Face facts, rock ’n’ roll: The double-neck bass/guitar almost always comes across as being pretty goofy. Nine times out of 10, the combination instrument is a ridiculous novelty, a jack-off set piece that clown-ass bands employ to look cool.
However, the instrument is the perfect fit for Kristian Dunn, bassist/guitarist extraordinaire of Los Angeles indie-prog duo El Ten Eleven.
“I was watching Genesis on VH1 Classics and noticed the band using a double-neck,” Dunn says. “This light bulb went off in my head, and I ordered the double-neck on eBay the next day.”
The stringed beast has become an outright necessity for El Ten Eleven, as its mind-bendingly complex style and thin ranks mean there’s a whole hell of a lot going on. Dunn and drummer Tim Fogarty create atmospheric, wall-of-sound songs that no band has been capable of pulling off without the aid of laptops and/or sequencers. By layering intricate effects over danceable drum beats and countless guitar and percussion loops, the band’s signature sound is both catchy and incredibly intelligent. (Think Ratatat ditching the computers for a summer of guitar lessons and math classes, and you get the idea.) Even as Dunn and Fogarty incorporate dance-pop, shoegaze and math rock song structures à la Braid, ETE is a rare case of a band that constantly evolves without losing that X factor that makes it special in the first place.
To watch Dunn play in person is fascinating. With a complicated array of loop stations and effects pedals, there are so many things to keep track of that he is almost forced to dance atop his setup. During concerts, he aims a camera at his elaborate gear and broadcasts his movements to give the audience an idea of the complexity it takes to put these songs together.
“At the beginning of the tour, it’s always hard for me to remember what I’m doing, and I can get stressed out,” Dunn says. “By the end, it’s like muscle memory, and I can cut loose a little more and have more fun.”
Don’t let the fact that El Ten Eleven’s Santa Fe show is the first of this tour dissuade you, though, because the band always kills it.
On El Ten Eleven’s fourth and most recent album, 2010’s It’s Still like a Secret (a paean to seminal indie rock band Built to Spill), the band goes for a decidedly more straightforward rock ’n’ roll sound. While previous efforts contain a feel more comparable to electro music, Secret utilizes rumbling bass and complex guitar work, resulting in heavier songs. Released on El Ten Eleven’s own imprint, Fake Record Label, the album has been successful enough for the act to remain self-produced.
“As we’ve gotten bigger, we’ve been fielding offers from both major and indie labels, but figured we could do a better job releasing it ourselves,” Dunn says. “I’ve had plenty of record deals before and only one that really worked for me…Besides, we like having all the control and keeping all the money.”
El Ten Eleven’s return to Santa Fe is a big deal, and attendees won’t be disappointed. Don’t miss out on the opening set from local prog/metal trio As in We because that little addition makes this bill an absolute must for any bona fide music fan.
Follow SFR music news on Twitter: @SFRsA_Sharp