There is a good chance you've heard El Ten Eleven's music, even if the name does not immediately ping on your radar. For over 15 years, the duo—bassist and composer Kristian Dunn and drummer Tim Fogarty—has reliably churned out albums of quality self-produced instrumental music and smartly licensed to film and television projects, quietly building up a musical empire. Dunn and Fogarty's workhorse attitude and solid bond as a two-piece has granted them a rare longevity in the industry, allowing El Ten Eleven to regularly tour and record new material. Their new album, Banker's Hill, out just last month on the band's own Fake Record Label, stands alongside the best in their discography at a time when there are no further pyrotechnics to the story, no drug freak-outs or rock star histrionics; just two guys based in Los Angeles whose plaintive, bright take on instrumental rock music always draws a crowd.
Using live-looping and bass, Dunn builds songs onstage from scratch while Fogarty's drumming lays the framework. The music shifts seamlessly from shimmering, keyboard-mimicking melodic phrases to heavier passages of riffs that share as much in common with cerebral party-rockers Ratatat as they do with the deeper end of the post-rock pool. At the core is a celebratory tone, especially on tracks like "You Are Enough." Even when the music gets heavier, it never turns dour. There are no rusted-out dystopias conjured, mostly clean Californian vistas with beams of light shining throughout. While certain touchstones of post-rock are present, it is a descriptor that does not capture the music's unique identity.
"I don't think we sound like those [post-rock] bands," Dunn says. "We share some similarities for sure, especially being instrumental."
He agrees that the music has a joyfulness all its own, however, and the band's studio efforts consist mostly of overdubs rather than looping, lending more control over mixing and experimentation with sound.
"When we first started we were kind of obsessed with proving to the world that we could do it live," Dunn explains. "Pretty much what you hear on the record was how we'd do it live with maybe some little differences here and there. Lately, we've been allowing ourselves to drift away from that a little and what is on the record doesn't have to be exactly like it is live."
This difference seems important to Dunn. "When I go see artists live, if they do everything exactly as it is on the record, it's kind of boring," he says. "I could have just stayed home and listened to the record."
But El Ten Eleven's live show has evolved into more than just a display of technique for Dunn and Fogarty, and such attempts to keep things vital are as much for audiences as they are for themselves.
"Some of these songs we've been playing for 15 years—we've got to make it exciting for ourselves," Dunn tells SFR. "I don't want to be an actor up there pretending I'm into the music. I can't do that; I have to actually be into the music."
El Ten Eleven has also made another drastic change in its process with Banker's Hill by using an outside producer for the first time ever. This means more focus when compared to previous releases, which may be credited in part to producer Sonny Diperri's help in editing 22 songs composed by Dunn down to less than half that number.
"He was hugely responsible for the end result," Dunn posits. "When we first started off, I didn't want to have a producer because I knew exactly what I wanted to do. All these years later I was desperate for one because I really wanted some help making decisions. We brought in Sonny and he was perfect."
The end result is tracks like album closer "This Morning With Her, Having Coffee," which has a structured, sprawling atmosphere that builds like a calm storm, showcasing the sound of a band that has always known what it wanted to do and finally has all the tools it needs to make it happen.
El Ten Eleven with Tennis System
7 pm Saturday Sept. 22. $20-$23.
1352 Rufina Circle,