California instrumental duo El Ten Eleven on their full-band sound

By Dana Getz

For a two-man band, El Ten Eleven can make a lot of sound. Known for their unconventional pairing of fretless bass and electronic drumming, the indie instrumental duo utilizes effect pedals to loop and layer the contrasting sounds. The result is an array of chilled out electro ballads and laidback rock jams, compacted into five studio albums and a handful of singles.

Now in the midst of an extensive tour, the California twosome took time on the road to chat with us about their offbeat style. We spoke with drummer Tim Fogarty while guitarist/composer Kristian Dunn manned the van, discussing their label, upcoming EP and the technicalities of their live performances.

Why did the two of you decide to start El Ten Eleven?

It just seemed like a challenge to do something that sounded like a full band with two people. The first few times we kinda messed around it sounded great, and we just kinda kept trying to figure it out and never stopped.

I know you’ve been categorized under a bevy of genres. How would you personally describe your sound?

I don’t know. That’s always the worst thing to decide. I just let other people do it and then make fun of them when I think they’re wrong. I feel bad for people who do have to kind of label us as something because I don’t even know what to label us as. We’re just an indie duo who plays sort of danceable tunes. The experimental one is the one that kind of drive us a little crazy, because when I hear a song that’s experimental I always think it’s horrible and unlistenable. That’s not at all what we’re doing. So when people say that, I kind of think no they’re not getting it, it’s kind of a disservice to what we’re doing.

How did you get started playing drums?

I guess I was like 12 or something when I started playing, but I didn’t take lessons or anything I just kind of messed around. I think I wanted to because I was into The Who. I would say that’s probably why I gravitated towards them. It was one of those instruments you could sit down and play right away even if you had no idea what the hell you were doing. That seemed good to me.

Despite being an instrumental band, you still consider yourselves emotional writers. How do you portray those sort of messages to your listeners?

There’s some songs we’ll play where Kristian will say what the song is about when we’re playing live, and with those songs I’ll actually think of what it means to me while we’re doing it. I don’t know if there’s any kind of tricks that we do necessarily, but I kind of feel like it’s up to the listener anyway. For me, when I attach emotions to songs it’s not our stuff necessarily, it will just remind me of a time or a place in life. It doesn’t necessarily have to do anything other than remind you of a time or place—either good or bad.

Despite being only a duo, the two of you produce a lot of sound in your performances. Could you break down what happens up on stage?

A lot of it is the looper—we couldn’t do without looping pedals. I’ll run my electronic drums through Kristian’s looping pedals as well, so while he’s looping himself he’s also looping me. It frees me up to play other stuff on top of what’s already there. So it’s basically like we’ll play a part, and then 99 percent of the time it gets looped, and then we’ll play stuff over top of that. There’s so much going on, we could probably use another foot or hand.

You started your own record label, Fake Record Label, rather than sign to a major one. What went into that decision?

Basically we realized we can do it better than a lot of other people can do it. No one cares more about it than we do. We’ve been in record label situations before so we’ve taken all the stuff we learned along the way. Basically what it boils down to is that we’re the best at doing that for ourselves, and I’m sure there are great situations out there, but I’d much rather be in control of our own destinies than some guy. The other thing is it’s nice to be able to help out other musicians that we love. We can take some of the work that we’ve already done and help some of the younger bands get up and running.

What do you like most about having your own label?

We don’t have to worry about someone not putting their full effort into a release. There’s no middle man—we are the middle man.

I know you’ve signed Girlfriends to the label. What drew you to that particular artist?

He’s an awesome dude, for one. I wouldn’t be that interested in helping out some dude who’s not cool, but he’s really, really good and super talented. We just thought his music was great, took him out on a tour with us. He’s just a really rad dude and a phenomenal musician, so any little thing we can do to help him out we want to. There’s another band called Nude Pop that we put a record out for and I think earlier in the year had on tour with us.

Are there any other up-and-comers on your radar?

There’s some. We’re taking a little bit of a break now from adding anybody to the roster and kind of focusing on what we already have, but there’s a few that we have our eye on. We’ll see what happens.

You released a remixed version of your fifth album, Transitions, a few months ago, which is something new for you guys. What made you decide to go the remix direction?

We’re both into that sort of music. When we’re driving on a tour or whatever we’re either listening to stand-up comedy or dance-ish kind of music, like electronic music. So we were fans a lot of those producers, and our manager knows a lot of those people and is kind of in that world, so he basically hit them all up and put it all together. It was an idea that we had that we weren’t sure if it would work, but it turned out great. It was really exciting for us to see how someone else would approach our music from a different genre.

Are you working on anything else at the moment?

We should have something out by the end of the year. We finished up an EP before we left for this tour and we’re just getting it mastered and all that stuff. I’m not exactly sure when it will be out, but I’m pretty sure it will be before the year’s over.

Can you tell me a little bit more about the EP?

It’s weird because we’ve had those songs in various forms for almost a year I would say. It was kind of just like, ‘Okay, here’s some songs we’re going to put on an EP.’ The song that stuck around are the ones that made it on the EP. There’s not a theme to it necessarily or anything like that, I would just say it’s showcasing what we do but there’s some new sounds happening.

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