El Ten Eleven: the road to Transitions

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Kristian Dunn understands that it can be easy for listeners to lump his band, El Ten Eleven, with other vocal-less artists out there, even if he doesn’t always agree with the comparisons.

“Sometimes, especially after shows, people come up to us and say things that really surprise us, like ‘I’m really into you guys, and I’m really into Explosions in the Sky,’” he said. “And Tim and I scratch our heads, like, really? We don’t like them at all, we don’t really think we sound like them.”

Dunn, of course, has no quarrel with the Austin-based instrumentalists (“I’m sure they’re really nice guys,” he later added), but admits that it often makes him wonder what people are hearing that causes them to think that. Considering that he and bandmate Tim Fogarty are constantly striving to make their music as fresh and unpredictable as possible, there may be no comparison out there that would satisfy the Los Angeles-based duo.

“Most modern-day artists are kind of disappointing to me,” he said. “The music I get into is stuff that is new and fresh, and I don’t find stuff like that very often. I occasionally do and I get excited—I’ve actually been listening to a lot of classical music lately—but for instance, Flying Lotus, his new single is really great, very moving. But I was going through NME’s top 50 records for 2012 and my eyes were just rolling with every artist on there. Basically my life is full of disappointment with that kind of stuff (laughs).”

Dunn’s first foray into music was not with the guitar but rather the clarinet. After realizing that much of the music he was playing in class was far removed from the music he was listening to at home, he switched to the bass and never looked back.

“When I grew up there were basically two radio stations—one had Van Halen, Def Leppard, that kind of stuff—and the other had more new wave music like Duran Duran, New Order, The Cure, The Smiths, and that was the stuff I gravitated towards, even though my friends were all into Ozzy Ozbourne and that music,” he said. “So that’s why I switched instruments, although it would have been pretty awesome if I learned to rock that with the clarinet.”

Around 10 years ago Fogarty came into the picture when the two of them, along with a mutual friend, attempted to start a band that never panned out. But Dunn could tell that Fogarty had talent, and wasn’t ready to give up on playing with him again.

“I remember I really liked his drumming, and he had these electronic drums, which were exciting for me because they were very forward-thinking and not a lot of other people were doing that at the time,” said Dunn. “I was like, ‘this is my kind of guy.’ So when I started El Ten Eleven and called him up to see if he was interested, before I could even finish my pitch to him he was like ‘yeah, I’m in.’”

While the two share similar tastes in music, Dunn admits that there are certainly things he is into that Fogarty isn’t, and vice versa. But both of them have an appreciation for any music that is new and exciting, no matter what the genre.

“We really have this reflected on Transitions and it will be on the next record too, but we like a lot of modern hip-hop music. Not necessarily the rapping itself, because some of that can be really bad, although sometimes good,” he said. “Like, Kendrick Lamar is somebody who I didn’t know anything about until someone turned me on to him and I was like, ‘Wow.’ Some if it is really quite good.”

This isn’t the first time El Ten Eleven’s sound has been influenced by genres not normally included under the post-rock/instrumental umbrella. Their third record, These Promises Are Being Videotaped, was heavily influenced by electronic music, something both him and Fogarty were very into at the time.

“Before we made that record, we were obsessed with electronic music,” said Dunn. “We wouldn’t go to rock shows ever, if we were going out we would go to what are now called EDM shows, and they were so fun and so much like what rock used to be that we decided we should try to do that but with real instruments.”

Their most recent album, Transitions, showcases not only the duo’s constantly evolving influences and tastes, but their technical skill as well. As they’ve become more comfortable with the intricacies of looping and layering they’ve been able to write more music that appeal to them without being held back by their own abilities. They already have plans for another EP, and look forward to taking their talents on the road this winter and spring.

“Our 2013 is already almost completely booked,” said Dunn. “Our most recent tour was definitely the most successful tour we’ve ever had, all the shows were sold out and we played some pretty big venues for us. Numbers-wise that’s a great feeling when you consider how long we’ve been doing this, and we’ve been doing it on our own so to get to that point is really satisfying.”

For tour dates and more information on their newest album, Transitions, go to www.elteneleven.com.