El Ten Eleven: Hooked on repeat and loop pedals

by Rodney Lotter

The act of repetition is an intrinsic and integral part of music. A person only gets skilled at their instrument through the act of doing the same thing over and over again. Learning scales, chords, song structure, it all needs to be repeated again and again. Repetition within a song can be done in a variety of ways: a steady backbeat, lyrics, a sweet-ass guitar lick, a chord pattern, you name it, it’s been done. For Los Angeles-based duo El Ten Eleven, their preferred method is through the use of a large array of loop pedals and other digital effects.
The use of loops is mostly prevalent in hip hop and electronics music, but the modern pop use of loops dates back to the psychedelic musings of Frank Zappa, The Beatles and countless other bands.
But, El Ten Eleven is different. They aren’t a psychedelic band, they are two dudes that want to write some catchy tunes and play them in front of people. The band is typically lumped into the math rock, ambient and post-rock genres, but drummer Tim Fogarty said the band doesn’t enjoy being labeled.
“We don’t like being called [a math rock band] because, when I think of math rock, I think of music that is super complex just for the sake of being super complex,” Fogarty said. “We write pop songs. Our songs have hooks. We aren’t trying to complicate things when we make music and we don’t jump around with our ideas. I guess, I don’t know what we are, but I wouldn’t consider it math rock.”
The band works entirely in the instrumental realm, and have been compared to bands like Tortoise, Sigur Ros and Godspeed You Black Emperor by music critics. Fogarty utilizes a drum kit that is equal parts acoustic and electronic, while Kristian Dunn plays a double-headed bass/guitar combo and the aforementioned assortment of looping and effects pedals. There is no vocalist for the band, although Fogarty admitted that they have toyed around with the idea in the past.
“We don’t have anything against vocals at all,” Fogarty said. “Our sound just kind of evolved on its own, and in many ways we use the loops in a way that vocals are typically used in songs. It’s something we’ve talked about doing, but we probably won’t do that, unless it is part of a side project or something like that.”
When listening to the band’s recorded material, one is struck by the fact that all of it is being done by only two people. Sure, there a million things two dudes can do with studio trickery, but Fogarty said the band does their best to play the songs live as close as possible to the studio recordings.
“There are some challenges to playing our songs live, as they are recorded,” Fogarty said. “In the studio, things happen much more quickly, in terms of the arrangements. And, when depending on looping pedals, it can be difficult to recreate things- like when all the parts come in at once, for example. You can’t really do that live, because it has to build up, one loop on top of the other. Another challenge is when a loop gets messed up, and then we have to work with it and change the song a tad to compensate. But, overall, we do the best we can.”
The band likes to make dedications with their albums and song titles, Fogarty said. “The dedications we make on songs like ‘Bye Annie,’ ‘Bye Joe,’ and ‘Bye Mom,” are our way to applying our own meaning to songs,” he added. “But, we like to let the audience interpret our songs for themselves and get their own meaning out of them. We try to evoke emotions, and let everyone come up with their own reactions to it.”