We meet up with half of proggy stoner rockers Elder at this year’s HRH Doom Vs Stoner.
Somehow, Phil the audio king and I have got inside Elder’s dressing room. And it’s nice in there. It’s maybe four hours before they headline HRH Doom Vs Stoner 2018 and we have the privilege of speaking to not one, but two members of a psychedelic prog band that reached the heady heights of Rolling Stone’s end-of-year lists in 2017, with their most recent album Reflections Of A Floating World. When they hit the stage that evening, the group’s blend of carefully-constructed melodies and titanic riffs demonstrate exactly why they’ve received such accolades. For now, bassist Jack Donovan and guitarist Michael Risberg recline on the couches in front of us, dressed in colourful ensembles that drop more than a hint towards the band’s New England origins. With hardly a moment to lose, we dived straight into conversation…
So, how are you finding the UK?
JD: Lovely! Had a little car trouble on the way up, so we stopped at a lovely restaurant called The Hungry Horse in Rugby, kind of a T.G.I. Friday’s vibe.
That’s a chain pub, they do giant portions there.
MR: Great family value, family values…
JD: So we broke down in this parking lot and we woke up there.
MR: They do a Friday special which is a £15 ‘Diner’s Delight’. Doesn’t say what it is though.
That’s the mystery, man.
JD: Then the van got fixed and we came up here to Sheffield; the weather is quite beautiful today, especially for England.
Best to reap the benefits before we get flooded. So, Reflections has been an enormous success. Do you think getting to this point was a cumulative process or was it more sudden?
JD: Of course it was a process, we’ve been doing this for like ten years now. It’s been a linear progression for Elder (unlike the music), and we keep playing shows and having fun. We just want to keep the train rolling!
Could you tell us a little about the recording process of Reflections?
JD: It was the winter of 2016, snowy as hell in western Massachusetts in a town called Easthampton. Nick [DiSalvo, guitars/vocals/keys] is the primary songwriter, so he had most things figured out and we go in pretty prepared. We did most of the mix in like five days.
Is there a lot of practising before you hit the studio?
JD: A lot of gigging, we play a lot so we get pretty tight. Everything clicks pretty easily.
Do you guys write on the road, or do you take downtime to get the songs together?
JD: Oh, if we’re not playing shows we get pretty lazy!
You guys have mentioned Colour Haze as a big influence, which is slightly left of field. Do you consider yourselves on the lighter end of doom?
JD: You know, we’re here at the Doom Vs Stoner festival and we’re representing stoner. You can listen to heavy metal forever but there’s a lot of other music out there, and we listen to both. As we’ve progressed our influences have become lighter, closer to psychedelic rock.
MR: Like Jimmy Buffett.
JD: At the moment we’ve been listening to Baby Godzilla, that shit was really cool.
MR: Didn’t they get sued when they changed their name to Heck?
Could we hear a little about the themes that run through Reflections?
JD: This is a tough question, because Nick [DiSalvo] does most of the writing…
MR: And the lyrics too.
JD: I don’t really know what his headspace is when he’s writing.
MR: Well, Reflections Of A Floating World refers to the Japanese art style [Ukiyo-e], a commentary on the gluttony of modernity and capitalism, and existential crises. That’s my interpretation at least.
Do you feel like doom has a role in making social commentary?
Both: I think any art form can.
JD: But especially doom, baby.
MR: Especially commentary on industrialisation and so on.
Obviously you’re still touring the album, but do you have any sketches for the next release, or will that be in a while?
JD: We’re recording a really small-run EP in a few weeks. I don’t really know too much about it yet though, but we’re definitely hitting the studio. There’s new stuff on the horizon.
MR: Jamming stuff, you know.
You guys have been at the forefront of the scene in a way, binding lots of genres together. Do you guys have any thoughts as to where the doom and psych genres are heading?
JD: I don’t think the genre’s going anywhere too quickly, it’s kind of stable. There are variations on it but it’s more solidifying itself into something people can identify with and becoming more generalised. Are there new things coming? Of course, there always is, whether it be death metal, nu-metal again, or something completely new. I’m excited! That’s why festivals are fun, you get to see all this different metal.
So you’re from Massachusetts…
JD: Mike’s actually from New Jersey.
Ah, my mistake! The band has this psych aesthetic, did that come from your local scenes in New England?
MR: Absolutely, I’ve lived there for the past three years and there’s definitely more of a crunchy, hippie vibe that crosses over to psychedelia around Boston.
JD: The town I’m originally from has more of a hardcore scene, and it was when we moved to Boston that we got to see more shows, better bands, you can develop more that way.
MR: It’s also just a huge city.
JD: The northeast of the United States is pretty progressive, so that helps too. There’s more of a counterculture around and lots of different scenes. Is there a particular psych-rock vibe? Not really.
MR: More of a hippie scene. Healing crystals and so on. I’m wearing one actually, fitting in with the stoner vibe…
I’ve got a final stupid question for you guys: Elder than what?
JD: Elder is actually derived from Conan The Barbarian, the tribe elders.
Do you think there’s a link between you guys and Conan?
JD: I’ve met them before, so there’s a physical link, we know each other.
Would you ever collaborate with them?
JD: They’re definitely of the doomier, sludgy brand. Loud as fuck. But if somebody wanted to put us up in a sick studio and house us all, yeah go for it!
Reflections Of A Floating World is out now on Stickman Records and Armageddon shop. Purchase here.
Words: David Burke