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Interview: Elder Island

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At the close of their UK & Ireland Omnitone tour and ahead of their debut album of the same name due out in February 2019, Elder Island have been taking the opportunity to test out new material meticulously assembled piece-by-piece in the studio.

The Omnitone Collection is based around the concept of imaginary electronic devices. The band explains how this came about; the fictional gadgets were inspired by each of the songs – the music came first and then the appliances: “The themes, feel and lyrical content lead the design process for the Omnitone products.

As it's our debut album and we are all from art & design backgrounds, creating the artwork ourselves allowed us to explore our songs through more than one artistic output. With Dave trained as a designer, Katy a prop maker and Luke a photographer, this brought all our skills together across the whole project to create the final imagery.”

If gadgetry is a connecting theme aesthetically, then there is no such certainty when it comes to categorising the group’s musical genre. Slotting somewhere in the vast scope between The xx and Maribou State, Elder Island don’t like to be constrained by one particular form: “We’re quite happy to accept the label that has often been given to us in the past of ‘genre-defying’…just as it’s easier to say! We just like making the music, however it develops is fine by us - we’re not striving to fit into a certain style and it’s quite freeing this way.” 

The electronic triad hail from Bristol - a city with a rich history of great acts. While some newer bands may feel daunted by the prospect of living up to such a rich and diverse sonic legacy, Elder Island enjoy the promise of what’s yet to come. “We definitely feel reassured by the city’s musical heritage – we are just a small part of what Bristol has to offer. There is a lot of great musicianship happening at the moment and it's really inspiring.”

The band’s truly formative experience came in studying together at Bristol University, where two-thirds of Elder Island met in the same halls. Guitarist and keyboardist, Dave, was an oracular presence, a guru of cultural knowledge – “It began when a friend of Katy’s started being lent some choice new records, art books and general sought after things in uni, always labelled as the property of ‘mystery Dave’. At first unwilling to introduce said person for fear of having to share the goods, it wasn’t until much later on that the enigma of 'Dave' was finally revealed and a long-lasting friendship was formed.”

Katy is the voice of the band, but she also lends the unique element of her cello to the line-up – an instrument that represents more than timbral quality; it’s also the spiritual focus of the group and the seed of Elder Island’s artistic genesis: “Part of the reason we started making music together was hearing Katy play the cello hidden away in the shared house's bathroom in uni. The cello has always been a part of the family.

It has gotten skinnier over the years now it’s electric but that means we can experiment more with it. When you plug that thing through some of the pedals you can get nowadays who knows what kind of sound you could make. Listen out for the “bagpipes" on the new album and you might be surprised where the sound originated.

From the lofty heights of modernism’s mythic method, we descend to the real-word business of making a living as a musician. The trio talk us through the relative merits of Spotify versus traditional radio for a (relatively speaking) new-born band.

The music industry today is rapidly developing and trying to get your head around how it moves can be tough. However, creating a following as an artist can be easier purely thanks to the invention of Spotify, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Pledge, social medias etc. They all give the artist the chance to put music and content out to world at any time for people to engage with.

“The radio is a harder nut to crack because there's many people involved deciding whether or not to play your song before it gets aired. That in a way is what makes it feel more special.”

The fine balance between putting out the content the internet obsessed desire and holding down a part-time job is something difficult to strike. Like many before them and even more to come, Elder Island still have the issues of scheduling space for writing and performing around employment: “We still have jobs that we work around the music. It can be hard some of the time, especially when you have impending deadlines but the key is to be organised and then the whole thing runs smoothly. That’s the theory anyway…

Elder Island’s debut album The Omnitone Collection is set to be released in February 2019.

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