THESE UNITED STATES: (Singing) As far as stories go, mine is the best one that I know...


That's the opening line of "Old John Chapman Takes a Good Long Walk" from the new album by the Washington D.C.-based band, These United States, which I think you'll have to agree is a pretty good name for a band this week. Their new album is called "Crimes," and it's packed full of good stories and loose, raggedy-edged folk rock.

Let's meet them. Jesse Elliott, hello. You're the lead singer and writer for These United States.

Mr. JESSE ELLIOTT (Lead Singer, These United States): That's correct. Nice to meet you.

LYDEN: We're happy to have you with us. And you are accompanied by your band mates, Tom Hnatow.

Mr. TOM HNATOW (Musician, These United States): Hello.

LYDEN: And Robby Cosenza of These United States. Hello, Robby.

Mr. ROBBY COSENZA (Musician, These United States): Good pronunciation. Hi.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LYDEN: I want to just make clear that you're joining us from the studios of Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul.

Mr. ELLIOTT: An institution, if you will.

LYDEN: So, one of the first things I noticed about your music is that each song is almost a mini novel. We'll call them novellas. And you're cramming amazing amounts of really American material and narrative into songs like "Honor Amongst Thieves." So, I know you're on tour right now. For those of our listeners who can't get to where you're playing, why don't you play "Honor Amongst Thieves" for us, would you?

Mr. ELLIOTT: Sure. Yeah. Here - we'll just do a sort of the last bit of it.

LYDEN: Seemed a good one for a CD called "Crime."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ELLIOTT: Yeah.

(Soundbite of song "Honor Amongst Thieves")

THESE UNITED STATES: (Singing) You may by now be wondering what my part in all mess is. You prefer your puzzle pieces together. I think that's precious, but I may never tell. Oh well, you may never know. See, I do not get dealt all the cards, but I sense which ones to show, and I bet you'd like to have a secret you could hang above me. Maybe check with Sammy, little John or Lovely. Just be careful what information you seek. Yes, just be careful what information you seek. Oh, there's certain honor amongst, a certain honor amongst thieves. It's a certain honor amongst, a certain honor amongst thieves.

LYDEN: That's a lot of fun.

Mr. ELLIOTT: That's the crowd. That's the crowd.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LYDEN: A crowd pleaser? So, Jesse, you write a lot of these. What's your writing process like, and what's going on in this song? Samuel Clemens, who we all know, I think, is Mark Twain is...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ELLIOTT: Yeah.

LYDEN: Getting jacked like, what, in the parking lot of a - back in Hannibal, Missouri or what?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ELLIOTT: Yeah. It's unclear. We have certainly caught much flack for the amount of words and characters that appear in our music. And I think it's - I don't know. For me personally, I guess it's a way of coping with the serious amounts of information that exists in the world these days. I think stitching it together in some big chaotic patchwork is how I make sense of all the pieces that are flying our way and everyone's way every day.

LYDEN: Listening to this disc, I hear echoes of Bo Diddley, Bob Dylan, and on your MySpace page, you list Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. You know, we've got a clip of them. Here, we go, the band from the Muppet show, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem.

Mr. ELLIOTT: Oh, they're going to make us sound bad.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified muppet: (Singing) I'm gonna explode an atom bomb.

Mr. ELLIOTT: That's a rare cut. That's a deep cut here.

LYDEN: We've got "Crimes" right here. Is there a track on this album that you think is particularly Muppet-influenced?

Mr. ELLIOT: Oh, what would be the closest thing we come to that kind of brilliance?

Mr. HNATOW: I think "Six Fast Bullets" is close.

Mr. ELLIOT: Yeah, close. I could see that.

LYDEN: Let's go with "Six Fast Bullets." I like that song a lot.

Mr. ELLIOT: OK, yeah.

(Soundbite of song "Six Fast Bullets")

THESE UNITED STATES: (Singing) I got six fast bullets baby. I never claimed to be a saint. I've got six fast bullets baby. I'm not found on the walk of fame.

LYDEN: Yeah, I thought I could hear Animal on the drum track.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LYDEN: Well, could we ask the three of you to do a live song for us? Your choice.

Mr. ELLIOT: Sure. Let's do "Speed of Light." It's a song called "When You're Traveling at the Speed of Light," and it's the last song on this newest album, "Crimes."

LYDEN: OK, great.

(Soundbite of 'When You're Traveling at the Speed of Light')

THESE UNITED STATES: (Singing) She's got these eyes. These fiery eyes. She's got these eyes, and when she sees me, they just lie. Hold up the sky, she don't even try. Well, we were moving past the speed of limit and probably doing something that's not right. She's got these eyes. These fiery eyes. She's got these eyes, and when she sees me, they just cry. Oh, I was lost when they cry for all that's right. And it's the thing that drives you homeward. It's your heart. You must not let that engine die. And it's the thing that drives you homeward. It's your heart. You must not let that engine die. Oh it's the thing that drives you homeward. It's your heart. You must not let that engine die. Oh, it's the thing that drives you homeward. It's your heart. You must not let that engine die.

LYDEN: Love it. Thank you.

Mr. ELLIOT: There's the Bo Diddley for you.

LYDEN: I heard Bo Diddley, and let's pay homage because he just recently left the planet earth.

Mr. ELLIOT: Yeah.

LYDEN: I wanted to ask you your name, These United States, since you so recently put your band together. What's the story behind that? Was it because this is an election year, and you were really thinking about it or?

Mr. ELLIOT: No, actually, that name surfaced when we first started this project. When was it, a few years ago. I've always had a geographical fascination and a sort of philosophical cultural fascination with all the different - just sort of pluralistic nature of everything that goes on in this great, big, and twisted country. My parents drove us around it in a Nissan Stanza from a very young age. And I had spent all over 48 states with them. I was like 14 or 15 years old. So they perplex me, and why not pay homage to that confusion?

LYDEN: Well, you certainly debuted at a time when the country debuts a new era. And it's been a great pleasure talking to you.

Mr. ELLIOT: Yeah, thank you.

Mr. HNATOW: Thank you very much.

Mr. COSENZA: The feeling is mutual. We'll see you around.

LYDEN: Jesse Elliott, Tom Hnatow, and Robby Cosenza. Their band is called These United States. Their new album is called "Crimes." You want to take us out in another song?

Mr. ELLIOT: Sure, we could do that. This next song - this last song is called "The Sun is Below & Above."

LYDEN: And I'll just point out, this is from your first album, "A Portrait of the Three of Us At the Gates of the Garden of Eden."

Mr. ELLIOT: Yes.

(Soundbite of "The Sun is Above and Below)

LYDEN: You can hear full performances from the session and songs from "Crimes" at

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