The musical masterminds behind El Ten Eleven, Kristian Dunn and Tim Fogarty, have been on tour promoting their new record, For Emily EP. I was able to catch up with them for a nice chat before their show at Harlow’s in Sacramento a couple weeks ago. (You can listen to the whole interview through Soundcloud at the bottom of the page or by clicking here.)
Sasha Tokas (ST): Do you guys want to introduce yourselves and tell the listeners what instruments you play?
Tim Fogarty (TF): Sure, I’m Tim. I play the drums.
Kristian Dunn (KD): I’m Kristian and I play the bass and guitar double neck and fretless bass. And, is your name Constance?
ST: Yeah, that’s my DJ name!
KD: Oh, that’s my mom’s name!
ST: Oh really?
KD: Yeah, there’s a song on our first record called “Connie” dedicated to her.
ST: Aww, that’s good to know… You guys are on tour promoting your new EP, For Emily. Can you talk a little bit about what went into making that?
KD: It’s true, we went to 4 or 5 different recording studios. Something like that. It all started, we went to New York to play a festival and Converse, the shoe company, has a recording studio in New York. We got there a day early so we could go in there and record some tracks that we thought would end up being this EP. We recorded them and thought, “Oh wow, this is the best stuff we’ve done.” Then we went and played the festival, played a bunch of other festivals, went on a tour, and we went back and listened to what we had done and we thought, “Oh no, that’s not good at all. We gotta go back to work on that.” So we went to a different studio in LA and rearranged some of the tracks, redid some of the tracks, got rid of a song, I think, and repeat that entire process I just described 3 times or 4 times. So, the songs that you hear on the EP are so dramatically different from what we originally recorded that you wouldn’t even recognize what we originally recorded mostly. So, it was a very frustrating process cause every time we thought, “We got it, we got it!”, we’d go on tour and not listen to it for a while and come back and listen again and be like, “Oh, no. This is not…”. And in fact, the EP that actually came out still to us, like we’re not even sure, we spent so much time working on it that we couldn’t see the trees because of the forest. You know that old saying? It just got to where finally, we just had to stop. We just put it out. Otherwise, we’d still be working on it and still tweaking it, which is ridiculous. We’ll hope not to ever repeat this process again cause that’s not usually how we make records.
TF: That’s exactly…
KD: Did I nail it?
TF: Yeah, as long as that answer was, is as long as it took us to make the EP.
KD: It was a metaphor for the making of that damn record!
ST: Well, it’s really good.
Both: Thank you.
ST: Since your music is instrumental and doesn’t have lyrics, is there a specific way you convey messages in your songs?
TF: We’ve never done subliminal messages…
KD: Yeah, the way you phrase that question, we should really throw in some… In this day and age, well actually, we do sell a lot of vinyl, but most people can’t play records backwards.
TF: If we had a little sizzling bacon track buried in the mix, I wonder if people would get hungry. I don’t know, you can answer that.
KD: Wait, what was the question again?
ST: Is there a way you convey messages through your music, since you don’t have lyrics in it?
KD: Oh, so usually, this is the process. I mean, if someone really likes our music and they’re wondering what these songs are about, they’ll go on Google or whatever and find interviews where we’re explaining them, and then they’ll understand. I don’t know how else you really would, just looking at the song title. Actually, people have come up to me and asked, “Is this song about this?” Sometimes they’re actually pretty close without having read an interview with us or whatever. So maybe the song title suggested enough. But really, we have to do interviews to explain.
TF: I mean, people take what they want out of it. So, a friend of ours (he’s actually our booking agent, he’s been a friend of ours for a long time). There’s a song we hadn’t been playing for a while and he’s like, “How come you guys aren’t playing that song anymore?” We’re like, “Ehh, we just, I don’t know. Doesn’t sound good anymore or whatever.” He told us this whole story about his dad passing away and how that song made him break down and cry, live, watching us one time. Which, that song was not about that. It’s actually the opposite, more of a happy song. So, I think people can get a lot of messages that weren’t intended necessarily out of it and that’s cool too. That actually, that kind of stuff means more in a way, just cause, it’s a bonus.
ST: So then, do you guys come up with the song titles first or come up with the music first and then say, “Ah, it sounds like this”, this is what were going to name it?
