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Van Halen. Guns ‘n’ Roses. Oasis. Some of history’s most notable rock bands have been filled to the brim with internal discord that has been made very public, and watching a band implode has almost become Must-See TV for music fans in the sound-bite-crazed times we live in.
Don’t expect El Ten Eleven to be one of those bands, though.
To hear Kristian Dunn—the duo’s guitarist and doubleneck bass player—tell it, life in the band is more akin to pure bliss than anything else.
“The main ingredient to our longevity is that we get along really well,” he says. “I don’t think we’ve ever had an argument, which is kind of weird. Add on top of that that we click really well, artistically, and there is really no internal reason to stop.”
The instrumental rock band, which formed back in 2002, has released five albums, including their most recent full-length effort, 2012’s Transitions. Fusing straight ahead rock, electronic elements and math rock together, they have won acclaim from the likes of Spin Magazine and even evoked comparisons to Sigur Rós. They have made a solid career out of doing the unusual, and even when an album does not turn out quite how they planned, the tracks are still stories unto themselves.
For example, the title track from Transitions—which clocks in at a shade over 10 minutes in length—was supposed to be quite a bit longer.
“Really we were hoping to have one long song as the entire album,” says Dunn. “A 40-minute song, like a classical piece of music. Obviously that didn’t happen but an abbreviated version of that song ended up being the title track.”
“Transitions” epitomizes the skill the band possesses, creating elaborate, intricate melodies with unusual time signatures one moment, before gradually moving on to more ebullient rock ‘n’ roll hooks later on, and all while creating a sound that is much bigger than you would expect from only two people. This song also demonstrates their considerable love for pedals and sonic layers, but they can tone it down several notches with ease as well, as the minimalistic, dreamlike closer “Lullaby” attests. Similarly, the tracks are given alternately joyous (“Birth”) and heady “No One Died This Time!”).
Unfortunately, the latter track was titled a bit prematurely.
“It seemed like every time we made a record someone would die and we’d dedicate a song to them,” says Dunn. “When we were writing ‘No One Died This Time!’ we couldn’t believe how great it was that no one had left us. But actually, by the time the record came out, another friend of ours—Stimy, a singer in a band I used to be in called Inch—died.”
Tragic occurrences like this aside, however, life is on the upswing for the band. A remix album, Transitions Remixed, came out last year, a new single—“Nova Scotia”—was released recently, and For Emily, the EP from which that single was taken from, is set for release in February. The first decade-plus has not been without its low points, but all things considered, the journey has been worth it.
“We definitely can get caught up in the day to day bullshit of running things and forget how far we’ve come,” says Dunn. “Now and then we look at a huge crowd in a particular town and think, ‘Man, I remember playing to 15 people here.’ But it’s been a very slow climb for us. It’s not like one day we were playing to 25 people and the next it was 2,500. It’s taken years, but we are incredibly grateful, every day.”