It was the second day of El Ten Eleven's 31-city tour when Boise Weekly spoke to Kristian Dunn, bassist and guitar player for the Los Angeles band. He was already exhausted.
"It's like we've been on tour for a month, but it's only been two days," he said.
Dunn had stayed up the night before the band left home, finalizing the details for its new stage show--a series of colored panels that backlight the band in time with its songs, something Boise will get to see Monday, Nov. 12, at Neurolux.
"It's really cool," said Dunn. "It's this huge thing we've never done before. You kind of have to see it to understand but it will be worth your money."
The self-described power-duo consists of Dunn performing and looping complex finger-tapping melodies on a double-neck bass-and-guitar mutilated by effects pedals, while drummer Tim Fogarty keeps time on an acoustic drum kit with live loops. He also uses tuned electronic drums to play subtle underlying melodies. The full sound is a wildly catchy combination of indie, electro and rock that routinely leaves jaws on the floor in a live setting.
While most bands would outsource stage show prep before a tour, El Ten Eleven is short on a big road crew. Unlike most bands touring a long circuit with a big live show, the duo is doing it all on its own.
And unlike many bands whose independent status stems from a lack of label or management interest, El Ten Eleven goes rogue by choice. Dunn personally has been signed to seven record labels, including Atlantic Records, and the band was courted repeatedly by labels that wanted to release its new album, Transitions. But El Ten Eleven respectfully showed them the door.
"It's kind of tempting because there's some labels where just the name would open some doors for us," said Dunn. "But we don't want to give up control, especially at a time when we're developing our own label."
The band's imprint, Fake Record Label, has recently come together as a business, taking on a marketing agency and a publicist, and even signing Portland Ore.'s, Girlfriends. Dunn and Fogarty were turned on to the band during an online interview session.
"Everything is really coming together, really starting to work," said Dunn. "So to just take all this and say now is the time [to sign with a label] just didn't make sense."
And thanks to the band's strong fan base, El Ten Eleven didn't have to. It set out to raise $2,000 for the new album on Kickstarter with perks ranging from downloads and vinyl to private music lessons, and got nearly six times that amount, meaning the band didn't have to pay for anything out of pocket. The album was funded entirely by fans.
And for the next several weeks, El Ten Eleven is working to not let those fans down, by pushing Transitions nationwide.
Dunn said Transitions was written about dark times the band was going through, including both members getting divorced and Dunn moving to another city. But since El Ten Eleven is an instrumental band, those things were channeled into arrangements instead of lyrics.
"There's a lot of crazy changes," he said. "Out of the blue, there's a tempo change and time signature changes, and that's what it was like. There's this thing that seems jarring, but then you start to settle into it."
Dunn said most people probably wouldn't get that with just a cursory listen but he said that doing the research and knowing the backstory can bring a deeper appreciation of the new album.
Transitions brings a smoother, more complex sound than 2010's It's Still Like a Secret, and a wider melodic scope than the band's earlier material.
"All of our other records, usually you can hear really definable verse-chorus-verse-chorus," said Dunn. "They're really kind of pop songs, even though most people wouldn't define them that way. But with this record, we wanted it to be like one song, like a piece of classical music."
One of the things that drove the shifting approach was the band's recording technique. On previous albums, El Ten Eleven had taken care to record things as they would be performed live. The band abandoned that philosophy on Transitions.
"We decided to have three guitars and two basses come in at once and there's no way I can do that," said Dunn. "I'd have to grow some more arms."
But that strategy backfired slightly.
"There's a song called 'No One Died This Time!' and it was one where we thought let's not worry about how to play this one live," said Dunn. "But it's one that is getting a lot of attention and now we have to figure it out."
To do so, Dunn said the band may have to rearrange the song to adhere to its rejection of pre-recorded loops or laptop-triggered samples, which Dunn and Fogarty consider cheating.
"A lot of bands do it and a lot of bands aren't doing that well," he said. "People aren't going to shows as much anymore. And I think that's why. Why would you want to pay good money to see someone press the space bar and lipsynch? It's not exciting. Whereas, what we do, there's that tightrope walker aspect of it. We can screw up. And we do."[ Video is no longer available. ]