Electronic pop trio, Elder Island, create rich tracks of escapism, uniting beats and enduring, soulful vocals. They’ve had radio plays from Giles Peterson, toured with Glass Animals, and after two EPs, April saw the release of their spacey new single ‘Welcome State’. We discuss their unique recording process, their live performance, and the tricky art of successful remixes.
Katy Sargent and Luke Thornton are discussing the magic of traditional radio, Thornton retelling the story of overhearing his mates listening to Elder Island in the kitchen, and being excitedly told ‘it’s on Tom Robinson right now!’ As reward for their three years of hard work, he’s “never had a feeling like it.” He explains their distinct recording process, involving hours of uninterrupted jamming followed by a careful teasing out of key sounds: “We’ll cut it up, and then weeks down the line we’ll replay it. It’ll then progress in its own way. It’s all about trying to capture what we had in the moment.”
With ‘Bamboo’ taking over nine months to perfect, even once the track is down there is still a lot of tinkering. “Dave [Harvard] will put in a drum pattern, he’ll spend an hour on that, and I’ll take it and say ‘ooh that’s not right’, and I’ll mess around with it, then he’ll do the same. There’s lots of pass the parcel!” Thornton says.
Beyond maintaining momentum, this method gives what Sargent describes as their “most raw, quintessential moments.” It’s also the perfect breeding ground for spontaneous ideas, with their demos revealing little intricacies that can be used in different tracks. Thornton explains: “Like ‘The Big Unknown’, with the ticks. They just happened in that moment and we’re like ‘we love that!’ Let’s never lose that.’”
This organic method extends to the lyrics, with Sargent telling her bandmates that “it’s kind of about this” as ideas bubble forth. They’re then able to follow her key, adding beats to “caress” her vocals and the song’s meaning. With ‘Welcome State’ this meant an increasing delicacy to the song, reflecting lost youth and the nostalgic familiarity of family. Still, meaning is all about perception. Fans thought ‘Black Fur’ was about sex or drugs, when actually the lurky aspects of the song referred to Sargent’s household cat.
Elder Island have another single on the way, plus a video and two new remixes for ‘Welcome State’, one being an electronic and glitchy reworking from Indian artist Sandunes, and the other an upbeat, house track from Kalyde. With the original being a slow 95 bpm, they discuss the delicate process of finding a remix in keeping with their taste. Sargent describes this process as a painting being passed between artists of different styles, an impressionist, a cubist and so on, while insisting against Thornton’s playful jibes that this is not a good analogy.
Elder Island’s true graft and empathy for the progressive emergence of sound creates relatable yet exalting music. You’ll need to pay close attention to follow where they go next.