“This stuff was coming out of me and it’s dance-y and upbeat but there’s still an emotional resonance.”
Not a lot of bands do the phrase “greater than the sum of their parts” justice quite like the Los Angeles post-rock duo El Ten Eleven. Bassist Kristian Dunn and drummer Tim Fogarty have been making instrumental genre and boundary-bending music since 2002 while steadily gaining new fans with each release.
Their latest installment, New Year’s Eve, which came out on March 4 via Joyful Noise Recordings combines upbeat rhythms and danceable structures with existential dread and the fear of the unknown. Fans can expect a bunch of songs off the record to be played when they take the stage at the Paradise Rock Club on April 22. New York City dream pop act A Beacon School and local indie jazz outfit Really From will kick things off at 8pm.
Dunn and I spoke ahead of their April 22 show at the Paradise about channeling emotion through an instrument, not having to deal with a singer, not being a fan of encores, and an orchestral project he’s hoping to have out within the next few years.
You’ve said that the title of New Year’s Eve comes from the guarded optimism along with the possible disappointment every December 31st brings, so how did you go about channeling that feeling into the album’s six tracks?
Usually for us, more specifically for me, the music comes first. I start writing and then I start thinking, What is this about? What is this? And it inspires the feelings and ideas about the theme of the record. This one went that way and the music is dancy, it’s almost like disco music, but as it says in our bio there’s still my “sad boy Kristian Dunn crap” on top, which I love. This stuff was coming out of me and it’s dance-y and upbeat but there’s still an emotional resonance to it that makes it different from straight ahead disco music. Then I started to realize what it was and part of the question you just asked is what came out of me then, if that makes any sense.
It does. Since it’s only you and Tim working as a duo, did you feel any sort of advantage during the recording process of the album while still dealing with the COVID-19 regulations?
Oh yeah, of course. From the very beginning, we decided that we wanted to try really, really hard to be a duo so creatively it would be simpler. We had been in a band, a different band with a singer, and we thought it would be great to not have a singer (laughs) so being a duo was definitely by design. That was one of the reasons, it makes things a lot easier in so many different ways. Practical ways like organizing band practice and splitting up the money or whatever but also creatively.
I’m kind of a lead singer in a bass player’s body, I have a lead personality or a leader personality. When there’s another one of those types of people in the band it can be fine and it can work out great but there’s ultimately going to be compromise or butting heads. In this situation with El Ten Eleven, it’s just me and obviously Tim but I’m more of the creative force. It must be working because we’ve been together for 20 years now and we’ve barely had an argument so that’s what happens when you don’t have a singer in the band, I guess.
Speaking of 20 years, this record you just put out is your 11th album and you’ve also put out a couple EPs during this time period as a band as well. What do you think is the main inspiration for this prolific output you and Tim have produced over the past two decades?
I don’t know if there’s just one inspiration, if I had to pick one it would be the love of playing music and loving what we come up with together, so it’s as simple as that. With every record there’s different inspiration, there’s been some pretty dark inspiration with people dying along with some pretty uplifting inspiration like family and good marriages as opposed to divorces, which we’ve written about. It’s just the usual life stuff, there’s no magic ingredient, we just truly love playing music. I’m a workaholic when it comes to music, I just keep writing and writing and writing and Tim’s thankfully hanging on but we keep on putting out records, people seem to like them and when we go out to play people come to our shows so we get to keep going.
Is it true that when you and Tim perform live you don’t like doing encores? You’re strictly against them?
Ok, so plead your case against the encore and why don’t you like doing them?
I don’t like doing them because at this level they’re fake. When we were first starting off and playing at bars or whatever and we’d play everything we had planned to play, then the crowd kept demanding that we’d do another one, that was real. We’d look at each other and go, Oh God, what should we do? Let’s come up with something. Now we know that we’re contracted to play for 90 minutes so it’s just phony, it would be phony to just walk off the stage, sit there for a few minutes, walk back on and the house lights wouldn’t be coming back on.
As a fan, even when I was a teenager going to concerts, I would think that it was so silly. They just walked off stage, the house lights aren’t coming back on, we’re all chanting and they haven’t played their hit single yet. They know they’re coming back on, we know they’re coming back on, it’s fake. I always thought when I was a teenager that if I was ever in a position to be in a band that’s successful enough to do encores, I’m not going to do it because the whole time we would be off stage we could be playing another song. That’s what I was thinking as a teenager watching these concerts, why would they walk off? They could have played another song rather than have everyone standing up and chanting.
Now I’m in a position where I get to make that choice and rather than walk off and waste everybody’s time, I’ll just play another song. Then when we’re done, we’re done. I don’t make the audience chant, “El Ten Eleven! El Ten Eleven!”.
Other than touring in support of New Year’s Eve, are there any other plans for El Ten Eleven in 2022?
There’s going to be some more dates that haven’t been announced yet. There’s a festival in the summer that we’ll be playing. I’ve been writing like crazy so I got ideas for another record. I’m also scoring a piece for El Ten Eleven with an orchestra which I’ve actually been working on for years. I keep kind of redoing it and I get distracted from it when we’re doing our “regular records,” but I really want to do it. It’s also a little bit of a waiting game because it seems like the band very, very, very slowly seems to get more popular at a very glacial pace but the bigger we are the less difficult it will be to put together us playing with an orchestra, so I don’t mind waiting on that one so when we do it, we can do it properly. That’s sort of simmering on the back burner and I hope within the next few years I can pull that off, but it’s a pretty monumental task.
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Providence Journal, The Connecticut Examiner, The Newport Daily News, Worcester Magazine, New Noise Magazine, Northern Transmissions and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.