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Shameless Outsiders: El Ten Eleven's Tim Fogarty Talks 'Banker's Hill'

Monday, 08 October 2018 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

El Ten Eleven have never quite garnered the adulation they deserve, despite emerging from the noughties instrumental boom that spawned Explosions in the Sky, Russian Circles and countless others. It's a shame as their ambitious arrangements and daring songwriting approach have always marked them out as an interesting proposition. While other post-rockers focus on linear guitar progressions and reverb-driven crescendos, El Ten Eleven construct their unpredictable yet atmospheric sound with copious loops, vamps and pedal-led effects.

So it's not exactly unsurprising when lead songwriter and multi-talented guitarist Kristian Dunn has to pull out of our interview because he has an appointment with his chiropractor, due to injuries aggravated by playing his enormous double-neck bass on stage. Instead, partner-in-crime Tim Fogarty steps in to talk about 'Banker's Hill', their seventh LP and 10th release overall, having just come off the first leg of their tour. The band's now “simplified” live setup still seems nightmarish at first glance, but drummer Fogarty says everything has become more streamlined over time.

“We play everything. There are no laptops and nothing's pre-recorded. In our early days, music was written on the gear it was to be played on and was looped and that kind of thing. On later records, we stopped limiting ourselves by playing songs live as we do on the record. So for the sake of a tighter, better composition, it'll be tighter on studio albums, but essentially tracks are thought out to be played live.”

Fogarty, like Dunn, is clearly a geek for the technical side of music, and admits that “usually it's something technique or gear-wise that gets us excited about stuff and a bunch of songs will come out of that period of excitement”. He remembers the band's first two records as ones where “Kristian used a fretless bass”, says things opened up when he started using mallet percussion, and notes that recent projects have been drastically improved by his partner's “new pedals making beautiful sounds.”

The duo are shameless outsiders, reflected by the fact they didn't emerge from a distinct local scene, at least at first. They formed in Los Angeles but flitted between there and San Diego, where they played in the little-known indie-pop group the Softlightes. Their own 2004 self-titled debut as El Ten Eleven didn't initially receive much fanfare either, but it slowly gained traction in underground circles as post-rock became something of a movement in itself.

“When we started it wasn't as if we were trying to fill some instrumental void in the industry or anything,” Fogarty says. “ I think we just had a bunch of songs together and we thought they were cool so we threw them out there. It kind of had a slow build but it turned out to be great for us. I guess we only ended up in a scene through logistics and started making friends with a few bands. Now, every time we hit a milestone, we realise we've been together longer than a lot of marriages. It's kind of crazy, but I think we're both lifers. We always knew we'd be doing it in some capacity, but I didn't know how long it would be.”

Having worked on albums for over a decade, it would have been easy for the band to become jaded or cynical. However, 'Banker's Hill' is their most vivid and energetic record yet, incorporating 808s and electronic-inspired patterns to a greater degree. They also recruited an outside producer for the very first time – Sonny DiPerri, former in-house engineer for Trent Reznor, 30 Seconds to Mars and others.

“He really zeroed in on things,” Fogarty says. “Sometimes it was like 'slow the tempo by 20 feet per minute' or something and it would change the song and make it so much better. We'd never gone that route before. Kristian would come in with most of the ideas, we'd record and fine tune, and suddenly we'd gone from 22 ideas whittled down to 10.”

For all their technical wizardry, though, the essence of the album is found in its dynamics and the measured contrast between manic and calm. Where much instrumental rock simply seeks to convey feelings of awe or wonder in a vaguely impressionistic manner, El Ten Eleven's ethos is officially “meditation in motion”. To that end, they moved to the beautiful Panoramic House in Northern California to record the entire record. Fogarty says this resulted in an album that was all about “living in the moment”.

