El Ten Eleven on Critical Acclaim, Changing Approaches and Dark Times
It's not experimental prog rock, it's not self-indulgent noodling instrumentals and it sure as hell isn't post-rock. What El Ten Eleven does do, however, is maintain their own lane. We meet with the band outside of Tucson's Club Congress over drinks and dinner, expanding a pre-show meeting into an hour of conversation regarding records past and present, instrument choices and frank music industry topics. The rapport between guitarist/bassist Kristian Dunn and drummer Tim Fogarty is palpable, almost fraternal, and rightfully so -- they've been working together for well over a decade.
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The "power duo," as they've been affectionately coined, started in 2002 in Los Angeles, carving out hooky songs devoid of lyrics while maintaining an earworm quality. You may be familiar with the William Stafford-inspired track "My Only Swerving" and its accompanying video, a homegrown black-and-white affair that's amassed close to a million views on Youtube. In it, Dunn and Fogarty weave layer upon layer of upbeat instrumentals together in-studio, completely with requisite pedal tapdancing and Boss looping stations in full effect. It's a dizzying video that has been a proven entry point for fans of the band, an act that's able to both lift and dismay listeners with a few well-placed riffs. Translating emotion sans vocals is something that Dunn strives for in his writing.
"We came through some dark times, and you can hear that," Dunn says of the band's 2012 full-length Transitions. "You're cruising along and everything feels good, then it jerks into a weird time signature and it kind of resolves, and that's what was happening in our lives. I would get divorced, but then I ended up getting married and having a baby. Things straightened out and ended up OK."
Transitions, as literal an album title as any, was El Ten Eleven's biggest departure from their previous work, favoring a bit more sprawl than structure. It's their latest EP, For emily, an intentional lowercase "e" as a nod and dedication to a late friend of the band's, that shows even more textural experimentation. Lead single "Nova Scotia" employs talk box effects, phasers, glissando lines and tremelo-picked guitar within its five and a half minutes. It's much easier to hear how the band has evolved when there's no words to go with the songs.