KD: Yeah, mostly the latter. I mean, I have a running list of song titles. Like the next record is going to be, probably mostly about my daughter. So I have this running list of song titles and the songs are being inspired by that. They’ll all kind of find themselves, the titles and the songs. Typically the music comes first. On this latest EP, the For Emily EP, we wrote these songs with nothing in mind. We were just trying to write cool songs and when it was finished, we were sitting there thinking, “What do we call them?” And when that happens, and it’s happened before, we end up coming up with titles that are dedications. “Nova Scotia”, which is the first song, is a dedication to my best friend, Matt, and I can explain why it’s called “Nova Scotia”. “Yyes!” is the second song and “Yyes” is the company that does all of our artwork and has since the very beginning, so it was a dedication to them. And then “Reprise” is actually, literally, reusing parts from some of the previous songs put back together in a third song. On this EP, they’re just dedications. When we wrote “Nova Scotia”, I wasn’t like, “This is a song about my best friend.” After it was done, I’m like, “What is this song about? Oh yeah, duh, totally is!” The song told me what it was about, if that makes sense.
ST: Ok so, since your music is instrumental, you guys have a lot of layers and depth. It’s very complex, but it’s just you two up there with your instruments and I know you use loops as well, which is amazing, but sounds very difficult to recreate live. Can you talk a little about that?
KD: Its not easy, but we’ve been doing it a while though.
TF: Yeah, its definitely not easy. When we’re making a record, we try to like… we’re always like, “Yeah! Who cares if we can do it live. Let’s just try to write a great song or a great record.” It’s always in the back of our mind that we have to pull it off live. We can’t get too, too crazy, but we don’t limit ourselves with that kind of stuff. And then it always ends up when we try to go play some of that stuff live. Cause some songs we actually do play before we record them and they’re fine live. You know, we’ve already worked them out live. With other ones we kind of write as songs and then we go and try to play them live and it’s like, “Ooh, this is not easy!” It’s like, we have to do two different parts at the same time now. So you know, sometimes they’re a little bit different from the record. It’ll take longer to build parts up cause we have to keep looping and that part gets set, and put another part over it. There’s some songs where a couple things will come in at the same time, which is pretty impossible if you don’t have stuff to record it, which we’ve never done. So, it’s hard, but it’s our own fault. At least we don’t have to sing too.
KD: I do have dreams… I’m so happy with everything that’s happening with El Ten Eleven. We’re very fortunate, very grateful. It’s incredible how things are going. But, I do have dreams sometimes of just playing bass in a punk band. That’s it. All I have to do is play bass; I don’t have to do loops, I don’t have to talk to the audience, that’d be so easy.
ST: What’s the most memorable thing that happened to you guys on tour?
TF: Man, there’s been so many. It’s hard to say just one thing. There’s never been that crazy, crazy thing where like, I got punched by a cop or something like that. We have a lot of little stories that are funny and cool. We were in Chicago, packed up, just got ready to leave, and we were getting ready to pull out and there was like kind of commotion, a crowd full of people walking on the sidewalk. We looked back and a guy just punched a girl out! We’re just like, “Whaaat?!” So, I hate fighting, I’m not a fighter and I didn’t want to get involved, but I was a little hammered and the guy walked past my window rolled down and I was like, “F—— p—-, you punched a girl!” Can I say that?
ST: I can edit it.
TF: Sorry! I was just being accurate. He comes over and I was like, aww man, he’s going to punch me now. I was just trying to back up this girl. So I’m like “S—, Chris, pull away, like I don’t, come on, you know me.” I’m just like, great, I’m sitting in the front seat. I’m going to get decked. And he just punches our mirror out and we leave. I think, wasn’t the girl like hanging back on him or something? It was his girlfriend! So I’m trying to stick up for a girl who takes that s— apparently. So it’s like, you know what? From now on, I’m out of it…
ST: You guys have seen a lot of people get punched!
TF: I know!
KD: You know, if you think about it, we’ve played something like 700 shows or something and every place we’ve played pretty much has alcohol (there’s some exceptions). The amount of fights we’ve witnessed are so small when you consider. I think generally speaking, people who come to our shows are smart people. Honestly, I’m not being boastful, I’m being honest. I think we have kind of an intelligent crowd. It’s not dumb, like “Duh!” With all the alcohol that’s been around our shows for that many years, you’d think we would have witnessed a lot…
TF: I feel like I’ve never seen a fight at our show before.
