Instrumental music occupies a very narrow niche of the rock ‘n’ roll world. For decades, women have swooned over charming rock frontmen, while men secretly envy their gregarious, magnetic personalities. All of that might stack the deck against instrumental Los Angeles duo El Ten Eleven. But Kristian Dunn, who plays the double-neck bass/guitar combo while manning a mean rig of looping pedals, and Tim Fogarty, who handles acoustic and electronic drums for the band, actively eschew the “rock” tag.
Instead, they identify more with the widely diverse electronic music scene, in which beats, grooves and layers of manipulated sound hold far more meaning than supposedly poetic lyrics.
With multiple film and TV credits to its name, El Ten Eleven is no worse for the wear, defiantly standing out from the crowded field of post-rock, prog-rock and math-rock bands, many of which operate in a murky, non-commercialized underground.
Three days before starting a spring tour — and after Dunn’s interview with Folio Weekly — Dunn and Fogarty reported the theft of the “majority of El Ten Eleven’s gear and instruments” from their van in Los Angeles. The stolen items included one of Dunn’s “prized” Carvin double-neck bass guitars, two pedal boards and most of Fogarty’s drum kit, according to a press release from their record label.
El Ten Eleven is still planning to do the full tour as scheduled while promoting a pre-order of the remix LP “Transitions Remixed” as well as a memorabilia sale on the duo’s bandcamp.com website to help generate funds to buy new gear.
Folio Weekly: El Ten Eleven’s last album, “Transitions,” came out in 2012, but your stacked upcoming itinerary — 37 shows in April and May alone — doesn’t look like an easygoing, between-albums tour.
Kristian Dunn: Well, we have a new remix album coming out in April with awesome artists like Com Truise, Max Tundra and Slow Magic. And we just recorded a new EP that’ll probably come out by the end of summer. We also have our own record label, and in April we’re putting out an album by Spokane, Wash.-based Nude Pop, who will be touring with us. So, we have tons of exciting stuff going on.
F.W.: Many critics say that El Ten Eleven is skewing more electronic in recent years. Is that one reason you’re doing the remix album?
K.D.: We’ve always been into electronic music — in fact, we don’t really listen to rock bands at all. We’re always surprised at shows when people come up and say, “I’m really into you and Explosions in the Sky.” We kind of scratch our heads, like, “Really? We’re not.” Nothing against that band, but that’s just not the stuff we listen to. We love electronic music, but we’re playing rock band instruments, so we try and make those instruments sound more electronic by manipulating them in weird ways.
F.W.: The first line of your bio says, “I really hope people don’t say that we are a math rock band!”
K.D.: We always wanted to do things that pushed the envelope, but not so far that people scratch their heads and go, “This is just weird, experimental stuff.” That’s a really difficult balance to strike, but that’s always what El Ten Eleven has targeted.
F.W.: You’re widely acclaimed for your use of looping pedals. How did that come about?
K.D.: It really started out of necessity — looping pedals were the only way we could get what we wanted in our heads to come out of the speakers as just a duo. Over the years, we’ve gotten really good at looping, and now we’re the masters. I’m not saying that in a conceited way, either — I’m just being honest. There’s nobody better at looping than we are. But it’s all based on practicality. It turns out it’s really exciting for people to watch, so that’s a bonus.
F.W.: Do you think of El Ten Eleven primarily as a live band?
K.D.: I generally do, and people seem to like us best live. We love the visceral thrill of playing live in front of an audience. I don’t know what else to compare it to in life.
F.W.: The visual component of your show is a big draw, too, right?
K.D.: Years ago, we prided ourselves on not needing anything visual to put on a great show. But Tim and I love going to shows where the music and the light show are great. So, we started with construction work lights and a little fog machine. And now we have to bring a crew on tour to deal with the lighting situation. The only bummer is that, every time we go out, we want to try to top ourselves. And I have no idea what we’re going to do after this tour because these lights are pretty crazy. If you come to one of our shows, I guarantee you’ll enjoy it. We might not be your favorite band, but I can’t imagine that you wouldn’t enjoy the show.
F.W.: Will this be your first performance in St. Augustine?
K.D.: Yes, and that’s nice because new towns are getting more and more rare for us. I like the beach there, and I’m hoping I can surf if we have time. You guys have good water there, so after soundcheck, I’m jumping in.