Pubs, Pints, & Ponchos: An Interview With Elephant Tree
The UK stoner rock scene is killing it right now, with bands like XII Boar, Steak, Raging Speedhorn and of course Elephant Tree guiding the music forward to British triumph. Sitting down with the guys at Psycho Las Vegas over an early morning pint was a pleasure. It’s rare that you get the opportunity to really delve into the spirit of a band and the scene around them, but Elephant Tree were eager to get right into it. Shooting the shit, pulling back veils and reminding us in their surprisingly refined way why they are one of the key acts in their scene, these blokes were an absolute delight to chat up.
How the hell are you guys?
Jack (J): Fuckin’ very very warm!
Peter (P): Bit jetlagged!
J: I struggle with anything over 16 Celsius.
P: We have double glazing in London!
How do you guys like America?
J: This is my first time to America and I assume Las Vegas is a good representation of the wider continent. It’s crazy! We formed four years ago and now we’re here. Last week we played to twenty people at a pub in London, and the next week we are spending our life savings on a round of beers! We never though we’d be somewhere like this when we started it!
Do you think you’ll be back?
J: The dream would be to do an American tour! Any promoters out there!
What do you think about Elephant Tree that means you can play to twenty people in London and five hundred in Vegas?
J: We didn’t get into it to do well, we got into it to get pissed!
Riley (R): We just wanted to play heavy riffs and drink beer!
J: It’s just a bonus that other people want to listen to us do that!
P: It’s like a hobby that got out of hand. We started off and it was supposed to be just jamming music, then we decided to play a gig, then someone said we should record, then we wound up here.
R: I have a different perspective on that because I only play with them sometimes. I started out as an original member and I still write with them and produce the records and my best guess at what appeals is that it’s just so raw. I think that people like that it feels so uncontrived. They really are just drinking beers and playing riffs. Even in the nice studios we have been fortunate enough to go in.
J: When we did the debut record we had a track called “Dawn” and it was so fast it didn’t feel good. We lay everything down with a live feel and dub on it. It didn’t feel right so we said “We need some pints in us” So we went to the pub, and first take back it worked!
So pub culture is a major influence…
J: Absolutely! As bad as it sounds!
P: It’s loud music for people who have had a few beers.
J: We do try to be a little different, that’s where Riley came in.
R: If anyone is pretentious about this it’s me. (Laughter)
J: We actually have a poncho that we got Riley to wear when he says something super pretentious. He has a set amount of ‘producer points’ at the beginning of the album and he owes us points every time he says something like “Yeah maybe we could just reverse that?”
R: To get pretentious for a sec, it’s not just about drinking in Camden, there’s a great scene in London. But on top of that Jack is really into English folk music which is based on that. We wanted the first record to just be English folk tunes with heavy guitars. That’s where the harmonies come in. If you sing them with acoustic guitars they sound like English folk tunes.
J: There’s a band from the 60s called the Wattersons who were an old English folk group and they were one of my prime influences for melodies. Pete is more into Weedeater though and most of our groovy riffs come from Pete. We merge it with the rest of it. We all have different influences.
There’s a crop of interesting stoner rock beer oriented bands coming out of the UK right now. Do you feel that kind of music is essentially the modern English folk music?
J: To a sense yeah. There’s a big underground scene that’s only underground because there’s no real money in it.
R: The Wattersons were like that as well.
J: It’s not inaccessible though, it’s not really underground.
Sam (S): I think maybe not because I associate folk music with storytelling which I wouldn’t necessarily attribute to the doom scene in London. The doom scene is so niche and such a specific crew of people who go to those gigs. I don’t know if folk music was like that.
P: It’s the venues as well, there are so many in London.
J: The old folk bands were playing pubs too though!
So you have a bar like Crowbar in London, to what extent is a bar like that essential to the growth and development of this scene?
J: I think the big one is the Black Heart in Camden. Even before gigs people meet up there. So many bands go to the Black Heart just for the sake of having beer.
S: For example we played the Old Blue Lass, it’s quite an iconic venue. It’s the venue you have to play, it’s a rite of passage, but it’s not associated with doom at all. We had this gig there, but we were just thinking, anyone can turn up here. It’s outside of the cool venues though and if you take it outside of that people don’t go. It didn’t feel like a real gig. We have a draw in London but it didn’t work!
J: People in the scene know what they like and they don’t like that.
S: Those venues, they are the scene. That’s how you become a part of it. When the northern bands play the iconic venues that’s how they become involved. The north has its own scene entirely too.
J: You learn so much playing those venues with bands that are better than you. Our first ever gig was at a place called the Unicorn, somewhere every new band plays. When we started it was such a huge opportunity to learn from bands in a way you don’t get in other genres. There’s such a big difference with that and rock gigs where everyone is trying to make it. In the right clubs everyone is amazing and it’s positive.
P: There’s no backstage area, everyone gets on well.
J: It’s very much a social thing, to the point that it’s equal to the music.
R: There’s people in the scene who are not in bands who are just as known as bands, like Danny Blackwell. Shoutout to him! Or Andy Fields is a legend. These people are just as well known.
What do you love so much about music?
J: Friends! Meeting these bastards! When me and Sam came down to London we didn’t know anyone and we decided to have a crack at it. Then we got lucky enough to meet Pete, if you can call it that.
S: These were the first friends I made in London.
J: It’s doing what you want to do and getting pissed while you do it!