El Ten Eleven- A Power Duo of Post-Rock?
During high school and my early years of college, I was pretty much that guy that always had his headphones on. I often preferred to listen to music instead of my teachers and peers, and I can honestly blame it all on post-rock.
In post rock, singular themes tend to be built harmonically and dynamically throughout albums, which is why they flow. It’s pretty rare (at least for me) that I listen to a single song as opposed to an entire album when listening to this genre of music.
I suppose the concept of listening to music without any vocals was appealing to me because I was able to take the music and apply my own emotions and experiences. Bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Explosions in the Sky shaped my experiences in high school by providing a constant soundtrack as I walked down the corridors.
Because of my listening history mainly being comprised of classic rock n’ roll, it was no surprise that I took a liking to the heavy emphasis on dynamic contrast generally found in post-rock music. A common theme found throughout the genre is the use of rock instrumentation for non-rock purposes, like using guitars as implementers for textures instead of riffs and power chords.
When my best friend introduced me to El Ten Eleven, it really tickled my fancy, to say the least. It was almost like someone had taken the “texture” of a post-rock band, and given it the grooves of an off-road tire as opposed to the smoothness of a coffee table. For me, this was the perfect medium.
When given the opportunity to interview the duo, I was curious to see how they felt about the genre they had ultimately been dubbed by their listeners.
Surprisingly, drummer Tim Fogarty replied, “I get why we are, but it bothers us. I feel bad because we don’t know what to call ourselves. Yet we can’t come up with a better way to describe it. Someone called us a power-duo and I loved it, but it doesn’t really describe us at all. Another person styled us, ‘If Radiohead was playing Daft Punk songs,’ and I think it explains us pretty well without having to hear the music.”
El Ten Eleven was formed in 2002 after guitar player, Kristian Dunn, and drummer Tim Fogarty left the San-Diego based rock group, Softlightes. The band was labeled El Ten Eleven when the two embarked on booking a show but didn’t have a name.
“Kristian pitched the idea, El Ten Eleven, and I thought it had a pretty good sound to it,” said Fogarty. The name was based off the Lockheed L-1011 Tristar airplane, that can be seen on the cover of their self-titled first album. Surprisingly enough, Dunn actually has his helicopter license, which tends to fit appropriately with the concept of flight.
Released on September 20, 2005, through Bar/None Records, the first album was peppered with positive reviews, based primarily on the ability of the duo to create such intricate instrumentals with such a narrow quantity of musicians. Following this release, the band left on their first US tour, which was the catalyst to an almost nonstop touring lifestyle for the next ten years.
“Kristian actually has a wife and kids, so we don’t stay out on the road for as long as we used to,” said Fogarty. “We typically play on the road for a couple of weeks and then he’ll find the time to fly back to California to spend time with his family for a couple of days. We’ll meet back up somewhere farther along the road and continue where we left off.”
Touring is not the only thing that has changed since the band’s formation. After settling down, Kristian and his wife opted to leave the fast-paced life of Los Angeles for something a little more relaxed in San Diego. While the songwriting tends to be a bit more challenging via email, neither of the two members seem to mind the change.
“A lot of our ideas when writing songs start off with email, and then we sort of work through the kinks when we’re in the same room together. Sometimes just getting in the same room changes the entire song all together into something better that we weren’t even expecting. After completing what seems like a song, we’ll typically take the draft on tour with us and play it for an audience to get a feel for the energy of it, before taking it to the studio. We try to road-test everything before recording. In a way though, it’s sort of nice living apart from each other because we can get things done on our own time, and walk away from things for a little while if the writing gets difficult.”
Like most bands these days, El Ten Eleven has a pretty recognizable internet presence. Through social media outlets and music subscription services, fans are consistently in the know about news related to the band. Fresh material is strategically scheduled to be released at the perfect times.
The band’s most recent EP, Mixtape 001, was released on their website for free download not long ago. The only requirement was to connect with them on Facebook, which isn’t a bad trade-off in the slightest. The mixtape contains formerly unreleased material, as well as a few new songs and covers.
While there is no question as to El Ten Eleven’s originality, they do have a few noticeable inspirations.
“There are so many different influences in what we do, so I’m not sure there’s one single artist that could be considered more significant than others. However, I’m sure that everything we listen to can be heard in our music whether we realize it or not,” said Fogarty. He later noted that this occurs frequently with artists such as Phil Collins and Joy Division.
In El Ten Eleven’s twelve years of existence, they have left a tremendous impact on the world of post-rock. The sound they currently provide is appealing to listeners of more than just a single genre and can be appreciated by all age groups. While the current lack of vocals leaves the listener with the liberty to interpret the music in any way they see fit, the band does plan on introducing a new female vocalist in the near future to accompany them on at least one new release.
Being categorized by a genre creates strict guidelines on do’s and don’ts of creating music. Nonetheless, I believe that their inability to define themselves by a particular genre could quite possibly be their best quality. I currently wait in anticipation for every tidbit they have left to show us.