Interview: Elder’s Nick DiSalvo on life with Armageddon, the lyrics of Lore, and breaking free from formulas

 
 

Psychedelic progressive fuzz-metal trio Elder have been ripping up the New England music scene and beyond with their complex structures, emphatic riffs and epic levels of energy. Taking influences from the likes of Yes, Sleep and even Steely Dan, the Massachusetts band brings new dimensions with each song. It makes for a refreshing listening experience that’s never dull. Nearly a year after releasing that latest album, Lore, Elder will be coming to Providence on Friday (January 29) for a night that’s bound to be an absolute ripper.

Put together by the Providence- and Boston-based record store and label Armageddon Shop, Elder will be performing at AS220 in the heart of downtown Providence alongside Boston sludgefiends Phantom Glue and folk doom locals Bloodpheasant. Ahead of the inevitable madness that should tear the roof off AS220, Vanyaland had a chat with frontman and guitarist Nick DiSalvo about starting out in New Bedford, writing songs that are more than 10 minutes long, being part of Armageddon’s label roster, the back story on Lore, and what’s behind the band’s lyrics.

Rob Duguay: Elder started out in New Bedford in the mid 2000s, a place that is known around New England for having quality bands but lacking in actual venues where bands can play. Was it ever difficult during the band’s infancy when it came to playing live shows due to New Bedford’s cultural landscape?

Nick DiSalvo: Since I lived in the area and also from growing up in the area, New Bedford had its share of venues that came and went. The main thing that made New Bedford an interesting place for bands to be from and why there have been so many bands coming out of there is because there has always been a core of kids who were willing to invest in the music scene. There were DIY venues, there were VFW halls, there were churches. Every time kids who were under 21 got pushed out of an actual bar someone would organize something else. New Bedford is definitely lacking in actual venues but there have been kids who are creative enough to keep the scene vibrant and that still goes on there today. I think it ended up being more of a tight knit community because of how there weren’t any actual venues in town. When we were in New Bedford we weren’t at the level where we should have been playing legitimate venues, there’s only so many people you can play to in that city. It was fine in the end.

People organizing shows outside of the natural structure of things must have made the scene there fairly unique. The majority of Elder’s songs are more than 10 minutes long. What makes you want to write songs with multiple progressions and layers?

Even though I grew up on rock and roll, I think the traditional song structure in most rock bands is pretty formulaic. It’s a relatively new progression within music history as a whole that there’s gotta be verse-chorus-bridge-chorus and that’s your song. There’s no reason why you can’t branch out and make it a little more interesting. Just kind of a way to diversify our sound and I personally enjoy bands that have progressive song structures because you’re wondering what’s next. It’s not even really that much of a conscious decision, I think I’m actually just bad at writing songs according to structure. If I tried to make a song with just a verse, chorus, and a bridge I’d probably fail miserably. Part of it is certainly conscious but the other part of it is subconscious, I think.

Do you think you’d get bored if you were abiding by a basic structure while writing a song?

Yeah, definitely. Not to say that there aren’t any great songs that follow that formula, but there’s no reason why you can’t try something a little more interesting. If you’re gonna be in a rock band, you want to write rock songs and that’s the structure you want to follow then that’s all good and well but I think there’s more that can be done with rock music if you step outside of that. At least when you’re looking at things like the structure of a song.

Now despite being from Massachusetts, Elder does have some local ties to Providence. How did the band end up connecting with Ben Barnett and Chris Andries from Armageddon Shop and how has it been being part of their record label?

Well, being from New Bedford, Providence is kind of the next largest city so I ended up spending a good deal of time there as a kid, too. Armageddon Shop has always been a place where we would go get some records. I still consider that place to be the best record store for metal and hardcore that I’ve ever seen hands down. That was a place for us to learn about a lot of music and we ended up just from playing around the area getting to know Chris and Ben from the shop. They asked us to put out a Record Store Day release a couple of years ago which actually ended up being the Spires Burn 12-inch.

It started off as just a project before it evolved into this whole idea that as a band we were thinking about where we wanted to be with the label. Working with friends just seemed to be a much more comfortable fit as a way to contribute back to the scene that gave birth to us. It’s been great working with Armageddon, I’m stoked to see that the label is expanding too because I think there’s a lot of quality music from the area that’s getting good exposure and it makes everything more beneficial.

Ben and Chris have always booked great shows, they’re always putting out awesome records under the Armageddon label and it’s exactly what you said. It’s great to see other bands getting noticed outside of New England because of the label.

Yeah.

Nearly a year ago, Elder put out their latest album Lore. It has been mentioned that the album is a watershed moment in the band’s history. You’ve delved into a bit of Krautrock during the writing process while keeping things progressive and loud. What’s the reasoning behind going that particular route with the album?

I can’t say there is a reason. There is a lot of material that we discarded while writing between the last EP and that album. It didn’t really feel like we were doing anything different. It didn’t feel like we were being innovative or pushing our own limits at all. The album sounds the way it sounds just because we’re always listening to a bunch of different music, we’re always experimenting with a bunch of different ideas and that’s sort of the way it came out. The reason why we discard most of our bad ideas is because we feel that they’re generic or that they don’t do anything different. We always write whatever sounds good at the moment and whatever genre that ends up being or how a song ends up sounding it’s going to be the definitive end result. We still try to stay within the realm of rock music and we still want to have that sense of heaviness but other than that we try to experiment in whatever way we feel that is interesting at the time.

It’s also about trying to keep things fresh, no band ever wants to sound bland or redundant. What do you consider your influences when it comes to writing lyrics? While listening to Elder you can sense a bit of a Tolkien influence, so what do you delve into for inspiration?

The main thing for lyrics that I always end up coming back to is the trend towards narcissism in music that I find to be a little bit off-putting. Especially with so many songs being about personal experiences and this me, me, me attitude. I try to write lyrics that deal with life that are applicable to everyone. Lore mostly is kind of about the search for meaning in life, religion and spirituality. The other big thing that usually is inspirational to me is nature, the natural world. In a sense it’s Tolkien-esque, the lyrics can be on the border of fantasy. I enjoy the wordplay and the archaic sounding literary terms that you’ll find in works like that. There’s all of that being incorporated into the lyrics.

After the show on Friday, what’s on the horizon for Elder in 2016?

At the moment we are going to be playing a festival out in Tucson in February. Other than that we’re going back to Europe again in the spring for a couple festivals in London and Berlin and we’re going to do a tour surrounding that. The plan is just to write new material and at this point 2015 was such a busy year that we’re happy to sit for a minute and focus on making a new album. Hopefully we’ll record at some point this year too, which is kind of ambitious for us with all the touring. We’ll see what pops up but for now it’s just the festival next month and Europe in the spring.

Armageddon Shop Presents ELDER + PHANTOM GLUE + BLOODPHEASANT :: Friday, January 29 at AS220, 115 Empire St. in Providence, RI :: 9 p.m., all ages, $10 :: Facebook event page

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