With the subculture surrounding Fullerton, California's, Burger Records, and its mainstream exposure reaching critical mass last week with a feature in The New York Times, it makes sense that Burger act Mr. Elevator & the Brain Hotel's profile within the underground music community is exponentially higher than ever. But the band's growing success has as much to do with ceaseless touring, hard work and the quality of its music.
Mr. Elevator & the Brain Hotel formed "about three or four years ago," according to singer and organist Tomas Dolas. The core trio of Dolas, drummer Wyatt Blair and bassist Daniel Quintanilla were each playing in separate bands when a friend introduced Dolas to Blair. "I wanted to do something new and a mutual friend introduced me to Wyatt. I came over to his house one day and it just happened," Dolas says. "I mean, we've definitely gone through changes. When we first started, Wyatt was the bassist, so a lot of the songwriting was Wyatt and I just kept coming up with ideas that way. I feel like we were almost a jam band when we first started and we've definitely evolved from that into a much darker sound. ... Wyatt and I write most of the songs."
Dolas, 22, has a rich musical background, which he attributes to his parents' influence. "My dad raised me on a lot of jazz and then the Doors, the Byrds, Emerson, Lake and Palmer—that kind of stuff," he explains. "My mom raised me on a lot of traditional music like Chopin and Beethoven. I feel like I understood music a lot when I was a kid. My mom made me take piano lessons. It's kind of like a part of my nature. It's like a calling, I guess. I can't not play music."
One key to Mr. Elevator's artistic success, as heard on 2013's fantastic Nico & Her Psychedelic Subconscious (Burger), is that they're very clear on what they want to achieve musically. Dolas says, "I've always been a fan of psychedelic music and what the word 'psychedelic' actually means. It's not just, 'Well, I listen to Pink Floyd or put delay on my guitar or all that shit. I think classical music is psychedelic, you know what I mean? Anything that takes you out of your mind. I like keeping that aspect of music alive—the fact that music can do that to people and kind of create another world when you listen to it. It's magical; it's a beautiful thing. Being able to do that and having people dig that as well ... I don't know, music has done a lot for me in my life and I just want to keep that feeling that it's done for me going."
Dolas, Blair, and Quintanilla emphasize that Mr. Elevator & the Brain Hotel are part of a larger movement closely associated with their record label and its subsidiary, Lolipop Records, which Blair founded in Los Angeles. Both Burger and Lolipop have a deep Tucson connection: The Resonars, Burning Palms, the Freezing Hands and Union Pacific are just a few of the local acts that work with one or both of the labels. Dolas is enthusiastic when speaking about what he considers to be a wide-spectrum shift in youth culture.
"There's a big underground thing going on with music right now, especially with the whole L.A. culture," he says. "People are starting bands and making records. A lot of people are just creating music. It's cool how Burger kind of kick-started that, you know? California didn't really have anything going on (before that), and Burger grew. It's all about community, and it inspired people ... even where we're from right now—we're living in Echo Park (in Los Angeles). In Echo Park we're part of a little community. There's five bands that live on our street that are all next door to each other. I love that aspect of people who want to work towards something. I feel like we're always looking forward, keeping ourselves busy."
Talking on the phone from a San Francisco hotel room, just two dates into their third national tour in less than a year, Blair and Dolas sounded both depleted and exhausted. Between running Lolipop Records and evolving their own music into pure sensory derangement (with no guitar contributing to the sound), they've committed themselves to a formidable goal. But as Mr. Elevator & The Brain Hotel garner increasing success, critically and commercially, the band has given itself a break from the constant work.
This is the first tour "where we haven't really booked the dates on our own," Dolas says. "We just got a booking agent. That's kind of nice. Every other tour we've done all ourselves. It's nice to be able to have the space to not worry about that kind of stuff." When the group wraps up this outing on June 22 in Salt Lake City, there are plans for European and South American shows. And then, Dolas says, it's back to making new music.
"We've been wanting to record for a while; we have enough songs for probably two more albums. We've just been very busy with a lot of stuff—touring, and managing Lolipop, and just figuring out how to make rent. All that fun stuff. We have plans for when we get back from touring to schedule some time off to work on new songs." After that, it wouldn't be far-fetched to assume that they'll start the cycle once more.