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Interview: Dunedin's Elan Vital Discuss Their Debut Record 'Shadow Self'

Interview: Dunedin's Elan Vital Discuss Their Debut Record 'Shadow Self'

Wednesday 19th April, 2017 2:30PM

Dunedin dark dance trio Élan Vital have been delivering their uniquely spooky synth-driven tunes for a few years now, so it was with great ardor that we welcomed their debut album Shadow Self when it was released by local label Fishrider Records last month. With the LP being on high rotate in the UTR offices, and the three-piece about to hit the road for their release tour, we thought we'd drop them a line and get the lowdown on how the record came together and what makes the band tick...

Hi Élan Vital
! You guys have been playing together for a few years now after forming at None Gallery in 2015. Can you tell us a bit about None Gallery and the significance it has for your community?

Renee: None Gallery is an artist residence, gallery and studio space which is self-funded and located on Stafford Street, near the city centre. For the last 15 or so years it has provided a platform for independent visual and sonic arts. Recently with the lack of venues in Dunedin, None has branched out and is hosting music gigs more frequently so that shows can keep on happening and bands from out of town can still tour here.

Where did the name Élan Vital come from and why did you choose it?

Renee: Élan Vital is a term coined by French philosopher Henri Bergson and it translates into English as vital impetus or vital force. I won't delve into the theory of it but the name has taken on more meanings for us as time has gone by with other readings of the concept. My favourite reading is that it is believed by some that Élan Vital could be harvested and embedded into an inanimate object and then activated by electricity which ties in nicely with the music our band makes where we use drum machines and analogue synthesizers, distorted electric bass and heavily processed vocals to create our sound yet there is a definite live and human feel with imperfections. We don't try to erase things in post with methods like quantization or pitch correction.

There are elements of your music which feel familiar, but you have used them to conjure up your own sound. Can you share with us some of the creative influences, musical or otherwise, that informed Élan Vital while writing these songs?

Renee: We all bring different tastes to the writing process which have informed our sound. For instance Nikolai's bass lines often have a disco groove, I listen to lots of 60s garage and that's definitely there in the keys and I like post-punk so perhaps that's there too sometimes, and then Danny's creating beats you can dance to and he listens to a lot of techno. Some songs are a deliberate and open acknowledgement of our influences like 'Shadow Self' where we wanted to create a song that could be a soundtrack for a horror movie or 'Dreams' which is our tribute song to one of our favourite bands Suicide.

How has being located in Dunedin influenced you creatively, particularly Renee, who relocated only a few years ago from Auckland via Berlin?

Renee: I find Dunedin a good place for me creatively because I can live in industrial spaces where I can make sound often without annoying neighbours and can also afford the rent (for now) working part-time which leaves me energy to reflect and create and not feel beaten down by a daily grind in a country of rapidly increasing living costs and diminishing social infrastructures.

Some of the songs on Shadow Self were shared some time ago i.e ‘Janina’ and ‘Albtraum’ came out over the last few years. How were the songs for the record compiled? Was it written fairly quickly in a concentrated period, or are some of the songs more recent than others?

Renee: All of the songs on Shadow Self were written in the first sixth months of our band forming and are basically what our live set was during that period of time. Our first single 'Albtraum' was recorded and released before we had even played live so we recorded another version of it for the album. Because we waited for the album to be pressed on vinyl the release took longer then we initially anticipated. We started and finished recording the album in February 2016 over a period of two weeks and 'Janina' came out not long after that once the album was mastered.

What themes, if any, would you say tie the songs together?

Nikolai: I think often artists wear there hearts on their sleeves, Élan Vital maybe wears our influences. Borrowed aesthetics from film soundtracks, concepts from science fiction, dance music rhythms. There's definitely ties but sometimes those ties are in the contrary. Songs that are cold and distant and others that are personal and narrative. There's also this retro futuristic element at play, making music using old analogue and digital synths or re-issues of classic gear from the past to make music that could have been from a future unrealised.

You’ve had a few reviews come in for the album, how do you feel about the feedback so far? Has there been any particularly illuminating or entertaining observations?

Nikolai: It's been great for the most part. Some reviews have been spot on without reference which is nice to have your work read accurately outside of context. We've been compared to some pretty cult bands, we're still getting called gothtronica which is funny because whilst our sound might be Gothic in aesthetic or nature we're not goths and as far as I can tell goths weren't ever opposed to electronic instruments.

How did you become connected with Fishrider Records, and what does that mean for you as a band?

Nikolai: Danny had previously released an album with his band Death and the Maiden through Fishrider Records and was happy to work with them again. Fishrider enables us to have full creative control and direction whilst providing us with a lot of support and dedication. Also with Occultation Recordings in the UK co-releasing lots of Fishrider's material it get's our records being released in the UK and Europe which is great.

You’re about the head out on tour to celebrate the release of Shadow Self. What are you looking forward to most?

Renee: I'm really excited about the line ups, looking forward to watching all of the bands we are playing with perform. Getting to catch up with friends who live in different cities as well will be special.

What three things are must-haves to take on the road for a smooth sailing tour?

Renee: Synths.
Danny: Synths.
Nikolai: Synths.

Can you share your most favourite song/s from Shadow Self and why?

Nikolai: I know Renee loves 'Dreams' because of Danny's singing, but for me personally the album is stronger as a whole than individual songs obviously which is why it's exciting to have it out, because none of our singles collectively or on their own have been a complete representation of our sound.

Elan Vital Shadow Self Release Tour

Friday 21st April, None Gallery, Dunedin w/ Strange Harvest + Pesk
Friday 28th April, Caroline, Wellington w/ Earth Tongue + Ë ' ñ , T
Saturday 29th April, The Wine Cellar, Auckland w/ Peach Milk + The Pleasure Majenta
Sunday 30th April, Audio Foundation, Auckland w/ File Folder
Saturday 6th May, New City Hotel, Christchurch w/ Dog Power + Ov Pain


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