If you were into heavy music, there really wasn’t a way around Elder’s 2015 stellar sophomore album Lore. It was a record that satisfied all those fans hungry for a progressive sludge band daring to explore the limits to progressive riff rock rather than to write catchy pop hooks (I’m looking at you Mastodon and Baroness!).
It topped many year lists, and consequently its follow-up Reflections Of A Floating World had sky high expectations.
If you were one of those anxiously anticipating Elder worshippers I have good news: they haven’t let you down. And one look at the track list will also comfort those afraid of the pop virus: all of these songs clock well over eight minutes proving once again that brevity is not part of their vernacular.
As bandleader and songsmith-mastermind Nick Di Salvo puts it: “Shorter songs are not the right format for epic ideas”, and “epic” is just the word for this record. Reflections Of A Floating World will once again prove to be a grower, expanding in richness and depth with each listen. I for one can’t stop listening, and I can’t wait to see this guitar behemoth live!
Hi Nick, how are you? And what are you doing at this exact moment?
Doing fine thanks. I’ll have to answer for the other guys and assume they’re doing okay too. I’m here in Berlin where I work for our EU label, Stickman Records. Doing what I do most day – sitting in front of a computer!
Elder is crossing over to Europe with King Buffalo this Summer! Are you already preparing, and will you bring the extended line-up with you?
Since I’m currently living on another continent as the other band members, preparation has been a little bit of a task. We’ve only had two periods of a few days each to play all together as a 4 piece but Matt, Jack, and I have a very strong musical connection and Mike is a very intuitive, talented player, so I have no concerns about it all coming together. This will be our first tour ever as a four piece, which is very exciting for me. I’ve always felt like a certain element was missing on stage which could only be remedied with the addition of another set of hands, but it was such a big jump that we put it off until it was obvious it couldn’t go any other way.
Tell me about the two guest musicians on the album: the two Michaels (Risberg and Samos), how did you get into contact with them, and what did they contribute to the songs?
Mike Risberg and I went to college together. I was working at a food co-op and he came up to me at the register and said “oh, cool electric wizard t shirt”. ironically, he and I had just transferred out to UMass out in western Massachusetts and were itching to play some music since we didn’t know anybody. So we started jamming and it was the first time I had ever had a real musical connection and been so inspired by another player since I started Elder.
That was in 2011 I think. A few years later when we had both moved to Boston we got together and started the project Gold & Silver. We only recorded one EP but it was a cool sound that had lots of elements of Elder but with a more low key psychedelic vibe. Mike Risberg is one of those wizards who knows how to fix a guitar, build an amp, and conjure up the weirdest fucking sounds from his guitar and that in specific was what I wanted him to contribute to the album in his own style. All the little blips and bloops and strange sounds coming from a Wurlitzer piano or electric guitar are mostly him just improvising.
I met Mike Santos some years back when living in Providence, RI. He manages an amazing guitar store called Empire Music that I would frequent multiple times a week just hanging around looking at gear. He’s a super sweet guy that sold me a lot of equipment and always helped me find the sound I came in looking for. Through that forum we got to know each other and ended up jamming one day with an extended Gold & Silver lineup. He brought his pedal steel and some pedals and it sounded fucking awesome! I knew he needed to be on the record, so we brought him in too just to add some new textures.
Actually, on the last day of recording we had a 3 hour improvised session with all 5 of us that we are currently trying to figure out what to do with.
A surprising new feature to me at least was the addition of mellotron in some of the tracks. Tell me the story behind that!
We already started using some Mellotron on Lore but a lot of people seem to have missed that. I really like the instrument and especially the Mellotron-heavy prog bands of the 70’s and today and wanted to bring that into our sound. It’s such a beautiful, retro sound that still doesn’t sound dated and it’s so refreshing to hear a keyboard or string sounds in such guitar-heavy music. It was all about bringing more variety to our sound for this record.
Did you feel the pressure recording a follow-up to Lore? I mean, that album was so highly praised all through the psychedelic/stoner scene, how did that make you feel with regard to writing new material?
Seeing an album get a lot of acclaim is a very heartening thing. If anything, it motivated me and validated the somewhat off-center direction the band had been moving in. Part of the praise of that album was that we were evolving even further. In that sense, I knew that all we had to do was to keep listening to ourselves and make music as naturally as we always have and the progression so many listeners value would continue. I think Reflections is the strongest album to date and felt that way in the songwriting process as well, so more than anything I was excited to get the record out!
I guess a fear I always have with heavier bands like you that grow larger (Baroness, Mastodon…) is that at one moment they tend to lean more to writing 3/4 minute songs with more traditional song structures and “catchiness”… So it was a relief to even see the tracklisting and the song lengths; we don’t need to be afraid about that with Elder, do we? (you never ever tried to write three minute songs?)
Writing shorter songs was always a discussion in terms of breaking people’s expectations (the main reason we included “Sonntag” on the new album, part of the live session we did). If we decide to go the route of shorter songs, which I honestly can’t imagine, it’d just be because we decided to try something different. Nothing is out of the question. However writing pop music and simplifying our music to pander to any audience would be unthinkable. The main reason the songs are so long is because they feel right that way… they sort of end themselves in the songwriting process when they feel ready to end. So far that hasn’t happened before 7 minutes or so. Shorter songs are not the right format for epic ideas; they don’t have enough room to breathe.
Can you tell me how Elder songs come into existence; is there a lot of jamming, or do you invent riffs by yourselves? How is the magic created?
Probably about three quarters of the music is written entirely by me, mostly composed by jamming by myself, recording ideas and building upon them. I’ll have as many as 10 songs going at the same time, then slowly they start to converge or ideas bleed together. There have been times where the majority of the music was written as a collaboration in the jam room, but we’re a geographically challenged band and that’s not really possible right now.
Are you a typical “stoner” band in the sense that lighting up is an inspiration? I ask because some of the repetition and flow in the songs have this strong hypnotic effect, it’s like a drug in its own right!
Drug use has never been a specific influence on our music (despite some tongue-in-cheek lyrics from our first album). It can be a lot of fun to get high and jam, but nothing productive has ever come of that for us. Songwriting is, ironically, a highly-focused and sober thing for me, and probably the reason that there is very little meandering or repetition in our music.
I was told Reflections Of A Floating World title refers to a society in a phase of decadence. Is that related to the current state of mankind? And…to Donald Drumpf perhaps even?
A lot of what disturbs me in the world isn’t a new revelation, but it certainly feels like we are living in end times. Aside from “reflecting” on the decadence and consumerism of the world today, the album is also about how we as people deal with the framework we exist in, finding meaning and rebelling against mental and economic slavery. Nothing specific about Drumpf, he just happens to be the most apt summary of everything grotesquely wrong with our society at the moment.
How important are lyrics and singing to Elder? At some point in the songs I get so taken away by just the music that I feel Elder is just as powerful instrumentally, like I feel you could pull it off. Did you ever consider just letting the music speak for itself?
Never. Something about instrumental rock has always felt like it was missing an element to me, even if the lyrics make us a very small portion of the actual music. Lyrics are extremely important to the music because they give it a theme, which is part of this trifecta we’ve been doing since Dead Roots Stirring – concept, music, artwork. It wouldn’t feel like a complete package without them.
Elder is a riff-based band right? So who writes the best riffs these days? Who are people you look up to or admire?
I would almost say that Elder is not a riff-based band anymore but in comparison to most other rock bands I guess I’d have to acquiesce. I think I’ve just got this idea of including more chords, more lush and psychedelic passages that aren’t always anchored in a strong guitar line, but we’re not quite there yet. I really enjoy the guitar work of Isiah Mitchell (Earthless), Dave Heumann (Arbouretum), Hans Magnus Ryan (Motorpsycho). If I could somehow combine those three skill sets…