Although beginning as a stoner/doom metalband, U.S./Germany based psych stalwarts Elder have shaped their sound consistently, morphing into a progressive psychedelic riffmachine. Right now consisting of Nick DiSalvo on guitars and vocals, guitarist Mike Risberg, bassist Jack Donovan and new drummer George Edert, the band harbors a thunderous yet subtle bombast, with complex, epic tracks focused on telling a larger story. The albums Lore (2015) and Reflections of a Floating World (2017) showed the steady progression of Elder, culminating in a band firing on all cylinders, creating musical masterpieces, with a tightly knit live reputation to boot. With new record Omens out today, we sat down via Skype for an interview with guitarist/singer Nick DiSalvo, who resides in Berlin along with his wife.
Words: Merijn Siben / Fotografie: Rob Sneltjes, Roy Wolters
The release of Omens feels slightly coincidental at this moment. With the albums theme focusing on the rise and downfall of a civilization, one might see parallels in our current situation. And because the coronavirus is still dominating the news, with most of the world in lockdown, I can’t help but start with the proverbial elephant in the room. Namely, corona and its consequences for the music scene.
Hi Nick, how do you feel about the new album coming out today?
”We are excited, but it is obviously a strange time to release a record. Two months ago, or perhaps even a month ago, we would have been imagining a different scenario for our release date. Normally, there’s is a lot of excitement about a record coming out. We worked on Omens for years, writing it, producing and recording it. We also had a lot of tours organized the next 6 months. I won’t say it’s kinda disappointing, but more of a bittersweet moment in this lockdown. On the one hand you are finally seeing the fruits of your labor being put out to the world, while also being confined to your apartment or your house. So you can’t actually support the record or do what you are supposed to do. I am happy people can listen to it now, though!”
Are there any big financial consequences for Elder because of the corona measures?
”We do have other jobs, such as working on our label Stickman Records, and our drummer George is a bartender, so he can’t work right now. Jack, our bassist works in a supermarket though, so he can go to work, but in a risky area. However, the band is our main source of income, so not being able to tour just straight up sucks. We pressed a lot of records, because we assumed we would be going on tour for a long time. So all in all, we have a lot of bills to pay and can’t really get to the main source of our income. It is not like we will be out on the street or anything, but you have to plan an album release very carefully, like orchestrating a lot of parts together, and this just derailed all of that planning.”
At moments like this, were you able to find or improvise other ways to promote the new album?
”Unfortunately, we didn’t have a plan B. We see a lot of people and bands that are able to use technology as a means of promoting, but unfortunately we are not experts on that kind of stuff. Sure, we could try a live session, but we live in different parts of the world. But nevertheless, we try our best to stay relevant, and stay close to fans. We are a pretty straightforward band in that way, mostly focusing on the music and a tour. I also think our new record does take a couple of listens to get used to, so maybe in 6 months when we tour again, people will love the record by that point.”
Bassist Jack Donovan lives in the U.S., while you, guitarist Mike Risberg and drummer George Edert live in Berlin. What is it like to record an album that way?
”It’s a little weird and unorthodox, but it worked for our past record and it worked for this album as well. I’m doing most of the songwriting and I have a pretty decent setup at home for demo recordings, so I can send stuff around to the guys and share ideas. When it was time to finally record Omens, our bassist flew over and stayed here for three months. That was our time to go over the songs and transform them into the album. For a lot of bands it wouldn’t work that way perhaps, but our methodology is shaped by practical necessity. We always wanted to continue the band even though we’re not geographically very close to each other, and we just found a way to do it.”
So post-corona making music with each other wouldn’t be that difficult?
”Indeed, we are just making music in the meantime, we can still continue to write new songs and make new music, even though we can’t have full band practice. We already started writing new stuff actually.”
Regarding writing an Elder album, it always feels like its best listened to in its entirety. Do you always set out to make an album that feels like one story or concept?
”Not necessarily, although I do feel that most of our records are best listened to as a whole. But Omens is actually the first record where we took care to plan the entire album as a whole. We looked at how each song interacts with the one before and after, and how they fit in with the bigger picture. So, yeah, I feel the records should make more sense if you listen to it as a whole, for sure.”
A lot of your past lyrics have dealt with mythical or fantasy themes. Is that also the case for Omens, or is it a more personal record lyrically?
”This album tells a very real story, but it’s from the viewpoint of a fantasy world. I feel this music works best with an overarching universe or theme, especially in the psych prog genre. Omens is about an imaginary society, and the rise, downfall and eventual destruction because its getting too big. It’s a very classic, timeless theme told in our own way. A concept album in that regard, with a very transparent commentary on the times we are living in right now.”
Does the album artwork also depict the theme of the story? Who created the album cover?
”The artwork is done by Adrian Dexter, whom we consider part of the band, because he has done every other album cover. He is a longtime collaborator as I share my music with him as I’m writing it. The last couple of records we’re very epic, landscape type of images, kind of Roger Dean fantasy landscapes. This record we felt like we wanted to step in a different direction, not only in our approach to songwriting, but also our artwork. So he had this idea about a Greco-Roman statue that he made a photo of in Italy. It is a very recognizable image that brings to mind the associations with fallen civilizations, which is what the record is about. So it felt like a good narrative fit.”
Going back to the lockdown; how do you spend your time right now, besides making music?
”Unfortunately for the Stickman label, everything is slowed down too, so there is not much work right now. There are only so many ways to do something and keep busy, from adjusting the website or work on some other things. Besides that, we have a beautiful spring here in Europe, so I tend to go on long bike rides, or I work in the little garden me and my wife have here in the apartment. I try to not watch to much tv or drink too much alcohol, haha. But the main thing is playing music, from morning to evening. Plenty of ideas happening now, so that’s cool!”
Are there also a couple of records that you really love to spin in quarantine right now, when you are not working on music?
I have a pretty eclectic music taste, but to be honest the last thing that slapped me in the face was the new Oranssi Pazuzu record, a Finnish black metal band. Since that came out, I have been listening to it the whole time for the past couple of days. I also really love Caribou, an indie artist who went in a more experimental, electronic direction lately. It is pretty weird, but besides those two I haven’t sunk my teeth into new music lately. I mean there are moments where I sit at home, browsing the internet and Spotify all day long. But now I also have my wife working from home, so I can’t really listen to music the whole time.”
Lastly, although corona will have a hold on us for a while, what can we expect from Elder in the near future?
”There is a lot of energy stored up right now, so when we come back you can expect some very intense liveshows. We are spending the time to hone our skills and get as good as we can with the songs, so we don’t have an excuse to not be a very tight liveband by the time we are back on the road. This new line-up we have will give us new potential and an influx of energy on stage. I have a feeling there will also be new material on the way shortly. So we try not to stop moving for too long, and if we do have to be stopped in motion then we’ll continue to write music anyway.”
Omens is released on the 24th of April, via Stickman Records. The album can be purchased here, on cd as well as bronze and azure double vinyl. Stay updated on Elder via their website, Facebook or Instagram.