Writing a sequel to David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars led North Carolina singer-songwriter John Elderkin down a creative rabbit hole that led to the creation of a new band, the all-star Mad Crush, whose “Time For a Love Song” for its upcoming debut album premieres exclusively below.
“About four or five years ago I decided I wanted to do something that had more of a narrative flow,” Elderkin, co-founder of power pop flag-planters the Popes and also a member of the Lovely Lads, tells Billboard. That manifested itself in the Ziggy project Moonbeams No Mas! in 2017 and whetted Elderkin’s appetite to take things even further. “I didn’t want to do (Moonbeams) twice, but I wanted to do something that sort of retained a little bit of the dramatic element.”
Recruiting singer Joanna Sattin, Elderkin envisioned “this notion of a man and woman kind of singing back and forth to each other within song, or song to song — like Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner, Johnny Cash and June Carter, stuff where there’s real personality involved. And maybe have some Ray Davies things, with as much full-blown character development as you can in three minutes.
“I thought, ‘I would love to pull that off.'”
With the Mad Crush album, due out Nov. 16, Elderkin and company have. To realize his vision he recruited players such as drummer Chuck Garrison (Superchunk, Pipe, Zen Frisbee), violinist Laura Thomas (Ray Charles, Judy Collins, JAY-Z) and guitarist Mark Whelan (the Popes, the Veldt). “I just kept asking different people until I got yeses and the yeses were the right ones,” Elderkin says. Sattin, meanwhile, he heard singing with a pickup band at a hootenanny and was initially resistant to the idea. “I knew she was the one, but it took me months to talk her into it,” Elderkin says. “I was persistent.”
Mad Crush is indeed an aural performance piece, nuanced and quirky — more Gilbert & Sullivan than Bowie. But its story is not neat and clear-cut — which is exactly how Elderkin wanted it. “I like the notion that it ends with a question mark,” he explains. “I’ve found with long-term relationships there’s no end spot; You’re always kind of wondering, ‘Where are we in the process?’ So I hesitate to say there’s definitely a beginning, middle and end to this story, but I feel the murkiness is true and honest, and that feels good to me. I really wanted to write songs for adults and hope that people our age would be like, ‘Oh, I know exactly who these people are…'”
It also opens the door to a sequel, and certainly to the band as a going concern. “I know where to start the second record,” Elderkin adds with a laugh, adding that Mad Crush continues to record duet covers — Cash and Carter’s “Jackson,” Bow Wow Wow’s “I Want Candy,” Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'” — that he hopes will come out at some point, and may possibly be gathered into a full album of their own.
“I really love this band,” says Elderkin, who predicts some “regional tour” for Mad Crush with hopes to take the band out nationally as well. “I’ve played in bands that have done well and bands that haven’t. This band, when we play people — especially in their 30s, 40s, 50s — come up and are like, ‘I’ve sort of been waiting for you.’ So, yeah, I would certainly like to keep it going. This is not a one-off at all.”