Elderbrook is a U.K.-based singer-producer who has been churning out stellar minimalist indie electronic tracks for the past year. With sharp lyrics, an engaging baritone and production that thrives on live sounds, he’s crafted two tremendous EPs, 2014’s Simmer Down, and Travel Slow, which came out today.
We got the chance to speak to the university student-turned-boundary-pushing musician in the week leading up to Travel Slow’s release about his musical background, love of folk music, and creative process.
We already gushed over “Good Enough,” the second track released from the EP, and the whole project is absolutely stellar from start to finish. If you enjoy Fyfe, Jamie Woon, Jamie xx or any kind of smart, well-produced downtempo music Elderbrook is surely a name to watch.
You can stream Travel Slow below:
Sunset: Once you’ve finished a project and are waiting for the release, how do you keep yourself occupied and from wanting to go back and tinker with it?
Elderbrook: Well, since I finished those tracks [for Travel Slow] I’ve just been working on album material. So I’ve been spending a lot of my time doing that, and I’m getting my live show up and running so there’s rehearsals here and there. We’re getting ready for some live shows.
But with the changing of tracks that are already done, it’s never been a big issue with me. When I think I’ve finished a track, I think I’ve finished a track. I don’t think that changes.
Could you tell me a bit about your musical background?
When I was around 14 or 15 I started playing guitar, and then when I could string a few chords together I decided to set up a band with my best friends. We called ourselves Jenny’s Faces, and it was just an indie garage band kind of thing. We kept that going until I left high school.
And yeah, folk music was my thing. Then when I went to university I started experimenting with electronic sounds and what my computer could actually do to go with the folk music. It’s developed since then, it’s nothing like folk music though.
I can kind of hear it though, I can hear it in the way that you build melodies, the way you sing. I was also curious about what music helps you find your sound in the studio?
When I’m making music, I kind of just sit down and let what happens happen. I don’t have a specific direction that I want to go. The direction takes care of itself, if you know what I mean?
Once I put down a few cool ideas, the tune kind of makes itself through me. I don’t really aspire for it to sound like anything, it just sounds like what it is. Which is probably why a lot of my songs sound quite different.
[A brief pause while the writer’s alarm goes off, simultaneously interrupting the flow of the conversation and making him feel quite foolish.]
What was the moment for you when it clicked and you realized that you were making the kind of music you wanted to make?
It’s funny you bring that up, I was thinking about it the other day. It was my first year at university, in the halls of residence, I still considered myself more of a folk musician at the time. I just experimented with some electronic sounds and kind of made a very, very house/DB beat that was never released, but I thought, ‘This could definitely, definitely turn into something interesting.’
As a producer-songwriter when you’re writing how does your process work? How do you build your music?
It’s always been that I’d start with the beat first. When I first started doing it I’d start with the drums, make them nice and bouncy and then bring in a piano sound or an electric piano, then after the beat was made I’d put the lyrics on top. I’d figure out the melody and the lyrics would come last.
But recently and with the second EP, I found that the lyrics were coming to me before anything else, so it was nice as something to feed off.
Another thing I was wondering about your style is that a lot of electronic-influenced indie music takes the maximalist approach with huge drums and walls of synths. What appealed to you about having a much more understated vibe?
Well, it’s probably the music I listen to, man. Obviously all the folk music, there’s nothing too aggressive about all of that stuff that I was into. The music I listen to isn’t big and heavy, some of it is, but more often than not I find myself listening to old gospel songs that are slow and easy to listen to.
A production note I was curious about was the use of backup vocals both to echo the lyrics and on ‘Good Enough” to build up the instrumental itself. Where did that come from, where’d you start playing with vocals in a more creative way than a lot of artists?
It’s my favorite part of the tune, so when the tune’s finished I’ll just go back and layer it with harmonies wherever they can fit in. I don’t know why, it’s just the thing about producing I enjoy the most.
Is playing with the vocals?
Yeah, man. I think another bit of it is my limitation with my knowledge of creating synths and whatnot. I would rather pick up the microphone and make some interesting sounds with my bass or guitar and then mess with them until they sound really cool rather than just try to make a synth or anything. So obviously backing vocals comes into that as well.
I first got a copy of “Good Enough” and must’ve listened to it 75 times in the first day. I’d heard your stuff before, but that was the first track I sat with for a long time and what struck me was the percussion. The snaps have all this space, the claps are so much more live than a lot of claps you hear on an MPC. How do you come up with drum lines?
On “Good Enough” I made a lot of the drums just by clicking and clapping and hitting different things on my desk with a pencil.
So it’s not a sample?
No no, it’s none of that. It’s interesting you said that about “Good Enough,” it’s probably my favorite one off the second EP.
I’ve seen the “Could” video and the “Be There Soon” video and for a new artist the animation was so striking. Was that your idea or was there a director you were working with? I’d read somewhere one of your other interests was film editing.
So before all this kicked off, I used to get a friend of mine that was studying photography to film me doing live sessions and stuff, I always enjoyed sorting that out on the old computer in the editing suite.
With the videos for ‘Could’ and ‘Be There Soon’ I just wanted to maintain an artistic aesthetic, if you know what I mean? So rather than just going for like a darkened warehouse with a spotlight, which a lot of artists do. Not saying there’s anything wrong with that, I just thought it would be nice to make it a little more interesting.
That’s pretty much it for me, anything you can tell us about the next album?
I’m still making all the demos, man. I’m having a real, real good time. I don’t know, I’m just working away, experimenting with different instruments and structures and different kinds of songs. It’ll be interesting to see where it ends up.