Smile Politely

Going against the grain

El Ten Eleven hail from Los Angeles, California. A two-piece utilizing drums and a doubleneck guitar/bass, the song on their latest full-length Transitions range from tranquil picking to propulsive, Maserati-esque climaxes — while retaining elements of emotion and humanity that are all too often lost in the post-rock genre. I spoke to bassist/guitarist Kristian Dunn last month about live shows, the challenges that come with composing as a two-piece, and the recently released Transitions Remixed.

Smile Politely: Looping is obviously prominent in your sound. When composing, do you work out a basic structure and let that guide the additional parts to be added? Or do you envision the song as a multipart/orchestrated piece before recording?

Kristian Dunn: It comes together in a variety of ways. On a song like “Transitions”, we had the concept from the beginning, but putting it all together was really hard. We have to consider the continuity of the song but unlike most bands, we also have to consider logistically how we will pull it off. It’s a ton of work but hopefully in the end it’s worth it.  

SP: What pedals and effects can’t you live without? There’s a quote from Buzz Osbourne (of the Melvins) which basically states that if a pedal can’t be purchased at guitar center (in the event of a gear failure), it shouldn’t be in your live rig. Do you agree with this, or are there speciality effects that you like to utilize when touring?

Dunn: Yes, I know exactly what he means! Our gear was stolen recently right before a tour. Fortunately, most of my stuff was purchasable at Guitar Center but a few items weren’t.  Years ago I had thought ahead and got back up stuff for this very reason. So we were able to salvage the tour. As far as what I can’t live without, I definitely need the looping pedals. Also, the Whammy XP100 is a major part of a lot of songs. They aren’t made any more, are hard to find, and fall apart on tour. I’ve been through six of them. Any time we fly to a festival or something I’m so anxious that pedal will break.

SP: El Ten Eleven is somewhat against type at the ELLNORA: The Guitar Festival, with the lineup being largely focused on blues and acoustic guitar, and generally drawing an older crowd that may not be familiar with your music. Are there any adjustments you make for shows with a wider audience, as opposed to one composed mostly of your fans? Or do you feel it’s better to present a consistent vision of your music regardless of who is in the crowd?

Dunn: We consider the crowd a little bit, but mostly we just kind of go for it and do our thing. If people get it, great. If not, that’s fine, too. Because there is a novelty factor in what we do (looping, double neck , electronic drums, roto toms) we’ve found that even if our music isn’t someone’s cup of tea they still enjoy the show.

SP: Regarding the Transitions Remixed album — what was the impetus for putting it together in the first place? Why not an album of original material? As a corollary, do you feel that remixes are inherently constrained by their source material (ie the original tracks on Transitions), or does hearing a remix of one of your songs allow you to look at it from a fresh, outsider perspective? Did you collaborate or offer creative input to any of the remixers, or was it a situation where they did their own thing and you were in the dark until hearing the finished versions?

Dunn: The impetus was that we love electronic music and really want to be more associated with that world. We also love remixes. Well, good remixes. There are plenty of bad ones out there. But there have been many times in my life where I actually liked a remix better than the original. If you listen to our remix album I don’t think you can say anyone was constrained by the source material. These guys were very liberal with what they did. There are some mixes on there that pretty much sound like completely new songs.  

We just let the remixers do whatever they wanted. We had one or two notes for them, but pretty much what was delivered to us is what you hear.

SP: Lastly, I see that you have dates scheduled through the end of September, including a couple with Peter Hook’s new band. Are there any plans to tour beyond that, or will you be regrouping and going back into the studio?

Dunn: We actually just got out of the studio and will be releasing an ep in a few months. After this tour we go to Europe in October for a month’s worth of shows. Then in December we tour the west coast headlining theaters and large clubs. This will be the biggest shows we’ve ever played as headliners so we are really excited!


El Ten Eleven performs on Friday, September 6th at 10:45 p.m. on Stage 5 in the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts for free.

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