Mr. Elevator—Rising Up to the Synth Cosmos

If you’re a fan of the French duo Air, and the pre-Dark Side keyboard and synth driven sounds of Pink Floyd, Mr. Elevator is a band you need to hear. Led by Oh Sees keyboardist, Tomas Dolas, the Los Angeles quartet just wrapped up a swing of West Coast dates, and later this summer, they’ll be supporting Oh Sees on an 18-date North American tour.

AQ recently spoke with Tomas about the band’s new album, Goodbye, Blue Sky (Castle Face Records), how much he enjoys improvisation, what fans can expect from a Mr. Elevator live show, and even gave a small update on an the in-the-works Oh Sees LP.

My understanding is Mr. Elevator had been together prior to you joining Oh Sees.

Really, the start of it was with an old friend of mine named Justin Martinez, who was a drummer, but he was also a really amazing artist, too. He does a lot of cool paintings and drawings and we played in a kind of jam band with our other friends for a bit. Then once [people went to college], me and [Justin] were the only two that were left and still played music together. We were both into prog and finding out about new prog bands that we had never heard of. And we wanted to just start a different type of band that’s still kind of like a jam band, but that was like keyboard  driven. And he had a friend that he was playing music with and we all got together, and we just jammed for a few weeks and it was a lot of fun. We started playing shows like that, just kind of having improv sets with keyboards, bass, and drums. It was really fun, and we were going through a bunch of weird, wacky names. Eventually we landed on The Elevator at the Brain Hotel, and we were just like an improv, loud, random, keyboard band for a little bit. And then Justin had a kid and he ended up moving back up North where he came from, he grew up in California by Sacramento. So we didn’t really start being like a serious band ironically until after he left, so the bassist and I kept it going and were like, ‘Oh, let’s actually like compile songs, and like make it a band and move to LA,’ and yeah, it just kept going from there.

Very cool. You know, having listened to Goodbye, Blue Sky, I think it’s a really awesome mix of ambient daydream music, like soundscapes with a very chill pop aesthetic. But where do you draw your influences from?

I’m not sure, to be honest. I mean it could be so many things, but I am definitely a big pop music fan…. I’ve been also listening to a lot of instrumental stuff. That kind of translated into what I was doing, because a lot of that record ended up being more instrumental heavy. My wife was showing me a lot of music that I’ve never really heard before, like early Serge Gainsbourg stuff, a lot of French electronic stuff. 

It’s interesting that you mentioned Serge, because when I was listening to the album, a more recent band that came to mind immediately was the French duo Air, because of the downtempo electronic vibe.

Oh man. Yeah, Air.

Is that a good comparison?

For sure. Yeah. I love Air. They are a great, great band.

Both bands have what I was speaking about before: ambiance and a chill pop aesthetic. The catchy vocals of (Goodbye, Blue Sky single) “Sylvia,” for example, were very much jumping out at me when I was listening to the record. 

Oh man, thank you so much. Yeah, I mean Air is such a great band, because they’re a group you can listen to and hear an evolution of a bunch of different, great artists pushing the envelope…. You can hear Pink Floyd, Serge Gainsbourg, and other early French electronic stuff…. Like, all kinds of that stuff is going into what [Air is] doing and pushing the envelope even more. 

Absolutely. Now, there are some slight similarities of Mr. Elevator’s vibe with that of the Oh Sees. But, generally speaking, Mr. Elevator is very much its own thing. And I was thinking it must be fun for you to have that kind of contrast in artistic creation, right?

Yeah! Playing with the Oh Sees is an absolute blast. It’s really fun and all the guys are great. And the music is definitely something where I feel at home when I play with them. It’s not any kind of a stretch, it’s all very, very natural. There’s a lot of improv, as well, playing live with the Oh Sees. So that’s another thing I really feel at home with…. I met John (Paul Dwyer, Oh Sees founder), actually, from Mr. Elevator opening for the Oh Sees a little while ago. 

That’s awesome. 

Yeah, it’s cool that it all comes back around.

