Fifteen years ago Kristian Dunn and Tim Fogarty released their self - titled debut album as El Ten Eleven. The self-released LP received only modest attention initially, but the project would go on to defy all expectations, gradually attracting a significant cult audience of loyal fans. “It was a glacial pace,” Dunn said of the process. “When we first put it out there was very little reaction. But the reaction we did get was very passionate, which was exciting for us because we felt like we were on to something.”
Defying expectations is standard operating procedure for El Ten Eleven. Seriously, who would expect two instrumentalists to create such a large and complex sound? But thanks to inventive arrangements and a masterful use of looping, Dunn (bass/guitar) and Fogarty (drums) developed a pulsating sound full of atmospheric intensity. They’ve also crafted an incredibly durable career, and the duo credit the ongoing interest in their debut album as the foundation for that success.
Early on Dunn feared the quirkiness of the group’s two-man band approach would overshadow their music. “When we first started and we made that first record, I was really worried that people would only be interested in the novelty of us looping and playing everything by ourselves as just two people,” Dunn shared. “I was worried that they wouldn’t be moved by the music. But as it turned out, although people were impressed that it was just the two of us, they love the music.“
The music of El Ten Eleven has been embraced by fans of many genres — from math rock, to jazz, to lo-fi hip-hop. The duo’s sound is sharply evocative in mood and feeling, yet simultaneously abstract and meditative. The combination of these qualities has stimulated the imagination of the group’s fans, and gives space for listeners to assign their own value and meaning to the sounds. “I’m aiming for emotional impact when I come up with songs,” Dunn explained. “Does it move me? Does it make me feel something? Sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it's technically interesting but it doesn't make me feel anything. But I don't want music that's interesting. I want music that's emotionally resonate.”
When El Ten Elven was released in 2004, on-demand music streaming services were still in their embryonic phase. The growth of those services would be a consequential factor in introducing El Ten Eleven’s music to the world. Dunn views the development of digital music distribution services as a liberating force for artists, an effective channel to sidestep the suffocating control of corporate media. "Really, this is a Golden Age of music,” Dunn observed. “I think this is the greatest time in history to be a musician. We don't have to rely on MTV or a radio station to be heard. If you make something great people will find it. I'm not saying what we did was great, but that's what we were aiming for. I figured people would find us and they did. It took a long time, but it worked."
For all the band’s fans who discovered this album via online streaming services, JNR’s deluxe vinyl reissue of El Ten Eleven provides an excellent opportunity to bypass the compromised bitrates and crappy laptop speakers associated with digital listening, allowing listeners to experience this music in all of its full-frequency high-fidelity glory.
Meanwhile, Dunn remains humbled by the ongoing interest in El Ten Eleven’s debut. “The fact that people still like a record we put out in 2004 is unbelievably gratifying. Tim and I were still figuring out what we were doing when we made that album. I think that might be part of why it's appealing to people. It's a very honest record and naiveté can be really fascinating. So I'm glad it was honest, and I'm glad we did it. It's definitely bringing us more than I thought it ever would. It's surpassed my expectations for longevity and impact, and of course we’re happy about that."
Promo Photos by Mark Owens
US: Cassie Siegel // Madison House
UK/EU: Kai Lehmann // Cabin Artists
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