Bristol-based trio Elder Island create music that falls into a genre of its own.
A blend of mesmerising melodies, their songs are peppered with serene and soulful vocal hooks and emotive cello strings. Despite receiving critical acclaim for their first EPs - 2014’s self-titled 'Elder Island' and 2016’s 'Seeds In Sand' - as well as garnering support from BBC 6Music tastemakers including Tom Ravenscroft, the trio still find themselves part of the daily grind in a variety of day jobs; from decorating and building, to fixing guitar pedals and running electronic workshops.
In their spare time they weave their intricate web of sounds deep in the basement of one of their homes, which also doubles up as their practice space. Their music blossoms like a rare flower in a world that can often feel beige and ordinary, treading the line between indie, folk, dance and pop.
Structured with looped guitar grooves, hypnotic drum pads and playful, mystical lyrics - “take it always slowly, piece by piece / You got this funny idea that you'll eventually release” – drawing upon influences from Frank Zappa to Captain Beefheart and Floating Points to Nicolas Jaar, Elder Island conjure a sublime sound that stands out from their peers.
Clash caught up with them ahead of their sell-out London show on their first headline tour and the forthcoming release of their much-anticipated LP, 'The Omnitone Collection'.
- - -
- - -
Your debut album is finally due for release, more than four years after your inaugural EP - the self-titled 'Elder Island'. What took so long?
Dave: Just life and trying to balance everything in between. It takes us a while to do things as well. We really enjoy the long process and experimenting and exploring and stuff.
Katy: We’ve wanted to do this for so long and we wanted to get it right. We’re epic mollycoddlers of songs, so we’ll just tweak and tweak for years.
Can we expect lots of new material, or will it be a lot of the singles that we’ve already heard?
D: Everything on the album is new. Nothing will have been heard before except for the new singles that are gonna come out. It’s all stuff that’s been kicking around for a while and some of it’s very new. It’s more like the process of it has taken maybe two years.
We worked with Ali Chant who’s got a studio around the corner from us [in Bristol] called Play Pen, we had six weeks with him. We recorded a lot at home then took them over there to him. When you’ve got a stricter time frame to work to you have to record it and finish it. There’s lack of motivation without a deadline, you can put it off a bit.
On the EP cover for ‘Don’t Lose’ is a rather intriguing piece of machinery, the EI DL410, what is it?
K: We made it!
D: It doesn’t actually function. The concept behind it is that all these things do work and there were going to be manuals that come with them.
K: We had intended for it to be a working game. We’ve got all the components and Dave’s got the withal to put it all together. We went down a rabbit hole.
D: We’ve got them all ready [for each EP]. We’ve been designing them about to go and collect the last bits of laser cut material and we’re going to have a big making day.
K: The house is full of bits of MDF and plastic and buttons and nobs.
You all met at university in Bristol, studying photography, graphic design and fine art, which is when you began playing together. At what point did it become more than just a hobby?
K: After uni I went back to Birmingham for a bit and became a chef. After a year we all came back together in Bristol and we were like “we’re gonna give this a go” ‘cause it’s worth it. I think we all missed it really.
D: Yeah, like the real enjoyment of playing together. When we made the first EP that was us figuring it out- learning how to record and produce and just making something. When it got put out I don’t think any of us were aware of what was going to happen. We were like “if some people listen to this that’ll be great and if we get a show or too”. Then it was just “wow, lots of people are listening to this”.
That first EP got a few plays on BBC 6 Music. It must be quite surreal to hear your music on such a huge platform.
D: Yeah, it got a couple of plays. We were practicing that very song in the basement that day and when we came up for a break it was playing on the radio.
K: We were shouting at people saying “stop! Who’s put that on?” Even now you get texts from your aunties and they’re like “I’m in TK Maxx and they’re playing your song”.
Would you say that your sound has evolved over the years?
D: Oh yeah, definitely. I think what we were listening to and what we were trying and experimenting with at that time is very different to now.
K: We brought elements through but picked up lots of new things along the way. The production sounds better. I can hardly listen to the stuff from the first EP. It’s so bad!
D: It’s more just doing it all the time and getting better at doing it. We do like our equipment as well. We buy a lot.
Talk us through the process of creating a track.
D: We literally start with nothing. It’s very much we just turn on and hit record and start playing together.
K: Loops are quite important. Obviously we’re noodling around and things get looped and it just builds in this way.
D: [We get] the melodies and the structure from there, and Katy’s lyrics come from just loosely playing and finding melodies and hooks by singing. Once we’ve had a big jam and listened back we normally use the vocals of the best part to reference it then Katy will take that away and write far too many lyrics for the whole track. Then we need to figure out the best way to arrange it from there.
How long does it take to make a track?
K: They differ, but I mean some of them [can take] years and some of them weeks. D: Some of them can happen quickly. K: It’s usually the party ones [that are quick].
What equipment do you take from the studio and out on tour?
D: Lots and lots of pieces- the main core thing being guitar pedal boards. Me and Luke both have an MPC, old ones that do all our sequencing. He’s doing the drums and drum sampling on it. I use it more for samples and triggering my synths and stuff. We’ve both got loopers as well.
Katy’s similar. She’s got a looper for her cello and one for her vocals as well. Then there’s all the instruments like the synthesisers, the drum machine and the cello but they’re all the ones that we’ve been recording with in the studio. A lot of the instruments that we use live are [the ones] we record the album with.
K: We have used some different sounds for the album so we will be bringing in different things that will mess up the sounds. I’ve just got a new echo pedal, which I’m trying to introduce to my system so I can build those sounds that are a bit more prevalent in the new album. But mostly we have a core of stuff that we travel around with.
What can people expect from the tour?
D: We’re being ambitious with what we want to achieve visually. We’ve started working with lighting. We’re bringing a lighting engineer for the big shows in Bristol and London. That’s really exciting and we’ve developed out own little lighting rig as well that we take with us. We’re trying to make a big show on a small budget, to make it more impactful for the smaller gigs.
K: We’re doing it all live, no backing tracks or computers because it just kills the vibe. We try to recreate it [as closely as we can] so people know [what the track is], but we can really manipulate them and change them.
Has it ever gone horribly wrong when playing live?
K: It’s never gone horribly wrong. It usually sounds like we’ve done it on purpose.
D: To us it might sound horrendous, but to everyone else, because it’s their first time seeing the show, it’s fine.
- - -
- - -
Words: Jennifer Wallis
Catch Elder Island at the following shows:
6 London Village Underground
7 Brighton The Haunt
9 Cardiff Club Ifor Bach
10 Bristol Trinity Centre
For tickets to the latest Elder Island shows click HERE.
Join us on Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.