Since the release of their second EP Seeds in Sand last year, live electro outfit Elder Island have shot to the top of several ones-to-watch lists and were recently invited to play at the talent-unearthing institution Sofar Sounds, which took place in Bristol last month, and who have previously caught the likes of James Bay, George Ezra and Bastille on their way to achieving number 1 albums.
The trio from Bristol have also been selected as one of four breakthrough artists to perform at Thatchers Haze Sessions in Bristol this month. The lineup has been handpicked by BoomTown Fair’s head of programming, Kaptin Barrett, who also invited Newcastle indie-rockers Little Comets and Bristol’s Eva Lazarus & the Afronauts and Harry & the Gondolas to join the party.
Elder Island’s sound could be placed somewhere between The XX, Mount Kimbie and Maribou State, but with a more classic approach to songwriting, vocals and live instrumentation – and a variety of other inspirations seeping in from across the board.
Elder Island’s sound could be placed somewhere between The XX, Mount Kimbie and Maribou State
Initially experimenting with a more folky sound, Elder Island’s members Katy, David and Luke say that they got their musical education and eventual sound direction from going out in Bristol.
‘Me and Katie came to Bristol together for uni,’ says David. ‘And me and Luke have known each other for years. Luke was in Wales, but he would stay in Bristol at our house a lot. Although it wasn’t until after uni that we really started playing music.’
In fact, Katy had kept her musical talents relatively quiet until that point. Having learned cello at school, she picked it back up and began practising in the bathroom of their shared house.
‘Me and David used to be in bands together and so we played a lot together,’ says Luke. ‘When I would come over, we’d get Katy to bring the cello and get her to sing. Then Katy came up with a song or two and it went from there. We just used to mess around recording and tinkering – and then more tinkering, and more tinkering until we were like, “this is cool.”’
‘Coming from Bournemouth, a town that didn’t really have a music scene, to Bristol, which has a big nightlife and big electronic scene was an education,’ says David. ‘We were going out to all the early dubstep nights as it was starting out, dub nights like Teachings in Dub, house, disco and techno nights, and lots of bands – so all of that has kind of bled into our music tastes.’
‘We’ve always bought hugely into music,’ says Luke. ‘Buying records and DJing all the time – you just pick up those influences of what you love to make a melting pot of inspiration. Music is so accessible now, and when there’s three minds listening to three different things…
‘We used to be really folky,’ he continues. ‘It was around the time that Laura Marling was really big. It wasn’t until four years ago, when we started learning production – how to use software, how to record, and investing in little bits of gear that we developed the sound we have now.’
‘As soon as Jamie XX released a solo album,’ says David. ‘That whole generation of the post-dubstep electronic scene – Mount Kimbie, James Blake – that’s what got us into experimenting with synths and production, instead of just using real instruments.’
Live instruments are still a major building block of Elder Island’s sound and one of the things that makes their live performance so sensational
However, live instruments are still a major building block of Elder Island’s sound and one of the things that makes their live performance so sensational. Katy, David and Luke take us through a typical live set up –
‘I’ve got my cello, a looper for the cello, which also manipulates the sound, and then I’ve got my TC-Helicon, which does voice manipulation and looping. But compared to these guys, that’s relatively simple!’ says Katy.
‘Everything is in sync with each other,’ says David. ‘There’s no backing track – everything is played. Drum machines and samplers are manipulated live, so we can actually play against it and build loops. We keep layering it and adding new elements in. So there is nothing that’s set – if one of us just steps back, everything stops.’
‘It’s all about timing,’ says Luke. ‘And the timing often goes wrong! There’s three of us playing, but when we’re looping it’s like there’s six of us playing. Dave plays the guitar and the keys – so he’s playing the synthesizer, the piano and the guitar. I’m doing all of the drums and then I’m doing the bass as well. And Katie’s doing the vocals and cello.’
While no doubt a technical feat, the end material stands up all on its own. Their rapturously-received Seeds in Sand EP has caught the attention of tastemakers including Huw Stephens, who has been pumping their track Bamboo out on his BBC Radio 1 show.
As an organically-formed band, playing all their own instruments and handling their own production, their process can be chaotic, they say.
‘We’ve got a live band approach, but with electronics,’ says David. ‘So instead of being a producer sat at a computer, we have that set up of pure hardwear, but we play it like a live instrument.’
Luke adds: ‘And when it comes to writing a song, it will come from some sort of frenzy of jamming that goes on for half an hour. And we’ll think: right, we really love that, how do we make it three-and-a-half minutes long? Then when it comes to producing it, it can change again…’
The group has several major shows booked for the summer; as well as their Haze Sessions show next month at Passenger Shed, they’ve also got a main stage slot at Love Saves the Day, plus appearances at Farmfest and Boomtown Fair later in the summer.
Asked whether they’re feeling the pressure, Katy says: ‘No, it’s just exciting. I think we’re ready for it.’ Luke agrees: ‘We’ve got a really great team behind us, which makes a really big difference. Before, we just had one person and the idea of something big was there, but nothing was really happening. We were putting in as much effort as we possibly could… But now we’ve got a team behind us.’
Elder island were snatched up by Metropolis Recordings for their 2016 Seeds in Sand EP, which comes out on vinyl this April on time for Record Store Day. Fans can also keep their ears to the ground for two brand new tracks from Elder Island, due for release this summer.
ELDER ISLAND LIVE: 6 May – Thatchers Haze Sessions, Passenger Shed, 27 May – Love Saves the Day, Eastville Park.