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Presswork at Lake On Fire Festival 2017 – Interview n°3: Elder

(pmck) Elder is a progressive stoner rock band from New Bedford, Massachuchetts. With four full-lenght studio albuns and one EP, they are currently one of the most sucessful international bands in the underground heavy rock scene. Nick DiSalvo (guitar), Matt Couto (drums) and Jack Donovan (bass) have been friends since long before the formation of the band back in 2006. ‚Growing up and going to school in the same area, not too many people were interested in heavy metal or punk or any kind of alternative music, so we found each other pretty fast and played in various bands long before Elder‘- that is what frontman DiSalvo told me during an interview for a voluntary radio station in Ulm.

We had to walk outside for a while until we finally found an adequate spot for the interview. It had been a very long and very hot first day of festival in Austria, and this interview was the last one I had to do to call it a day. The Cyborgs were playing their set as me and the four members of Elder walked up a hill and found a cabin on a field, short before they had their headliner gig on the Lake On Fire Festival in 2017. The night veil had fallen, enhancing the wondrous atmosphere of the event. We sat on a circle on the field, the recording device in the middle, and talked for about half an hour.

Elder played in the three-man formation for around ten years before the addition of a second guitarist, Mike Risberg, for the newest album of the american group,‚Reflections Of A Floating World‘. Risberg comes from a jazz and soul musical background and had been a bandmate of DiSalvo’s in side projects since college times. ‚It was a decision which had to be made, after we had stubbornely already done as much as we could with three members‘, DiSalvo mentioned.

Elder’s members come from rather different family backgrounds when it comes to music. ‚My dad got me my first guitar in middle school. He thought me ‚Cinnamon Girl‘ by Neil Young and I played that song for about six years. After that I decided to put down the guitar and started playing drums with Nick. It‘s the first band I played drums for and the one I have been playing the longest with. And the most I learned was from Nicky boy. My dad just played guitar for fun. But I have to mention my great uncle Billy Couto – he was a real badass singer back in the fifties. He even has his record in vinyl. His brother was a singer, too. They weren’t, like, international, but they were pretty big in the local scene‘, Couto told cheerfully. DiSalvo and Donovan didn’t grow up in a rather musical family. They didn’t frown upon it and encouraged both of them, though. DiSalvo mentioned, that when he told his folks he wanted to be a musician, they got him a drumset for christmas, and that was his first instrument. ‚After that I got a guitar. It was a productive outlet, not a phase. They were happy about it and certainly encouraged me a lot. When we decided to become full time touring musicians with college degrees, they scratched their heads a little bit. I think they still don‘t fully understand what we are doing… but they are certainly happy that we are happy‘, he added. ‚And that’s the important part‘ Donovan afirmed. Mike Risberg’s youth was all about music also: ‚my mother plays the piano; my maternal granddad I never met was an italian american, who played italian folk music. The interesting fact is that he was like an one man band kind of guy and I actually inherited a lot of his instruments. A drumset from the sixties, some old guitars and a lot of other cool vintage stuff. My uncle thaught me how to play and showed me classsic rock stuff and my parents gave me my first guitar, so I would say they obviously encouraged me on being a musician. They always wanted me to get a corporate job though, doing the cliche parent thing.‘

Progressive rock is the science fiction of music.‘- Willian Shatner.

Progressive rock was the soundtrack of my life growing up. The first album I ever bought was ‚The Dark Side Of The Moon‘ by Pink Floyd. After that, the love for the genre never stopped growing; Yes, Rush and Kraan being only the tip of the iceberg oft he list of my favorite bands. ‚I was a huge Rush fan when I was young but then I got the taste of blood of progressive rock and started listening to Yes and Emerson Lake And Palmer‘, Donovan mentioned when asked about which old school progressive bands influenced the sound of Elder most. ‚There are some great prog rock bands almost everybody knows, and then there are also some interesting stuff going around in Great Britain like Egg and Cathedral – not the doom one!‘ noted DiSalvo – ‚but I always see myself coming tot he same Yes albums all over again. As of Rush: people sometimes say Elder‘s vocals remind them of Rush‘s, but I don’t like them. I think Geddy Lee is an awesome musician and singer but I never heard an album I really liked. But this is normal – people sometimes hear influences in the music I, we never heard. It is all subjective, right?‘ – he added.