“We had this giant window overlooking the ocean,” he says. “I think, for me, even though we were in different places when a lot of of those songs were written or fine tuned, I can remember where I was, where the sun was and what kind of day it was when I recorded drums or whatever. It's an approach we've always had: the song Connie, which we played way back in the day, is all about dealing with loss. When we'd play it, I'd always think about someone and it would take you out of the experience – like a mental dedication.”

Fogarty stresses that although “we definitely want to get a sonic thing across that makes us feel a certain way”, it's “cool if it evokes something else”. And for all that their method of songwriting seems scientific, it's points like this that testify why El Ten Eleven's style of music is powerful to so many people. It also explains why their audiences have, if anything, increased in number over 16 years. They only came to the UK for the first time three years ago, when they played the cult alternative festival ArcTanGent, but having discovered a new batch of fans who dig what they do, they're determined to come back.

“We've had good shows everywhere, on both sides of the Atlantic,” he says. “What I would say is that fans of instrumental music seem to be a little smarter than most people – more sophisticated. We would say that, of course, but there's a thoughtful nature to the crowds. They're not just party ready and are there to listen that little bit harder. That's a trait to instrumental music: you're there to listen. Music always reminds me of time and place, and without lyrics that's only more pronounced.”

‘Banker's Hill’ is out now on Topshelf Records.

El Ten Eleven Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows

Tue November 06 2018 - ST LOUIS Missouri - Old Rock House (USA)
Wed November 07 2018 - INDIANAPOLIS Indiana - Hi Fi (USA)
Thu November 08 2018 - ANN ARBOR Michigan - XXX37 (USA)
Fri November 09 2018 - GRAND RAPIDS Michigan - Pyramid Scheme (USA)
Sat November 10 2018 - CHICAGO Illinois - Chop Shop. (USA)
Tue November 13 2018 - MADISON Wisconsin - High Noon Saloon (USA)
Wed November 14 2018 - MILWAUKEE Wisconsin - Shank Hall (USA)
Thu November 15 2018 - MINNEAPOLIS Minnesota - 7th Street Entry (USA)
Fri November 16 2018 - OMAHA Nebraska - Slowdown (USA)
Sat November 17 2018 - KANSAS CITY Missouri - Record Bar (USA)
Thu November 29 2018 - LOS ANGELES California - Teragram Ballroom (USA)
Fri November 30 2018 - SAN DIEGO California - Casbah - CA (USA)
Sat December 01 2018 - SAN DIEGO California - Casbah - CA (USA)
Thu January 10 2019 - TUSTIN California - Marty's On Newport (USA)
Fri January 11 2019 - PHOENIX Arizona - Crescent Ballroom - Phoenix (USA)
Sat January 12 2019 - TUCSON Arizona - 191 Toole (USA)
Tue January 15 2019 - EL PASO Texas - Lowbrow Palace (USA)
Thu January 17 2019 - DALLAS Texas - Club Dada (USA)
Fri January 18 2019 - AUSTIN Texas - Empire Control Room (USA)
Sat January 19 2019 - HOUSTON Texas - White Oak Music Hall (USA)
Tue January 22 2019 - GAINESVILLE Florida - High Dive Gainsville (USA)
Thu January 24 2019 - ORLANDO Florida - Social - FL (USA)
Fri January 25 2019 - YBOR CITY Florida - Crowbar Tampa (USA)
Sat January 26 2019 - ATLANTA - Aisle 5 (USA)
Wed January 30 2019 - ASHEVILLE North Carolina - Grey Eagle (USA)
Thu January 31 2019 - CARRBORO North Carolina - Cats Cradle (USA)
Sat February 02 2019 - WASHINGTON - Union Stage (USA)
Wed February 06 2019 - PHILADELPHIA Pennsylvania - Foundry (USA)
Thu February 07 2019 - BROOKLYN New York - Music Hall Of Williamsburg (USA)
Fri February 08 2019 - PORTLAND Maine - Port City Music Hall (USA)
Sat February 09 2019 - CAMBRIDGE MA Massachusetts - Sinclair Music Hall (USA)

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