Cool. So, you’ve been described as—and this is just a quote—a “synth and keyboard zealot.”

(Laughs) A buddy wrote that, so I don’t know! I’m a bit of a nerd with synthesizers and keyboards. I still have a bunch of synths that I could totally get rid of. A lot of synths that are even broken that I am just hopefully holding onto to get fixed one day. I think I have a bit of a synth problem. 

Not a bad problem to have! Synths and keyboards, is that your primary instrument, or do you play drums at all? Are you a guitarist? Like, are you a proper multi-instrumentalist?

Yeah, keyboards, definitely. I mean, I played piano when I was very, very young, so it’s definitely the most familiar thing. I played music when I was a kid, like in a more classical standpoint, and then gave it up in my teenage years in favor of skateboarding. And then I came back to music playing piano again, going into college. So yeah, keyboards are my first and most familiar instrument. But I try to play on [different] things a little bit, even though I am definitely more piano-oriented.

How would you describe Mr. Elevator live performance, and are you excited to get on stage with the newly assembled musicians you’ve been working with and start playing?

Yeah, everyone playing [in Mr. Elevator] right now is phenomenal. Jesse (Gorman Conley), he’s the drummer and he’s an amazing, amazing drummer. I met him when I was going to college in a jazz improv class, and he was in one of the groups that, whenever that group would play–our tests were, like, doing performances and evaluating each other, and all that–and he was in that group [that would] smoke everyone. He was just a crazy drummer and I remembered that if I ever needed a drummer in a band, I was going to remember this guy’s name. And we’re playing together now. Incredible. Johnny is our bass player. Just a great guy, great musician. And Justine is the newest member who started playing with us for these shows and hopefully onward, but she plays keyboards and a bunch of other things. Everyone in the band is very multi-talented and can play anything. So it’s really fun to get in a room and play music with them….

The other folks in the band are multi-instrumentalists—that must really help in terms of bringing out all the different dynamics of Goodbye, Blue Sky, right? Just so you can kind of move it around a little bit, and make every night organic?

Yeah. Oh man, yeah. The catharsis, I guess, of the songs that we play is transformed even more when we play, because it’s everyone’s own interpretation and dynamic of it. I’m really lucky, because in L.A., it’s really hard to find people to play music with. Ironically, when there’s so many musicians and bands out here, everyone plays in, you know, 20 different bands, and are super busy. So when you find someone good that you are excited to play with and you can go on tour with….  It’s like a pig finding truffles, you know?

Okay. [Laughs]

It’s a very, very special thing.

Awesome…. Very awesome. Speaking of shows, Mr. Elevator will be the opening act for the Oh Sees on a lengthy North American tour. What are your thoughts on playing what will essentially be two sets of music every night? Do you think it will be challenging, or conversely, do you think it will energize it and enhance the experience?

Oh, man. It’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s going to be a lot of loading [gear], a very good workout for that month (laughs). It’s going to be a good stream of shows because I think the Elevators are a good opening act for the Oh Sees…. 

Definitely. I’m very excited to see both bands. So, now, you’re obviously very committed to promoting Goodbye, Blue Sky right now, but are there any plans to take the Elevators back into the studio and record another album soon?

I mean, I have a lot of songs that stem from really embarrassing voice memos on my phone. For me, I’m always just grabbing ideas, so I always have a lot on the backburner. I think if there’s a little gap somewhere between the summer and fall, I think we might be able to go in and work on some new material. But in the meantime, right now the Oh Sees are finishing up writing a new record, and then we have some tours after we record lined up. So, we have a pretty busy schedule up until right before that tour in September, when we’re going around the U.S., so it’s a matter of time.

Right. Speaking of time, can you share when the new Oh Sees record will be coming out?

I can’t say. I’m sure probably sometime by the end of the year, but…. It’s coming along good, though.

Glad to hear it. Well, Tomas, thank you so much today for your time—it was fun chatting, man.

Yeah, likewise, man. Thanks for calling.