Jordan Foster sits down with Elder Island after their recent Printworks show…

Elder Island are going against the grain. Not least because of their knack for melody, but for the fact they release their music at their own pace, on their own terms, and via their own label. Elder Island will not be compromising on their vision anytime soon.

In the ‘New Music Friday’ era, where artists are expected to produce a conveyor-belt of material for a weekly wave of playlists, there’s an expectation on artists to be prolific. And whilst fans have had no shortage of material from Elder Island over the last half a decade, the Bristol trio express ther concerns about releasing material in this way, when we catch them for a chat after their recent show at Printworks, where they shared a bill with the likes of Maribou State, SG Lewis and DJ Seinfeld.

Their set brought together beefed-up hits from their back catalogue and 90s clubland covers, so Elder Island tell us how they adapted their show for the gargantuan Printworks Press Halls, who they’d love to see headline Glasto, and how to style it out when your drum machine jumps up by 40 BPM.

How are you feeling after the show?

Katy – It was amazing, lots of vibes.

Dave – It was actually a very different set and vibe to what we’re used to.

Did you change your live set-up at all to adapt to the venue? 

K – We spent time whittling down the tracks to select the ones we knew would…

Luke – … make people dance! But we also wanted to mix the tracks too, to keep things consistent.

K – We didn’t want to do too much stopping and starting, we wanted things to blend, keys to blend.

D – We wanted to add some covers into the mix too.

The Seal cover was a personal highlight. 

L: We thought there might have been a generation gap, and people might not have even known the song.

K – Learning the covers was so fun, we spent two days listening to 90s classics like ‘Freed From Desire‘ and ‘You Don’t Know Me‘. It was sad that we had to drop some, but we only had an hour!

L – Our songs, when we play them live, we want the set to build, to rise and to fall, but with this Printworks show, we had to keep the momentum, to keep the mix. It took five different versions of the set to achieve that.

You sold out Camden’s Roundhouse towards the end of 2019, how did that feel? 

K – It’s a beautiful space and I was surprised how welcoming and intimate it felt when we were up on stage. It felt like you could really connect with the crowd, which was lovely.

Any embarrassing stories from your tour? 

D – It was on a Sunday night in Glasgow on the last tour that we did. In classic Glaswegian style, the crowd was going wild. We’d been messing around during soundcheck, being a bit silly, changing a few settings and playing with the tempo.

K – When it came to playing ‘I Fold You’ during our set, one of the settings on the drum machines jumped from 124 BPM to 160 BPM. Fortunately, everyone went for it.

The Omnitone Collection is a conceptual record – what themes did you want to convey in the lyrics? 

K – There was nothing that really ran all the way through, apart from life in general really. The album is a collection of tracks that we wanted to bring together. I suppose they all have their separate lyrical themes. ‘You and I’ is like talking to yourself, and how your innermost mind can guide you through life. You know when you’re feeling a bit far gone? When you’ve been drinking too much? It’s that inner voice that says, “drink some water and go to bed”. Then there’s ‘Kape Fear’, that’s about tribal sun worship.

You all studied creative subjects, but how did you get into music, songwriting and production?

D – Luke and I we were playing in bands together when we were 16 or 17. I bought a pair of turntables at uni, I was buying records, getting increasingly passionate about music, going out and listening to it all the time. Later, I got into Ableton and digital DJing.

At what point did you realise you were onto something with Elder Island?

D – The response from the first EP, definitely. It was never intended, we were just making music.

L – Someone heard it and said, “let’s take it down, let’s do a proper release of this”, and he offered to put in 50/50 for a year.

K – It wasn’t mastered or anything, we just put it online, but he wanted to master it and put it into a record.

Elder Island’s music is released via your own independent label. What is it like to operate like this in 2020?

K – We’re incredibly lucky and we have worked ridiculously hard. For quite a few years that has meant working for nothing. If we weren’t in Bristol, and if we were in London instead, there’s no way we could’ve done what we’ve done. We’ve managed to scramble together a studio in a basement. We’ve been really fortunate.

D – That said, it is very possible nowadays to release your music yourself. You can get your music out there and start earning money pretty easily.

L – We thought we’d make music in a different way though. I think people get together in a rehearsal studio to make a record, whereas we don’t really do that. We make the music and refine it later.

D – We’ve got the luxury of time.

What do you like to do in your spare time? 

K – I learnt Japanese!

L – I make rings!

D – I play with electronics… I never switch off.

Are there any aspects to the music industry that to be wary of as Elder Island develops? 

D – Not being pressured by the music industry too much. The industry is demanding and they want things to happen quickly. We understand the need to keep up the momentum, but it’s important for us to do things as and when it feels right, rather than constantly rushing and trying to hit targets.

K – You’ll always have a little industry pressure. But I think we’ve been very lucky to try and keep everything in our own grasps by self-releasing and having a bit of oomph against managers and people that will try and edge us towards different directions.

Who would be your dream Glastonbury headliner? 

K – David Bowie, Zappa, Radiohead.

D – I’d love to see Stevie Wonder again.

Photo credit: Jake Davis (@HungryVisuals)