KD: Yeah, I don’t think. I mean there’s probably been a couple of them outside after. We’ve almost gotten in a couple before. Note to people who own clubs: Don’t give the band that’s packing their stuff up and trying to leave a hard time about leaving faster.
TF: Oh! That’s right that’s right! That’s Boston.
ST: Now I’m curious…
KD: It’s not that great of a story, I just almost punched someone in the face. It’s just a pet peeve of ours. Especially because we used to tour just the two of us and we’d bring our own lights, do our own merch, do everything. And we’d finish the show and we’d, you know, have to talk to fans and like, sell stuff, and immediately start packing our stuff up, trying to get out. Then there’d be some bartender like, “Time to go guys, lets f—— go.” And we’re like, “F— you! What’s the f— does it look like we’re doing?” Like, we’re trying to get out of here, we want to go home too. It would just enrage us. Like, dude, we just made you a bunch of money. You’re going to give us a hard time? Sorry, it’s a little pet peeve. Anyway, in Boston one person took it a little too far and almost got my fist in his nose. It ended up being okay.
ST: So bartenders beware.
ST: All of them.
TF: All of them.
KD: You want it to go faster, help us with our f——- gear. I’m getting all riled up right now!
ST: So surprising coming from… your guys’ music is so calming, you know, so I’m like, where’s all this coming from?
KD: Yeah, right?! Like it would take a lot for us to get in a fight, but when people throw that s— out, like “Aww dude, no, should not have said that!” This is going to be ugly now.
TF: Or taking the last beer of the green room. That’s my pet peeve.
KD: Ooh! That’s a bad one too. This is for all you bands out there who are the opening band: Don’t drink the headliner’s alcohol without permission and even if you do have permission, make sure you leave a couple beers for them when they get off stage. Cause its kind of nice to get off stage and have a beer! Like we don’t need to get hammered or anything, but there was a tour we did and this opening band that will remain nameless that was on the tour with us, every night they would drink all of it, everything. And we had done something like 10 shows in a row with long drives, we were just absolutely exhausted and we got off stage in Salt Lake City, I remember, and Tim walked into the dressing room and there was no beer and there was a case of water just like that [pointing to a case of water on the table]. And he just picked it up and threw it against the wall, right as the promoter was walking into the room. It was a female and she just walked in and saw it and went, “Oop…” and walked back out right as I was walking in. I saw her walk back out kinda scared and thought, “What the hell just happened?”
TF: I can explain! I f—– hate water!
KD: This guy hates water!
TF: I swore again, I’m sorry.
ST: It’s ok!
KD: Is this interview going how you expected?
ST: No! But it’s ok! You guys are giving me a lot to work with. I like it when you guys do that. So how has the experience of being in El Ten Eleven impacted your life?
TF: I don’t know what I’d be doing otherwise. I don’t know. Not that like it’s, I don’t know, I’m not living in a mansion or anything, but I’ve seen a lot of stuff I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. I don’t know, actually it’s cool because I never thought we’d be together this long, I never thought… I can remember not being sure that the first record would even be good enough or even, like, ready for primetime. So, it’s pretty crazy, it’s been slow and steady and that’s been awesome, actually. My family doesn’t think I’m such a jack— anymore. I told them, I’ve got this under control, I know it seems crazy playing music but…
KD: When my high school friends see me play, they’re expecting it to be in a divey bar like “Oh, Kristian’s still doing the music thing.” Then they’ll come to the show like, “Oh! Whoah, this is actually legit!”
TF: People actually give a crap.
ST: Ok, so now I’m going to move onto some random questions…
KD: Ooh! These are our favorite.
ST: Mine too! Design your perfect sandwich.
TF: Ah, we’ve gotten asked this before!
KD: A money sandwich!
TF: Did I say that?
KD: You were the one that said that. Cause I went with like an expensive food, like lobster or something. You’re like, “A money sandwich”. Ahh! That’s brilliant! I remember we got asked that in… ahh whatever, it doesn’t matter.
TF: As long as it has something crunchy on it…
KD: A thousand dollar bills!
TF: The sandwich has to have chips. I had a bacon and peanut butter sandwich the other day on an English muffin. Have you ever had that?
ST: No, that sounds kinda weird…
TF: You like peanut butter?
