ELEL is a new eight-piece based out of Nashville that has been building a good amount of buzz this past year. Founded by Ben Elkins, the epithet ELEL is an amalgam of Ben’s surname and his wife’s first name, Eliska (insert requisite “awe” here). Recently signed to Mom + Pop Records (Andrew Bird, Jagwar Ma, Poliça) the indie outfit is also comprised of musicians Zach Tichenor (keys/guitar/vocals), Tim Cook (guitar/keys/vocals), Jo Jo Jackson (bass/vocals), Alex Mojavarian (drums/percussion), Jerry Pentecost (drums/percussion), Fredrick Weathersby (trumpet/vocals), and Stefan Forbus (saxophone/vocals).
Collectively with their array of instruments, ELEL make exuberant indie pop complete with lo-fi sampling and lots of live improvisation. Prior to the group’s show at DC’s Black Cat with opener Avers tonight, we caught up with frontman Ben, post-sound check in Philly to discuss their self-titled EP that released today.
When did ELEL first come together?
It came together over about a six month period starting about two and a half years ago up, until we played our first show in in Nashville. A lot of us worked at Trader Joe’s, and at the time I was putting together a new band and got into kind of a crunch cause I needed people to play a show. I asked around a bit to see if people were available and lo and behold they were also great musicians. Around that same time I also met Zach at a party and we just hit it off. The two horn players were more of a struggle to nail down initially – I had to keep calling and calling, but once Fredrick came to the first practice, he was in. So it kind of came together in a real neat organic sort of way, which is great.
Can you give us a little insight into what all went into recording the EP?
It was a lot of recording at my house on my computer with just headphones. I like to record old instrumental jazz records collected from thrift stores over the years. I’ll listen through the song and chop out small chords and percussion parts, loop this or that and manipulative them in a lot of different ways – that really makes the song come alive more than just me doing that part with my own keyboard or something. It was a lot of messing around with textures just to get the feel of it down, then we would replace those parts in the studio. I did all the vocals at my house because I like to take my time with that kind of thing; plus I tend to get nervous in the studio setting since you’re paying for it and have all these random people listening to you.
Did you have to get a lot of equipment?
No but I mean I should have if I’d had the money! I just kind of worked with what I had. I borrowed this really neat old broadcasting mic from a friend, which is what I sing the vocals through. It’s a real DIY kind of project, that’s kind of one of the reasons that I’m thrilled that it’s resonating with people, ’cause I worked countless hours and put countless amounts of energy into it but didn’t necessarily have the best equipment.
You’ve talked before about the music industry being overly obsessed with perfection. Can you speak to that a bit more?
Definitely, I think the record industry’s drive towards perfection is mostly motivated by fear. The industry is so scared of taking risks right now because as we all know, for 10 or 15 years or so there’s been a decrease in revenue in the music business. So the reaction has been to not take any chances, and what that means to record executives is to make everything sound perfect. And it’s unfortunate because I think that a lot of the music that’s coming out is so perfectly produced that it doesn’t even sound human anymore. It’s like a photograph that gets touched up on a magazine cover, you know.
For sure, everything’s photoshopped these days.
Uh huh, it’s like that Foster the People video where this one model is told to manipulate her body, and by the end of it she’s changed so much that she looks really, really weird. It’s pretty intense – but in a way that’s what’s happening to music. When you hear a live band that’s really groovin, it just impacts your heart and soul. But if you took that performance and fixed all the idiosyncrasies, something would be lost. Humans don’t look or sound perfect – and if we get further and further away from that in our art, to me it feels uncomfortable and it doesn’t resonate as much with people.
What music inspires you the most and who are you currently listening to?
Anything that stirs my soul. Can be anything from 90s garage rock, to jazz, soul, and modern indie bands like Beach House or Local Natives. Also the most recent Flume release is pretty freakin’ awesome. And actually, it may sound strange but I’m not a huge music consumer; I probably shouldn’t say that – it sounds snobbish but maybe it’s the music producer in me that makes me want to change things. Nonetheless, when I hear a song that moves my soul – that’s the kind of music I want to make and contribute to this world.
How did you get connected to the Mom + Pop label?
Julia, the A&R person there found our track “40 Watt” in May 2014. That was a huge moment, receiving that email. I was sitting with my bandmate Tim in front of my laptop after an ELEL practice, and just happened to see the email from Mom and Pop and got so excited that as he was talking I hit him in the chest and was just like, look at this! We both started yelling, giving each other high fives and immediately went into the kitchen to pour tequila shots. And that was just an introductory email!
Haha, well luckily it all worked out. What’s next for ELEL?
We’re touring right now and getting ready to release a couple of videos off the EP, excited to be playing in SXSW this month, then heading from Austin up to the Northwest for a few more tour dates before heading back home.
Upcoming ELEL Tour Dates: