20 Questions is a Q&A interview series with musicians, authors, and everyone in between, celebrating experiences both shared and individual in the messy game of being human.
Elder Island consists of vocalist and cellist Katy Sargent, bassist and beat maestro Luke Thornton, and guitarist and synth master David Havard. Carving out a genre-defying space for themselves in our current musical landscape, Elder Island captivate with shapeshifting songs. The trio’s sound cherry-picks and transforms elements from genres as diverse as electronica, indie, pop, and neo-soul. The result is a web of sound that threads poetic lyricism and unfamiliar instruments over a backdrop of electronic elements and synth-heavy dance beats. With the release of “Feral” as the lead single from their upcoming sophomore studio album, the band has amassed 180 million global streams and over 1 million monthly listeners on Spotify.
I had the chance to chat with Luke from Elder Island all about their new music as well as their origins as a group, biggest creative inspirations, and more for the latest edition of 20 Questions.
How did Elder Island come to be?
We all met in Bristol whilst studying creative art subjects. Establishing a healthy work to play balance we went out most nights dancing and going to gigs. All of us were keenly into music, fattening out our record collections in the established stores of Bristol. Dave and I had been in bands before and so were still making music and DJing on the side. When we discovered Katy had bought a second hand cello she was enrolled. The music was quite experimental to start with, utilizing to the fullest the small amount of what we had, both instrumentally and in recording equipment. We would bodge a Behringer B-1 microphone over a light fitting plugged into a laptop, and put everything together on Garage Band. From there as the equipment grew so did we. This synergy and evolution between the music we make and the equipment we have is still apparent in the way we make music today.
Your sound has been described as anywhere from house music to soulful disco and R&B. Which genre would you characterize your music as falling into?
A new genre we’ve been playing around with recently is Neo-Modern-Electronic-Krautrock. At least it starts off that way in its inception, but we eventually polish it down to make it sound more like left field electronic pop.
Have you always wanted to be musicians? What are your earliest memories of that career path?
No, I guess our original goal was to work in professions following on from our degrees. Dave studied graphic design, Katy fine art and I did documentary photography. It wasn’t until after we graduated that we realized (along with everyone else that has ever done an art degree) the ideal job that matches one’s expectations is harder to come by than you think. We carried on making music for fun and eventually released our first EP. We didn’t expect it to do so well, but the streaming numbers on SoundCloud started going up and up. The next thing we know Giles Peterson is playing us on BBC Radio 6 and that gave us a huge boost to persevere and make more music.
Who are your biggest musical influences?
I think this is one of the hardest questions to answer because it’s so open-ended. When thinking back on who inspired me from early on in life, people like Radiohead have always been there, they always produce great stuff. The work that Nigel Godrich does with them is astounding. Then when you dig deeper you can find Nigel’s name in many places like Zero 7, Beck, Air and Paul McCartney who have also all had a huge impact on how I hear music.
Favorite artists of all-time?
Stevie Wonder, Erykah Badu, The Books, Mount Kimbie, Four Tet, Moodymann, The Beatles, Radiohead, Charlie Parker, Kaytranada, MF DOOM, Floating Points, Frank Zappa…
The last series you binge-watched?
I wouldn’t say it was a serious binge because it was only 3 episodes but it was The Pembrokeshire Murders, which I very much enjoyed.
Favorite books of all-time?
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe.
The best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
“If you say can, you will. If you say you can’t, you won’t.”
You’re stuck on a long flight. Which world-famous musician would you want sitting next to you and why?
Anderson .Paak, I am absolutely fascinated by this dude. I bet he has so many stories! He sounds like the kind of guy you could easily have a good laugh with and that is exactly what I would like on a long flight.
One movie that will always make you cry?
My Girl is pretty brutal.
What inspired the creation of your single “Feral”?
We borrowed a Rhythm Ace drum machine from our friend and sound guy. After some time playing around with a few of the pre-sets, mashing buttons in and out, we found something interesting in mixing the Mambo and Bossa Nova beats. Katy then got on her bass station and knocked out a gnarly bass line. The rest flew from there.
Are you guys introverts or extroverts?
Introverts, most definitely introverts.
Favorite quote of all-time?
I don’t know about all-time but I found this one the other day from Henry Bukowski which I thoroughly enjoyed.
“Having a bunch of cats around is good. If you’re feeling bad, you just look at cats, you’ll feel better, because they know everything is, just as it is. There’s nothing to get excited about. They just know. They’re saviours. The more cats you have, the longer you live. If you have a hundred cats, you’ll live ten times longer than if you have ten. Someday this will be discovered, and people will have a thousand cats and live forever. It’s truly ridiculous.”
Who are your style icons?
Cake or pie?
Favorite song to get your blood moving?
“Back Together Again” – Donny Hathaway featuring Roberta Flack.
One memory that you will always hold dear as a group?
Playing to a sold out crowd on a Friday night in New York at the legendary Bowery Ballroom. We had an awesome crowd that showered us with energy and affection. My teenage self just wanted to pinch myself, it was so incredible.
One person who has inspired you the most?
Tough, tough, tough question. I don’t think I have a singular answer.
One thing that’s been keeping you sane throughout the COVID-19 pandemic?
I guess cooking with recipes that you wouldn’t normally attempt. Treating yourself to the full list of ingredients to actually cook them properly, this has kept me slightly sane. It’s nice to set aside a weekend to buy some delicious ingredients then make a feast or prepare something for a certain meal that might take 10 days to be ready.
What can we expect to hear next from Elder Island?
Watch this space. We’ve got a new single called “Purely Educational” that’s just been released which also has a cheeky B-side (“Trailblazer”). Then we’re looking to release our second album Swimming Static on the 28th of May.