ST: I like both a lot.
TF: Alright, so, English muffin; can’t do it on bread, its not good. English muffin, peanut butter, other English muffin, peanut butter, tons of super crispy bacon, can’t be the soggy, fatty stuff. Mash it all together, it’s like a dessert. They should serve that for dessert.
ST: Sounds pretty good actually, in a weird way.
KD: Not as good as a money sandwich.
TF: So I didn’t design it, that’s my dad, passed that on. Try it.
ST: Alright, I will. So, what was the last thing that gave you a good laugh?
KD: We kinda laugh a lot on this tour. You know what’s kinda interesting about El Ten Eleven, it’s pretty serious music and stuff, but we’re total goofballs and Tim actually should’ve, if he was more confident, he could’ve been a stand-up comedian or impersonator. He cracks us up constantly. He says so much s— that’s funny, all day long, I can’t even remember all this.
TF: I’m trying to think what was the last time… that’s why I don’t have a mic though. I don’t want to say crazy stuff. Like, we’re trying to be serious up there, like really, you’re going to do that?
KD: But it makes me happy so you should dude. Cause, you know, it’s the same thing every night, it’s great, I’m not complaining, but Tim, cause we did try having him have a mic and it was just entertaining for me. Remember we had a delay on your voice?
TF: Yeah, I was doing Robert Plant.
KD: Led Zeppelin! Everyone was all serious and having been moved by the music and Tim’s all, “Ahh ahh ahh ahh! [impersonating Robert Plant].” Like, ah, this is great.
TF: I did the whole Dazed and Confused. I don’t remember, what was my last hard laugh? Like, tears in my eyes laugh? I can’t remember.
KD: As soon as you turn that off [pointing to my recorder], I’ll remember… We haven’t really messed with each other too much this tour. Yeah, this tour’s been pretty mellow.
TF: We usually pull lots of pranks on each other. I hit him [motioning towards tour manager], with a thing of cheese in the nuts.
KD: Oh, that was good! I remember, that was in Ann Arbor.
TF: No, that was this tour when I threw a thing of cheese, you know in the green room, like lunchmeat, and we just had it in our van and it was like, we didn’t have a cooler or anything to keep it. So, I just threw it like a frisbee, trying to hit the camera, and it just went like… and it was like “Oh!!!”…
ST: So, this is kinda similar to the last one, what is the last thing that left a really big impression on you?
KD: Just anything in life?
ST: Anything, anything in life. Something that really touched you, moved you maybe.
KD: Well, that’s easy for me because I have a two-year-old daughter. So, every day she does something that is amazing and it’s like, oh my God. That’s kinda cheating.
ST: That’s a good answer.
KD: Well, it’s true.
TF: I don’t know. Like, I’ve had a bunch of family friends, parents, stuff like that, die recently and so, I don’t know, it’s been a little more of like, taking a second. Being like, “Ah, man.” Like, here we go. We’re dying now. I like to laugh, but there’s always something in the back of my mind that’s just like, ahh, f—.
KD: That’s why we laugh; to try to bury it. That’s why we do tons of drugs and drinks tons of alcohol; to bury our pain.
TF: It works!
KD: See? Look it, we’re laughing! I could cry instantly if I wanted to, but I’m going to have another drink.
TF: I could too.
ST: Can you describe what you would do on your perfect Friday night?
TF: Can I make mine a Saturday?
ST: Yes, you can make yours a Saturday.
TF: Watch Cops. That’s what I do, Saturday. I don’t have cable anymore, so I have to do this some other time, but let’s see. I would make dinner, that’s probably not that great, but good for me, probably drink something, and watch Cops. Two back-to-back Cops: one new, one old. Whatever happens after that, doesn’t matter. It’s perfect.
KD: I concur with that. That seems pretty… you gotta understand, we’re in bars, venues, clubs, on tour night after night after night, hearing music. So to us, to go out and see live music, it’s just not appealing really.
TF: Yeah, just to be home, watching Cops, it’s like, that’s paradise. I mean, I could say being on a beach, which would be awesome.
KD: In the soft sand, with water lapping on my legs, with a TV, watching Cops. Pork taco.
ST: If there was a song that would be on the soundtrack of your life, whether it’s your own from El Ten Eleven, or something else, what would it be?
