El Ten Eleven is an instrumental duo, a “post rock” combo that creates its sounds and songs via bass, drums and effects – with no vocals.
That includes “Fast Forward,” which the Los Angeles duo says is about fathers and sons, growing up and growing older.
Bassist Kristian Dunn says the goal is for listeners to suss out the meaning and inspiration of the songs just from the instrumentals.
“Sometimes people get intrigued by the song titles and have to dig deeper and find an interview with me to find out what the songs are about. That’s why I have no problem talking about what they’re about,” said Dunn.
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Dunn says “Fast Forward” comes from a band name his father would suggest when Dunn was just starting out and the song title “Battle Aves” reflects (the relationship) between Dunn and drummer Tim Fogarty and their dads. “Scott Township” is the name of Fogarty’s childhood neighborhood and “We Lost a Giant” and “JD” are tributes to Dunn’s late father.
“The general theme of the record started before we were writing,” Dunn said. “The songs, like three-fourths of them, were written with the theme in mind. … Every one of our records is thematic, some more so than others.”
“Fast Forward,” El Ten Eleven’s sixth album, finds Dunn playing a bass six, which he picked up from Peter Hook (of Joy Division and New Order) and his son, Jack – to whom the song “Peter and Jack” is dedicated.
“It’s an old-school six-string, with the regular bass and two higher strings, not the new ones with one higher and one lower,” he said. “So it’s a guitar tuned an octave lower. And there’s a four-string I have, with a lot of effects and, of course, the drums.”
That sound is replicated live with two looper pedals that sit at Dunn’s feet during shows for his bass and Fogarty’s drums.
Dunn used “Point Breeze,” the lead track from “Fast Forward,” to illustrate use of the loopers to create a mix.
To begin, Dunn plays bass to create high harmonics that sound like a keyboard while Fogarty’s electric drums create a bass line. Dunn loops those together. Fogarty then switches to acoustic drums and Dunn adds higher harmonics, again looping them together. Dunn adds a fourth part to the layered mix. Then the song moves to the “whammy part,” and the building starts again.
“It’s 100 percent live, no tricks, zero,” Dunn said. “We get a lot of compliments about that.”
Dunn and Fogarty have been developing that sound since they formed El Ten Eleven in 2002, taking the name from the Lockheed L-1011 Tristar.
The duo released its debut album in 2005. But they got their first wide exposure through director Gary Hustwit’s 2007 documentary “Helvetica,” for which Dunn wrote and El Ten Eleven played much of the score.
Between tours, Dunn and Fogarty will return to the studio – this time with some friends.
“We’re always coming up with new stuff. In fact, our next one is going to have vocals on it,” Dunn said. “ … I think it will be cool for the singers to expand to our fans, and we’ll probably pull in some music fans who can’t get past the instrumentals and need some lyrics. Maybe we’ll suck them in.”
El Ten Eleven
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28
Where: Harlow’s, 2708 J St., Sacramento