Interview: Elder Island

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Earlier this week in Los Angeles, we were able to meet up with the members of the British music group Elder Island for an interview about their friendship history as well as their current musical projects. The trio’s members consist of the lead singer and cellist Katy Sargent, bassist and beat engineer Luke Thornton, and guitarist and synth producer David Harvard. They have been performing with each other since they met at university in Bristol and have since developed a very unique sound that stems from various genres of music including electronica, indie, pop and neo-soul. 

Lost in Concert: So you’ve all known each other for many years. How did your band come to be out of your friendship, did you know each other before? 

Katy: Yeah, these two [Luke and David] kind of knew each other when they were small, but I met Dave at Uni, and we basically lived and shared houses from when we met. And then Luke came and kinda stayed with us. But at that point we were kinda making music as a hobby on the side.

David: Yeah, we were studying fine art, graphic design, photography, so those were our focuses but music was always that passion inside, and we always kinda tied it into our projects. We were actually doing music more than our actual coursework, and I guess we kept doing that until we graduated, little bits of work but we still had that on the side. 

LIC: When you first started out as a band, did you establish any goals for yourself that you’ve seen come to fruition over the years? 

David: There’s been a few, I know I’ve had a few. There was definitely an approach to the music making and wanting to keep it as organic as possible, and when we made the first EP there was a lot of recreation of just recording hits and stuff. But there was just goals like touring America and doing things like that. When we graduated we did want to come to America anyway, busk around and just travel. That was always our big aspiration, and the fact that we are actually able to do it now as our job essentially was a big tick. But there’s a few that we still haven’t ticked off, like Glastonbury Festival or Coachella, there’s still a few things like that we haven’t quite done yet. 

LIC: How would you best describe each of your roles in the band? Are they fairly designated or do you each wear multiple hats?

Katy: I guess it changes between live and recording. When we’re recording it’s flexible, anyone can pick up anything and if you’ve got an idea just lay it down. However, when we’re playing live, it’s a bit more set because we can’t travel with everything under the sun, so we have got our separate roles. 

David: But it can get a little confusing, sometimes we have to run between each other’s stations in between songs. Maybe one day we can even start swapping basses and guitars. 

LIC: Do you think growing up in the UK and being from Bristol has influenced your music or your journey as a band in any certain way? What artists have inspired you over the years? 

Katy: I guess we were all kinda moved to Bristol. Growing up, I don’t know about these guys, but my parents always listened to Massive Attack and Portishead and that kind of hip hop era has definitely influenced our musical development, just from having it at such a young age. And then it’s kinda like there’s still a resonance there in Bristol that perpetuates this experimental scene that isn’t scared of always having to be polished. I think it’s a DIY approach where you can do whatever you want and be a bit more rough about it, which is very present in Bristol. 

David: [Bristol is] really good at generating artists from the city itself. It’s a very diverse music scene, and such a big city filled with important music. The amount of acts like DJs and bands that come through Bristol is ridiculous. It was always a really big comfort and a guaranteed stop where you’re going to see so much music. It’s always very inspired. I remember in Uni when we were out in our first year like every weekend, and at least three or four nights a week we were at gigs, and club nights, and anything like that. It was great. 

Katy: We were big into dancing. We just wanted to go out and dance all night and I definitely think that influences the music we make. We like a little groove. 

LIC: You just came through the US on tour last spring and just played a string of festival shows in the UK. Have you found that performing for US versus UK crowds is a different experience or different energy at all?

David: I think it is different. I kind of look at North America and the US more like Europe because of all the different states. They all have their own different cultural thing going on so the US is a lot like traveling around Europe and the different countries. In one state everyones a bit more laid back and being a bit more casual, and sometimes you go into the other ones and people are just losing it and going absolutely wild. You blast through the country so quickly when you’re playing shows like that, so the best way to culturally see what that state or city is about is just through the energy of the performance between us and the crowd.

Katy: We were really lucky on the two tours that we did because we did a UK tour straight off the bat when Covid was just starting to finish. It was a lot of people’s first gigs back and in that way it felt really exciting and electric because everyone missed live music so much. And then it felt like when we came to the States, because they were a little behind opening up again, we got the same delightful opening up feeling because everyone was really excited and it was, again, a lot of people’s first gigs back. It just feels really special to be back. 

LIC: Do you have a favorite place to play?

David: That’s a difficult one. There’s quite a few, they always fluctuate though, I think it’s different every time. On this last tour for me it was San Diego, we had played there once before and it was quite small of a show but it was really high energy. So doing it in a much bigger space in San Diego was really fun. They really like to dance and drink and shout, it’s pretty ruckus. 

