If just one North American band touches down for a UK tour this particular week, you’d want it to be Elephant Stone.
Named after a great Mancunian anthem, the Montreal-formed trio are a joyous clash of musical cultures, heavily inspired by British rock but with classical Indian influences due to their leader, the sitar-riffing Rishi Dhir.
That unique sound is captured splendidly on their new live EP, ‘Live at the Verge.’ Two of the band’s biggest influences are The Beatles, naturally, but also Teenage Fanclub, and they’ve just announced a bit of a dream gig for Dhir, on Monday: supporting the Fannies in Glasgow, before Elephant Stone rush elsewhere to play their own show. Quite an evening.
We caught up with Dhir in Belgium, the day after the first gig of their European tour in Holland, and just before they boarded the ferry to Britain.
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It must be a pretty bewildering moment to be arriving in the UK… but I also think you’re the perfect band to go see this week.
Yeah, I heard the news on Monday. We were in Delph in the Netherlands, the morning after we arrived, and it was a shock.
But playing music can make a difference. I remember once I was touring throughout Texas, here I am in the middle of nowhere, Texas, playing my sitar… and I just thought, what an amazing opportunity, I get to travel and to introduce people to cultures that they don’t know, and see how you can mix things, and that can work.
So going to the UK, we’re very aware of what happened, but it’s inspiring for us that we get to go there and give something back. Broken Social Scene played Manchester the night after, and that’s an amazing thing. Some bands might have thought ‘we can’t do this, I’m not sure’ but they did it, Johnny Marr came on stage; music is supposed to unite.
I remember after the Bataclan tragedy, this sense that a safe space had been violated. Gigs always felt like an escape from your worries.
Growing up I used to go to shows all the time, at 14, 15: you could be the outsider at school but when you go to a show it’s a community. I was talking to the guys in the band: why are they targeting this? Because they want to terrorise, and destroy what we have.
It’s a beautiful thing that we have; not many countries have the opportunity to go to shows and experience music like this. And if you stop, because of fear, they’ve won.
It was great to see people saying ‘let’s get out to gigs tonight’ the day after.
Exactly – don’t be afraid. I’m not going to the UK being afraid, I’m going in there being excited, that we’re bringing something.
So how did the Elephant Stone idea come about originally?
I was in another band for about 10 years and I got disillusioned, being in a band, touring – I felt like we were giving nothing back, and I wanted to see if I had anything to give artistically.
I wanted to do a sitar project, and it just grew. It’s been a gradual thing, but we’ve been doing this for almost 10 years now. Time flies by.
Has the sound moved on a fair bit? On the new live EP you sound a lot deeper and heavier than when I first saw you, back in 2010.
This band’s evolved so much, we’ve put out four records, toured; I spent a year touring with the Black Angels, playing bass and sitar, and learned a lot there as well. Each album, it’s always us, but it’s always mutating. There’s a lot of freedom in the music we make.
When did you learn to play sitar?
I bought my first sitar in ‘97, and I met my guru in 2000 – I’ve been taking lessons from him for 17 years. He’s a phenomenal player, a German fellow who did his Masters in India for 10 years, then met a girl from Quebec and moved to Montreal – very multicultural.
It’s amazing how the sound from one instrument can immediately take you to a whole different place – spiritually, but also just geographically.
I mean, in all cultures, music becomes such a large identifiable part of who and what they are. It’s amazing the power of the sitar, it’s still just a regular stringed instrument but it has this emotional quality to it that translates through the noise.
Teenage Fanclub were a big early influence on you, and now you’re supporting them in Glasgow?
We’re playing Glasgow on Monday, then they announced their surprise show – I’m friends with Norman (Blake), he lives in Ontario now, so I just dropped them a line, and it worked out really well. When I was 13 years old and discovering ‘Bandwagonesque’, I never thought I’d be 39 and opening up for them, in Glasgow. I feel very fortunate.
And you’re playing your own headline gig the same night?
We’re playing the support gig then rushing over to play our show – so I may not catch their set. But I’ll see their soundcheck at least, maybe one or two songs. I’ve been talking to the promoter – ‘can I just see the Fanclub?’ but our curfew’s at 11pm, and they’re playing ‘til 11. It’s cool, we’re here to play music, that’s our job.
The European tour continues into June: what are you up to then?
We’re heading back to Canada, as I’m working on two new albums right now. We’re doing a normal Elephant Stone album, and the other is going to be an acid house album, with a sitar. I’m calling it acid house raga.
One final, random thing: I read that your track ‘Manipulator’ was used in Made in Chelsea?
Yeah, I only heard about it before or after. I don’t know the show?
It’s about awful, rich young idiots...
Ha! That’s funny, because that track is about the wealthy, and those in power trying to control others. Maybe it was a subversive message being sent through the episode.
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The Live at the Verge’ EP is available HERE.
Words: Si Hawkins / @SiHawkins
Elephant Stone Tour Dates:
26 London Moth Club
27 Hastings The Printworks
28 Leeds Eiger Studios
29 Glasgow Mono
30 Sheffield Picture House Social
31 Brighton The Hope & Ruin
For tickets to the latest Elephant Stone shows click HERE.