The Hero’s Journey‘

Elder‘ was released in 2008 by MeteorCity Records. Full of ‚riff worshiping‘ kinds of tracks, ‚Elder‘ was followed by the band’s first mastepiece in 2011, the album which embodied the technical transition that followed Elder through the next releases – ‚Dead Roots Stirring‘ is a much more organic and experimental album, which showed the band members maturing about what music they listened too. ‚I think we also got more adventurous of playing music back then‘, Jack Donovan wondered about the style progress in the second album. ‚We started playing around with the idea of integrating more major, positive and really happier sounding stuff to our music. Songs that were not focused around huge riffs‘, concluded DiSalvo.

Lore‘ came out in 2015 by Stickman Records, showing a steady evolution from ‚Dead Roots Stirring‘. Combining the best of Yes with the best Sabbath, the third album breaks, one more time, the barreer of exploration into the parts of the music world that hadn’t been delved into yet.

Reflections Of A Floating World‘ is fresh out of the oven: released in June of 2017, the sound of Elder’s last studio album is richer and fuller, hence the addition of Risberg on the second guitar. DiSalvo told me about the creative process of producing the last albums: ‚a lot of the writig for the last two albums has happened as I was living in Germany. At the time of Lore I was teaching english in a small vilage, spending a lot of time by myself, writing music. I had a lot of time to reflect and practice and send ideas to the guys on the other side of the world. That‘s the crazy thing about our music: sometimes it is collaborative, sometimes it’s not. So for the last two albums I just came back with a lot of ideas we went agressively on together. We made sure the songs were ready for the studio, and then went there for very successful recordings. It doesn‘t sound that easy but somehow it has been working‘.

Elder has had a kind of ‚long distance relationship‘ with Nick DiSalvo since 2007, when the lead guitarrist started going back and forth between Germany and the US. He currently lives half time in Berlin and works for Stickman Records. ‚There are real struggles to this matter, but Nick moving to Berlin was actually one of the best things that happened for the band. We realised that over the years. Our network is huge and still on the spread and we have homebases both in the USA and in Europe, which makes touring a little bit more organised‘ – Donovan pointed out – ‚we have a german and an americn label and two practive rooms. It actually turned out to be pretty convenient‘. ‚There is no way of playing a gig on a weekend. It has to always be a tour or a big festival, something that makes the flying worth it. Before every tour we get together and practice and can always play the stuff just fine. It is a formula which worked for the last couple of years‘, DiSalvo concluded.

Festival season doens’t exist in the US‘

When asked about differences in the music scene in Europe and the US, DiSalvo aknowledged that ‚Boston has actually always had a pretty amazing underground rock scene, lots of famous bands come from there. When we started playing, as we were still underaged, we woud play some bar gigs with really cool bands‘. Matt Couto even compared the scene back home to a family, saying the stakes for stoner and doom bands are high at the moment. ‚We dont tour the States that often, there is actually only one festival for our type of music which is on a bigger scale like some of these europeans ones. But most of the Boston scene is great. We played with big bands that really took us under their wings when we were 20, 21 and we’d be like ‚holy shit we love you guys, there are like 20 peple here, lets rock out!‘ And it’s still kind of like that sometimes, honestly‘, Couto went on. Donovan added, that ‚going on an european tour for the first time was a big surprise. A great surprise, because people in Europe appreciate rock and roll more then anywhere else‘.

The musicians also told me that a festival season for underground music doesn’t exist in the US the way we know it in Europe. Big events are rather directed for sport, mostly football, or, obviusly, pop music. DiSalvo implied that ‚people are more relaxed here also, hanging around and drinking some beers, there is no police here chopping your vibes. Ist just a lot more fun in Europe, thats why we don‘t tour the States that often‘. ‚On this time of the year you come to Europe and there are, like, 10 other american bands touring here also. Ist like a season of rock and roll‘, Donovan added.

If you write great music, great things will happen‘

Elder’s succes has only grew since the release of their second studio album ‚Dead Roots Stirring‘. Based on that, I asked the half-time berliner if he had any good advice for newcomer bands who are struggling their ways into the scene. ‚Just focus on your music. Focus on playing music you are passionate about. And write good music and dont even think of anything else. Because if you write great music, great things will happen. The bottom line, for us, is we are really good friends and play this music because we love it, and that is why we have been a band for eleven years with the same line up. So make it about spending time with your friends and make it a positive experience. You are not gonna make great money out of this music anyhow, so if your type succes is hapinnes in life, it is fine. All you can do is try to play music you like and be happy. We see bands that pop up and very obviously play to a certain image or write riffs they imagine people will want to hear, which is really boring, There isn’t a perfect business model for underground music. Just be yourfuckingself‘.
Pearl Mckurdy 24.08.2017

Lake On Fire 2017 in unserem Blog

Filed under: Articles in English, Interviews, , , , , ,

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