Luke: Despite what Dave said with Europe, it is so similar in the respect that the country is so large and the people are so diverse and anywhere you go, it’s just so different. From the first time we toured here to the second time, it was different venues, so there’s a lot of favorites. New York, LA, Vancouver, Portland, we really enjoyed Boulder – it was a University town with a lot of frat houses  but everyone was dancing their heads off in there. 

LIC: We watched your album documentary film and I love how it was put together. You mentioned that you guys produced this second album yourselves? 

Katy: Pretty much, because it was in lockdown so it was really our only option. But it was nice, there were a lot of highs and lows. We started and were so excited, and then towards the end it was kind of all wrapped up with Covid and not being able to go out, so we all got very focused and that was the only thing we were doing so it became a madness to try and finish this album. But yes, we produced it ourselves. 

David: We did have a little bit of help. There were a few tracks that we knew had a little bit more potential in them. We were literally doing nothing but listening, and editing, and working on those tracks for about half a year because of lockdown and we kind of needed an outside source just to help finish the album. We went to a producer who lives around the corner from us, he’s a good friend now, so we just go to him to all cohesively put the last bits together. 

LIC: Is producing your tracks something that you want to continue doing?

Luke: All of our stuff is mostly produced by us in the first place, that’s how we write the songs. We try to produce it as far as we can unless we need that external source to give us that kick in the ass and tell us you can finish it this way or it’s fine. 

Katy: I guess it’s part of our sound. When we made the last album it was in Luke’s basement, so we kind of always have a place or a studio that’s our own which means we can spend as much time as possible on it, which we wouldn’t be able to do if we were going out to studios and working with producers. We just wouldn’t have the money to do it and I think that makes the music what it is because it’s the amount of time and homeliness that we can give to it. 

David: Part of it is experimentation. When you’re creating a sound, if you don’t have a strong idea straight away then you can spend a week tinkering basically. If you were doing that in a real studio, that would be the entire budget gone. 

LIC: Do you have any pre-show rituals that you like to do?

Katy: I obviously have my warm ups, where I have to be in a little quiet area and make weird noises so everyone thinks that I’m mad. Sometimes if I can find a space and I have a mat, I’ll do a little bit of yoga, cause it really helps with controlling your breathing, and relaxing, and not being tense because the problem with being really tense and nervous is your neck and shoulders will seize up which is not good for singing. I don’t booze anymore, I used to be whiskey all the way and now I like to be quite clear. 

David: But we do have a tequila shot in the encore, it’s always been a kind of staple. Recently we’ve been taking it onto stage and cheers-ing the crowd which is really nice, making that connection. 

LIC: You also just released your single, Motive, a few days ago. Can you say or hint anything about this new project, or your mindset going into making and releasing a single right off a previous album? 

Katy: You’ve hit the nail on the head, these tracks are like the leftovers from the album. As Dave was saying, we did so many sessions when we started that we had loads of tracks left of stuff. We really had to narrow it down for the album so it was like a ten track album, but we’ve probably got another ten more ideas for tracks. There were some that we really didn’t want to leave alone, so we picked a few of our favorites and brought them back from the dead. 

David: It’s kind of been an on and off process with these ones. I guess we worked on these a lot in December of last year. We had a chance to do some vocal stuff and a little bit of production just in between touring schedules, and then in the new year we had a bit more time in our studio and worked on them again. Then we were back on tour, but we came back in the summer and decided to try and get these in the best state, but were still getting the mix on the last few tracks, were not quite finished yet. But it’s kind of a continuation, little windows of time. 

Katy: It’s pretty broad actually, there’s quite a lot of different songs because they’re all leftovers. There’s “Motive” which is quite groovy, a summery tune. One of them has got a lot of bass influences, and is quite dancy and pushy. Then there’s a really light, wafty, and very simple track which is kind of ballad-y in a way. Then one of them’s very elegant and live. It’s like an older version, it’s called “We Are The Water” and it’s got lots of layers and lots of soundscape to it, so it’s a very broad range.

LIC: Our last question: is there anything you look forward to doing when you get home, specifically when you come home from the US?

Luke: Sleep. 

Katy: I cuddle my cat a lot ‘cause that’s what I miss: the little bedtime cuddles with the cat. And going to the pub with mates. 

David: A real cup of tea. Yorkshire tea when I get back, it’s just incomparable. 


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