The long-running instrumental duo El Ten Eleven credits Peter Hook for sparking a new direction on the band’s eighth album.
El Ten Eleven has opened numerous shows for Hook, the founding bassist of New Order and Joy Division, and his son Jack Bates. At one point, Hook told El Ten Eleven bassist Kristian Dunn that he should try playing a six-string bass. Dunn even got to try out the alternative rock legend’s Fender Bass VI and wrote a song about the experience, “Peter and Jack,” for the band’s new Fast Forward record.
“That six-string is all over this record,” Dunn says. “It’s their fault that the band took a change in direction slightly. So it’s a little dedication to them.”
Long known for playing a doubleneck guitar/bass, Dunn set the signature instrument aside entirely for Fast Forward. Drummer Tim Fogarty again mixes acoustic and electronic drums, while Dunn played a six-string bass and a fretless bass and explored some new effects pedals that help give the new record its distinct sound.
“I have a feeling when people listen to the album, they are going to be positive there are keyboards, but there aren’t any,” Dunn says. “When I plucked my bass and the sound came out like a synthesizer, my eyes widened.”
The band’s latest tour kicks off almost 13 years to the day since El Ten Eleven (a name derived from the Lockheed L-1011 jetliner) was formed. Over the years, the group has formed a style that’s immediately recognizable yet full of surprises.
“Working with someone for that long, you do have that connection where you kind of have a feeling you know what the other guy is going to do, which is comforting in the songwriting. But every once in a while — and this is why I love playing with Tim — he’ll do something that I’m not expecting,” Dunn says. “It starts from the fact that we’re a two-piece. Almost by definition, we have to be creative on our instruments. We actively decided we didn’t want every song to sound the same, from the very beginning. I’m excited about taking the instrument to somewhere it hasn’t been before, but still making something that’s listenable.”
For an instrumental duo, there’s a surprising amount of meaning behind the songs and albums of El Ten Eleven. Fast Forward reflects mainly on family, making “Peter and Jack” a perfect fit thematically and allowing the band to process some difficult moments that occurred during recording.
“The record was already going to have a theme about family. If you look at the album cover, there’s a triangle, but if you look closely, it isn’t actually there. The eye creates it. It’s symbolic of how family relationships are always there, even if you’re not around each other,” Dunn says. “Tim’s dad died in the middle of making the record, and that fit in thematically with the whole idea of the connection being there even if the person isn’t there.”
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The record starts with “Point Breeze” and follows with “Scott Township.” The first is a dedication to Fogarty’s dad, named for a place he used to hang out at as a kid in Pittsburgh. The second is named for a place Fogarty spent time growing up, and it’s the connection and musical dynamics between the two songs that reflect on the relationship. “JD” and “We Lost a Giant” are also in dedication to Fogarty’s dad.
Even the title plays into the theme.
“When I was playing in bands in high school, any time I had a new band and I was trying to come up with a name, my dad would say, ‘Fast Forward; it’s a great name,’ and I’d roll my eyes and think, ‘It’s such a horrible name.’ But all these years later, I do think it’s a good name, so that title is a dedication to my dad,” Dunn says. “Also it’s symbolic because fast-forwarding doesn’t really exist any more. It’s what we had with VHS or cassettes and now we have search or skip; it’s all digital.
“The record sounds a little bit anachronistic, with the Peter Hook influence obviously,” he says. “There’s an ’80s sound to me, but it’s also forward-looking. I had this influence, but I wanted to take it to a new place and do something fresh and exciting.”