"This is so much fun for me right now," Ellis says. "I have a wife and a baby, and I own a house. For me, being on tour is a vacation."
But this is hardly Endless Summer III. The vacation will come to an abrupt halt for Ellis and the Casket Lottery before summer even begins. And most Magic 8-balls say, "Decidedly so," that the venerable Kansas City band will never have another.
"We've been on the edge for a while, not knowing if there's a future in playing music together," Ellis admits. "We've been so weird the last couple of years. I don't know if people know what to think about us anymore. I don't know if I know what to think about us, either."
And the lead singer doesn't want to know what to think about the band's future, not in the middle of what could be the Casket Lottery's gallop into the sunset.
"I don't want to ruin the moment by thinking too much about it," Ellis says. "I have a lot of fun doing this. I like being with these guys, and I love playing music. I don't want to bother myself with wondering if this is going to be the last time."
It stands to reason that a band called the Casket Lottery would expect its number to be up eventually. But it wasn't that long ago when Ellis, bassist/vocalist Stacy Hilt and drummer Nathan "Junior" Richardson were considered one of the area rock scene's most promising indie acts.
The group started when Hilt and Ellis splintered from Coalesce. With Richardson, they put out four full-length albums and an EP before entering Black Lodge studio last winter to record their probable finale, Smoke and Mirrors. The Casket Lottery seemed to be sitting on a winning ticket as recently as two years ago, but a series of events -- marriage, children -- shifted the band's focus.
"If we did ever get to a point when we tried to 'make it' -- whatever that means -- maybe we saved everything we love about this band by going out on our terms," Ellis suggests. "We've done a lot. We've had a lot of fun. We've met so many people. We've played for so many people. I'm satisfied."
That sounds like a man ready to move on. And this looks like a farewell tour. It sounds like a farewell tour. (The band is playing catalog-spanning songs, including some that, Ellis admits, it "kind of forgot how to play.") And Friday's show at Spitfire could be the end itself.
"After that, it's pretty much decided that we're taking a break," Ellis says. "It could be six months. It could be forever. I really don't know. But everybody knows it's time for a real break. I don't ever want to do a 'final' show. I never want to finalize anything like that."
Ellis doesn't sound entirely heartbroken about exploring life away from music, either. "Personally, I'm looking forward to putting this down and focusing on other things," he says. "I'm looking for a new direction."
In reality, the Casket Lottery has been looking for direction for the better part of two years. The band was close to disintegrating several times during that span, only to limp forward until the members decided they should take at least one last stand on the road and in the studio. And Smoke and Mirrors feels like a farewell record.
"This one feels perfect, for what we're capable of," Ellis says. "I think these are some of the best songs we've ever done. It's also the most complete recording we've ever done. Before, I always felt like we needed another day in the studio. When this was finished, it felt finished."
The four-song EP bristles with moody melodies and frayed emotions that more than make up for the fact that it's also hiding a few vaguely nauseating Collective Soul moments. But while "Come Sweet Revenge," "Ten Years" and "Smoke and Mirrors" manage to seethe with snarl and resignation, the album's -- and perhaps the band's -- true coda is "On the Air."
The song is a devastating anthem for every musician who has spent a sizable chunk of adulthood chasing the dream, only to wake up one bittersweet morning confronted by the indifference of the industry, with the realization that the dream shattered long ago and that now is the time to salvage whatever fragments remain.
We just hop in a broken van, and we head out to the coast, Ellis sings. Wide-eyed and wondering how we ever got here/Now I'm praying for a revolution on the air/Am I wasting all my time?/Or am I proving them all wrong?/Am I wasting all my energy in these old songs?