TF: I have something, it wouldn’t be ours though. There might be a couple or something. Well, if it’s the soundtrack to my life, yeah, because so much of these songs have been part of my life.
KD: Yeah, it’d be hard not to include.
TF: Umm…man! Good question! Bad answer.
ST: You can pick multiple songs if you want. It can be an album soundtrack to your life.
KD: Would this be after I’m dead?
ST: It could be if you wanted it to be.
KD: I’m just trying to think, if I wasn’t around to explain, because if I was around to explain, just knowing me, I’d probably put stuff on there that I wanted people to hear, to turn them onto or something, cause that’s just how I am. You know, you’re a DJ, that’s what you do. But then, if it was a soundtrack to my life for me, like only I would be listening to, on a desert island or whatever, the choices might be pretty different. So, it’s hard.
TF: I think mine’s going to be “Climax” by Usher, because I’m going to nail it in karaoke.
KD: These guys [Tim and the tour manager] have been f—— singing that song! They were singing it and he really is a good singer, actually both these guys, in the van, they’ll turn on the karaoke version and sing it together. It sounds f—— good! Really good! That’s not an easy song to sing.
TF: Yeah, I think my whole soundtrack would be all karaoke versions of songs. I wanna do a “Bones Thugs N Harmony”, I wanna do Crossroads with him cause he knows most of the words and I’ve tried to learn them, but they’re really hard. Motorhead is another one.
KD: He’s really good at singing the “Ace of Spades”. Can you give her just a little bit?
TF: No, I can’t just jump into it, it’s not that easy. I need to put jean shorts on.
KD: Need to put a wart on your face.
ST: Should’ve brought a karaoke machine!
TF: Aw! Is there good karaoke…? Ah, shoot, we have to leave right after the show tonight because we have a super long drive.
KD: We don’t get to hang out in Sac. Does it offend you when people say Sac?
ST: Nah, I call it Sac all the time. Yeah, I think most of us do.
TF: If you put a “k” on it, that’s a little offensive.
ST: Yeah, that’s weird.
KD: Sac. Sac-k-k.
KD: The “k” is silent!
TF: Come on bro.
ST: My last question, what can we expect in the future from El Ten Eleven?
TF: Lot’s of stuff. I’m excited. When we’re on tour, I’m always excited to go home and start working on new stuff. We always have to stop working on new stuff to leave for a tour, generally. This time, that was totally the way it was. Like, we’ll get together to practice and it’s like, man we gotta leave for the tour and I’m like, should we work on new stuff or work on the set? Ah, let’s just work on new stuff! And then we’re like, ah crap, we should’ve worked on the set a week ago because things aren’t running.
KD: Yeah, the first few shows of tour are always kind of, sh—-, or, always kind of crappy, because of exactly that. We should’ve been working on the set, but we were excited about new stuff and we just put it to the last minute and were like, “Oh, we don’t really have this together yet.” Sorry Phoenix! It’s always Phoenix.
TF: Sometimes they get the last show of the tour though.
KD: Yeah, every once in a while they get it. The last show of the tour are typically good because we have the tour shots, we got it all together, unless we’re fried and thinking about going home. We have the material, we’re getting the material together to record another full-length record. We’re planning on doing that all summer long. We’re going to take a break from touring and just do a few festivals, some one-offs here and there. Probably not even tour in the fall. Like, we might do two weeks in Europe or something. Just fully devote to recording a new record, getting it together, and then having it come out at the end of the year, beginning of next year. That’s where our mind are kind of. I mean, in the middle of a tour, we’re thinking about the tour and stuff, but we are, I agree with Tim. I’m excited to get back to working on new stuff and see what we can come up with and hopefully try to top ourselves.
ST: We’ll be looking forward to it.
KD: Thanks! I hope it’s really, pure intention.
TF: I think it’s going to be great. I’m excited.
ST: Well, that’s about it for the interview. Thanks for talking with me guys!
KD: Thank you, Constance!
TF: Yay, somebody gives a s—!
Note: This interview isn’t word for word. The transcribed text is my interpretation, but you can listen to the whole interview on the Soundcloud link below.
You can listen to my show, The Beat Hour, live on Tuesdays from 6-7pm on KSSU.com. I play today’s best alternative & indie music, interviews with bands, and have the occasional giveaway. Tune in!
DJ Constance – Sasha Tokas