In transition: El Ten Eleven returns to Belly Up Aspen
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
ASPEN – Critics struggle to classify them. Ambient, experimental, math-rock or post-rock? For Los Angeles duo El Ten Eleven, none of those is right.
“We hate those labels, honestly,” says Kristian Dunn, double-neck guitarist/bassist. “No offense to anybody who likes those kinds of music or who plays those kinds of music, but just for us, that’s not what we ever listen to or try to sound like.”
Defined by Dunn’s heavy guitar looping and Tim Fogarty’s acoustic drumming, their music is built from scratch without laptops or click tracks. Using foot pedals, Dunn loops multiple instruments, creating the sound of six or seven people rather than just two.
Dunn says it took time to get comfortable with all the pedals and switches. “Train wrecks” is how he describes some of El Ten Eleven’s first performances. Sometimes their timing was so off, they would have to stop in the middle of a song and start over.
“Which was pretty embarrassing,” he says. “It definitely motivates you more having hundreds of people staring at you while you’re screwing up.”
One decade and five studio albums later, the looping is no longer an obstacle. In turn, they’ve been able to focus more on the artistic side of things, which is what they did for their latest effort, “Transitions,” released in October.
The title track – a 10-minute song defined by abrupt changes in time and tempo – is significant because of what it says about their lives at the time. Both Fogarty and Dunn went through divorces. Each moved to a different citiy. Dunn, who remarried and had a kid, says the song might feel a bit uneasy at first.
“But after a while, you kind of get used to it, and it feels good,” he says. “That’s really a metaphor for what was going on in our lives. These things would come up that were pretty rough, but everything turned out to be OK.”
Working in a duo, Dunn says there’s really no downside: It’s easier to set up practice, it’s easier to split money, and it’s easier to work out ideas. He says having more people with the power to say “no” can be debilitating. As an example, he points to Grizzly Bear, a band he describes as a “democracy,” in which all four members have equal say.
“Sometimes it’s better to have one person who has a vision and have everybody else around that person sort of supporting that vision,” Dunn says.
For El Ten Eleven, Dunn is the one with the vision, while Fogarty tinkers with electronics and helps build tracks. Sometimes the songs will come from band practice. Other times, Dunn will come up with something at home, record it and email it to Fogarty – or vice versa.
Without lyrics, or a concrete message people can cling to, Dunn has always been curious as to how fans will relate.
“We’ve always wondered, ‘If there’s no lyrics, no vocals, are people going to get it?’ And clearly they are,” says Dunn, who added that he meets a lot of fans who say they aren’t normally into instrumental music.
“Our music is generally pretty catchy, which is why I reject the label ‘experimental’. … Because typically experimental means not listenable,” Dunn says. “But I think our stuff is very listenable.”
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