The last thing you’ll ever want to call El Ten Eleven is one the following: A Jam band, Math Rock, Post Rock, Ambient, or Downtempo. “Please don’t write that we [are a Jam band],” begs Kristian Dunn, double neck guitarist, melody-maker, and with drummer Tim Fogarty, the heart of El Ten Eleven. The band has grown particular about the slew of nondescript genres with which the media and their fans identify them. Simply: they are known as El Ten Eleven. Born from true Southern California sunsets, surf and sand, these two have perfected their soul-clenching sound, one of life, love and loss, since their breakout record El Ten Eleven in 2004. They put on a rock show of stadium status, and when you witness it, you will be a firm believer in the no genre and no label stance of the band. We talked with the band about all things music and inspiration.
El Ten Eleven create loops of guitar riffs, basslines, and multiple pedal effects creating an opus-like vision within your mind. Their still-hit single “My Only Swerving,” off of their debut self-titled LP, will wrap its arms around and transport you from everything – or adversely, to anything – you seek. Soaring guitar melodies that build up and break down are soothing and reassuring, even. The song is named after William Stafford, a famous poet, known for his book of poetry “traveling through the dark.” With no lead singer to guide you with lyrical octaves, the organic instrumental melodies sail you through undetermined loops, seemingly rays of audible light in the darkness. It is just you and them.
One wonders how just two band members can achieve such intricacy in their music, songs that seem to start simply and end in the same place, having voyaged through complex depths. Kristian humbly explains that they are simply perfectionists. “Our process is just us thinking of a part of the music, and working on it. I will send it to Pete, or vice versa. Then we get together. The only pressure we have comes from ourselves. We will work and work…and after it is out we still critique it and think we could have changed this, or that.”
This type of work ethic has made them a long-lasting duo, not among the likes of the 20-something electronic duos and DJ groups that are budding in today’s music scene. The emphasis on the dance music of today’s modern electronic scene, the takeover of dubstep and the dumbed-down mainstream formula it has evaporated into, these are things that concern El Ten Eleven. Kristian’s wish for a new breed of modern music “that doesn’t have a drop every 30 seconds” is not surprising. “Yeah, I think maybe these kids today are a bit into instant gratification, but I recommend Tchaikovsky.” One contemporary he does admire? “Well we love Slow Magic, and brought him out with us on tour. He is amazing.”
Their fifth studio album, out about a year ago, is Transitions – and it’s arguably their best to date. “Transitions is our favorite, and we are most proud of this,” says Kristian. Their songs are repetitive, layered and complex. There’s an intuitive process that comes along with listening to their music, one that’s relaxing, one that really makes you let go. With songs nearing the 10 minute mark, Transitions takes you on a ride, chords humbly bouncing along, instilling you with the patience to enjoy the ride. “Yellow Bridges,” a standout on the album and a perfect execution of the cathartic build of the song that overwhelms the listener with joy and satisfaction, is the key factor of El Ten Eleven.
They have no plans to slow down, and earned some EDM credit by having a full remixed version of Transitions. It is a who’s who of turntable talent from Com Truise to Steed Lord. “We are both into EDM, since back in the day; so we just asked who we wanted to remix and they all said yes.” Now you can experience the harmoniousness of El Ten Eleven’s music atop a very listenable dance track. The product sounds a little bit like Ratatat – and that’s been a very good way for their music to be accessible to all and transcend their (albeit dedicated) post-rockfan base of stoners, stargazers, and just those who like to sit back and let the music wash over them.
And with great success comes great responsibility. What happens when your life as a musician becomes your life as a human? “We are constantly talking about music, making it, on tour. It is just who we are. It is not a job to us. As long as people wanna see us play; we are going to play.” When he’s not a music machine, he enjoys other passions, among which are surfing and flying helicopters. But he really loves to do? “Spend time with my daughter. She is best.” It seems that Kristian might have a future partner in the family business. “She loves El Ten Eleven. She will point to the speaker and say, ‘Daddy, Daddy.’ And I will be forced to put my music on for her.” Somewhere deep inside, it’s inspiring a whole new chapter of El Ten Eleven’s music.