waltzy "Under the Radar" and two-steppin' "Ancient History."

"I think a lot of it was just me learning how to sing," she says. "In The Bluebirds, I was like, 'I guess I can kind of sing,'" she says, once again impersonating former "Goofy Elaine."

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