“How I one day woke up and decided to live life again”
Ten years after its first release, Drunk Elk’s the self-titled debut gets a re-release on the L.A. based House Rules label.
How do you look back now at this record, ten years after its original release?
Simon Krause: Me and Dave had some songs and were looking for another member. I was playing bass and Dave was on vocals. We wrote “Quintessence” and “Drunk Elk Theme Song”. We asked Sam Acres to join because we heard him play keyboards in a band Kisses Bye-Bye. Sam was doing his PHD and living with his girlfriend and a cat.
Dave Askew: Me and Simon formed this band out of boredom, and wanted to do something fun to stop ourselves from going completely insane.
How do you remember the recording of this record?
Simon: Looking back at this album I remember three awkward and shy guys coming together with no clear sound in mind, it just came together really quickly. I wasn’t overly concerned with what people thought, it was fun to be apart of something. Playing music once a week with good people, who more or less felt the same, we didn’t want to be the coolest band on the planet, we just wanted to play music.
Dave: I had most of the lyrics written already and they fitted in with the music perfectly. We don’t usually spend much time on songs. Sometimes we can create a song in ten minutes, other times it can take a few practices before it came together. And I look back at these recordings with nostalgia: of a time when I was truly happy and glad to be alive. I spent the 1990s scared and confused, and these recordings express my feelings of coming out of my shell, and being able to express myself in a way I feel comfortable.
We recorded this album in a colonial village of Battery Point, Tasmania. After two to three months we were happy with the songs we had. I remember it being winter, the water was still and the air was icy. We recorded most the songs in one day, but I think Simon got the flu, and we stopped recording for a few weeks.
Simon: I remember the 4 track and Sam recording while playing in the band. We all play together when we record, we find it difficult to record the music and vocals separately. For us that could never work, I think you lose something with the sound, if you don’t record live, the record sounds too mechanical and polished.
Dave: Drunk Elk are gardeners not architects. Everything happens organically, it is our process, we evolve over time and we have no clear agenda in mind. Our process is very relaxed, if it feels stressful we get rid of it and move on.
Is Drunk Elk a band or a singer who writes the songs, and two other musicians?
Simon: Drunk Elk is a band with bass, keyboards, guitar and vocals. Myself, Sam Acres and Ben Mason write the music and Dave writes the lyrics. We are a collective. No one opinion is placed over the other members. We discuss. We debate and decide what sounds best. We don’t have fist fights or anything.
How much of a Drunk Elk song is already written before the recording and how much of it is done on the spot?
Dave: All the songs are usually written before we record. There is some improvisation but that’s more of a recent development. Once it is recorded it stops being an improvised song and can lose some of the magic, and to some extent its appeal.
I find it very difficult to improvise vocals, its not my favorite thing to do. And I don’t like improvised bands, for me it can get a little too contrived and egotistical. Just because you’re not an improvised artist does not mean your any less an artist. For me art is about emotion, if I don’t feel anything from music it’s just noise, and it’s more than likely I won’t finish the album.
Sometimes us humans need others to express what we are feeling, and you hear something and you say ‘that’s how I feel’. I love how we communicate through music, I usually don’t know what to say to people unless it’s in the written form.
Do you agree that this music has a kind of naivity that you can have only once?
Simon: Naivity can sometimes be derogatory in this country, and it can be used in a hurtful way. But I think it can be charming, and I think it’s a lot more honest than someone who gives you the impression they have all the answers. Whether or not this naivity only exists on a debut album is questionable. Our expectations were not that high, we just wanted to form a band and play music. We had no real plan to take our music outside of Tasmania, it just wasn’t something we thought about too much, it just happened.
Zully Adler from House Rules calls the record ‘a snapshot’. Would you agree? And isn’t every record a snapshot? A ‘picture’ of a certain time, at a certain place?
Dave: I do agree this album is a snapshot and all albums are snapshots of time and space. From a lyrical point of view our first album is a bunch of songs written about a girl I was hanging out with at the time. I would not call them love songs, because I was not in love with her. We just hung out together at a particular low point in my life, and she inspired me to write all the lyrics on the album. The lyrics are about her and how I one day woke up and decided to live life again. We smoked a lot of weed and felt absolutely comfortable around one another, two fucked up people doing our best to survive.
In the same text, Zully also talks about ‘a band in embryo’. Also here: would you agree?
Dave: I do agree with Zully that we were a band in embryo, and to some extent all bands are in embryo when they first start out. Bands like people need time to evolve and come into their own, and express themselves freely on their own terms, there is nothing more destructive them self-censorship. Tell people how you feel but don’t be an arsehole about it, don’t be hurtful.
I think Drunk Elk have survived because we don’t take our selves seriously, we knew from the beginning that we would never want to make a career out of music. For us music and art is something you do when there is nothing else to do. I suffer from insomnia and get distracted easily, and if I wasn’t in Drunk Elk, I would be a very unhappy person. I just want to write forever, there is nothing else I want to do.
Is your music influenced by David Mitchell, Goblin and Dead C, as Brendon Annesley wrote in his Negative Guestlist fanzine?
Simon: I don’t know who David Mitchell is, and I think the Goblin comparison comes from Sam’s keyboards. At the time of this recording I just listened to Daniel Johnston and the Butthole Surfers.
Dave: I don’t agree with most of the Drunk Elk comparisons over the years. I like Michael Morley’s vocals in the Dead C but all I was listening to at the time was Darkthrone and The Warlocks. I’m not sure what Sam was into? He played me a Britney Spears song once and introduced me to Brian Eno, which I quite liked.
This album was first released as a tape, now it’s an LP. Does an LP feel like a more serious object than a tape?
Simon: Music isn’t serious.
Dave: Our first release was released on CD-R, and then tape. I don’t see vinyl as more serious, to me it’s just another format to listen to music.
– Joeri Bruyninckx
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