By Jeremy Hallock
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By Observer Staff
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Just last month, former Rilo Kiley guitarist and co-songwriter Blake Sennett released his third album with the band The Elected. Called Bury Me In My Rings, it's the band's first release since 2006. But the disc's shimmering West Coast pop rock does more than mark Sennett's return to the side project he first began in 2004. It marks his return to the music industry altogether.
Last year, he considered himself retired from the business.
Done with Rilo Kiley.
Done with The Elected.
Done with all of it.
In a sense, Bury Me In My Rings was nearly the album that wasn't.
"I awoke from my time in Rilo Kiley realizing I had my development as a human being sort of arrested by laying in a van or bus for months or years at a time," Sennett says. "So I decided I needed to do some growing up and become a real human being so that I could actually pass something along to my children—if I have them one day. I don't want to be just a man-child all my life."
It's not all that difficult to imagine where his disillusionment with the music industry comes from; the former child actor (Boy Meets World, Salute Your Shorts) spent a decade co-leading one of the most popular indie-rock bands in the country alongside fellow child star Jenny Lewis (Troop Beverly Hills, The Wizard). After releasing their major label debut in 2007, deteriorating relationships lead to that band's eventual demise.
"In acting, it is what it is," Sennet says. "You show, you know what you're going to get paid, you get paid that, and then you go home. It's a paycheck. In music, it's a partnership and you're a writer and you're an owner of a project. Jenny and I were the two writers and owners of [Rilo Kiley], and one day you might wake up and your co-owner might say to you, 'Hey, I don't want to fucking do this anymore. I'm out.' So, in that regard, music is the harsher thing. In acting, you have a contract and you're in business with people you don't really know. In music, you're in business with your friends, so if some dubious shit goes down, you take it personally because you trusted them."
Following his extensive break and time spent soul searching, and spurred on by heavy prodding by his friend Jason Cupp (who also mixed The Elected's sophomore effort), Sennett agreed that the time was finally appropriate for him to begin writing songs once again. For it to work this time, though, he decided the project had to be sincere. This helps explain why he played the bulk of the album's instruments himself, and why he self-produced much of it, too.
"I wanted to create something that came from honesty in its most absolute sense that was totally not self-conscious," Sennett says. "And I think the only way to be totally honest is to tell the story yourself. Any time you rely on others to tell your story, it's impossible for you to be honest because it becomes colored by others' agendas and others' stories. Music is a story. It's a feeling. It's like a painting. It's different than a screenplay or an essay. It's more about feelings. So I didn't want to have to worry about fucking erasing other people's feelings and have people all bummed out at me."
The result just might be some of Sennett's brightest pop—and perhaps strongest work—to date.
"Particularly, when you excel on your first attempt, there's a tendency to feel that it was really easy and then to be careless on your second attempt," Sennett says. "I don't think you can have a sophomore slump unless you had success. This is a better record than my last one."