Kristian Dunn of El Ten Eleven: "When I See Bands Using Laptops... It's a Fake Show"
Los Angeles' El Ten Eleven has an unusual name and an equally unusual sound. But the band is fairly prolific: In a little less than a decade, the duo of Kristian Dunn and Tim Fogarty has produced four albums of nerdy, precise, new wave-influenced rock.
Now, with a sizable, international fan base, El Ten Eleven plays all-instrumental music that even your geeky father could enjoy.
Speaking from a tour stop in San Antonio and in anticipation of Friday night's show at Dada, bassist/guitarist Dunn spoke to DC9 about his band's unique style -- and how it's nice not to have to put up with a singer.
Read our complete Q&A after the jump.
Have you ever been tempted to bring in a third member to the band?
No, we've always liked being a duo.
What about using a guest vocalist?
That might happen a few records down the line. It hasn't happened yet because no one has the balls to do it. Some people have asked about that and we tell them to make us a demo, but so far, no one has done it. I don't know why they are so scared.
Did you always intend the band to be a duo?
Not right at the beginning, but pretty early on. When Tim and I first got together, we played a gig as a duo and we both went, "Wow!" We knew that it would work with just the two of us. Plus, it's easy to schedule band practice when it's only two people.
In the past, your music has been described as post-rock, experimental, ambient and indie. Do you prefer any of those?
None of them. I don't think we are post-rock. And we are definitely not experimental. We are not conducting experiments. We're trying to write good music. Actually, when I think of experimental music, I think about it being unlistenable. If by indie, people mean independent, then that's us. But when I think of indie rock, I think about Modest Mouse. That's definitely not what we do. We're kind of hard to define. A journalist called us electro-rock, and I like that. We have electro elements, except we do it with live instruments and no laptops. We like to see people dancing at our shows as well. But we also have mellower, sensitive material.
The band's music is very precise. Does that make it more difficult to perform live?
It can be really difficult. Our music can be challenging and that can make it hard to pull off. We sometimes have to cover up our mistakes, but that can be fun as well. There's not much room for error. We don't have laptops to fall back on. When we make mistakes, it can make a show interesting as we figure out what to do on the spot.
You've mentioned laptops a couple of times. You don't like music made with laptops?
Well, I do like some. There are some bands that are brilliant at it. It can be done well, but mostly, when I see bands using laptops, they are not doing it well. It's a fake show. It's get up on stage, press your space bar and jump around.
How did the band end up doing the soundtracks for the two documentaries by Gary Hustwit?
He and I hung out together. He had our first record and really liked it and he asked us to give him some music for his film Helvetica. For his next movie, Objectified, he actually had me score some original music. I am doing the same for his third movie, which he is filming now.
How has the band changed over its ten-year existence?
We have gotten a lot better at what we do. The first album is actually kind of hard for us to listen to. Over the years, with all of the touring, we have gotten quite a bit better. We use a lot of ideas and techniques that we couldn't do at first. Our abilities have changed and the music is sharper.
Is it difficult to attract fans being an all-instrumental band?
I find it easier because we don't have to deal with a singer. Singers are notorious for being a pain in the ass. As far as being played on the radio or going on huge tours, it's really hard to say. One could argue that we are more successful because we are instrumental. We have a lot of fans in places like Japan and Malaysia.
So you can legitimately say that you are big in Japan?
Yes, we can, actually.
El Ten Eleven performs Friday, August 19, at Dada with The Globes and Sphynx
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.