Hailing from Brighton, ELLiS·D sings with an unapologetic honesty of the burden of guilt shouldered by today’s youth for the world future generations are set to inherit. I quizzed ELLiS·D on their political, musical, and mindset considerations of the last year and a half. The results are comprehensive.
Should we take your’ last generation’ rhetoric as either a) a resigned response to climate change b) provocation for an audience in need of extreme messaging, or c) other? If the answer is c, please, feel free to expand upon any philosophy or anecdote.
ELLiS·D: I’d say it’s a mixture of the above but also a poke at them as well. I feel a certain sense of resignation not just towards climate change but also our future life prospects in general. Even without factoring in climate change, we are sinking deeper in a race to the bottom, with the so-called ‘ladder of social mobility’ appearing to be nothing more than a greasy rope these days. And it feels like we’re way past the point where powerful messaging has a significant enough impact on changing our daily behaviors.
But the ‘Last Generation’ statement is far more tongue-in-cheek than strictly literal. How many others in history have claimed or thought themselves to have no future? When Johnny Rotten spewed it out in the ’70s, I can’t imagine he intended to say that everyone would be wiped off the earth within a couple of years. I think it’s just a natural reaction of being young and frightened of what lies ahead. Although perhaps our generation does have more of a stake to claim in that regard!
It’s more of a comment on how the world developed faster in our short lifetimes than people thirty years ago could have fathomed. Those of us in our twenties are the last to have experienced a childhood without the burden of social media and technology encompassing our lives, and I think that’s quite a sad thing. I can’t imagine having to deal with that as a child today – the world is confusing enough as it is.
Besides music, what are your particular coping mechanisms, and was the road bumpy upon settling on them, that is to presume you’ve found some? I sincerely hope you have.
ELLiS·D: I’m not sure I have any specific methods or routines, but whenever I feel overwhelmed, I just try to focus on living in the moment as much as possible, taking each day as it comes and reminding myself that even if things do fall apart in the future, it’ll be so much worse if I haven’t enjoyed my time now.
It took a long time for that thought process to sink in, and for a while earlier this year, I would struggle to climb my way out of spirals that I’d often fall into. I think the adjustment to coming out of lockdown was actually a lot harder than we all thought it would be. Those sixteen months or so have had a massive impact on our frame of mind towards daily life.
Indeed, the adjustment continues. Before we delve into the ins and outs of your release, can we get some context? When did you record these tracks, and what media besides musical influences helped craft them? Books, cultural theory, films? Feel free to expand upon your guide through the birthing chamber of your mind.
ELLiS·D: I began recording the EP in April, spending two days tracking the drums and bass at Brighton Electric Studios with the help of engineer Joe Thorpe, before completing the rest throughout several sessions at the shared studio space I use in Brighton. I’m heavily inspired by artists like Ty Segall and Durand Jones when it comes to recording techniques, embracing the DIY ethos of capturing as raw a sound as possible.
Around the time I was writing these songs, I was fixated on ideas surrounding introspection and personality, whether we are bound into specific behavioral patterns from childhood experience and if we possess the capacity to truly change who we are, or just how we appear to others on the surface. The works of John Fowles, in particular his novel, ‘The Magus’ was a significant insight for me into this train of thought, based around a character who falsely believes he is in control of his actions as his world around him is warped in a series of psychological mind games. The idea that one can often think they have evolved as a person due to changes in their environment but still continue to act and project themselves in the same ways is something I wanted to touch upon in the EP, especially in ‘Evening/Silence,’ which is very much a song about stopping to take stock of the person I perceive myself to be daily, and whether that matches how I genuinely feel when being totally honest with my own emotions.
Your consideration of identity and the gap between belief, intention, and action is paramount for exciting art. When you say ‘stopping to take stock of the person I perceive to be daily, do you mean you became too self-involved? Arguably it’s a scary proposition to honestly look under the stones of long-forgotten casting actions. Was one justified in what they did so much as having to live with the act? How easy is it to become a character in your own play where to survive, one cannot afford themselves a role aligned to anything truly unheroic?
ELLiS·D: It’s really easy to get sucked into your own world and lose perspective of the bigger picture around you. I’m guilty of having done that in the past, but whether or not that equates to being overly self-involved in nature, I don’t think I could answer with confidence. I certainly wouldn’t put it on the same level as being a selfish individual. Still, I believe it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that music, art, a career, or whatever one might be working toward isn’t the be-all and end-all of existence. And pausing every once in a while to take stock of your thought processes and actions when interacting with others is a big part of that. It can be a harrowing experience for sure, no doubt about that. But it surely wouldn’t be worth doing if it wasn’t.
I struggle to subscribe to the idea that our lives are part of an ongoing narrative that revolves around us playing the central character in our own plot, which seemingly flirts with the theory that free will is an illusion. Picturing oneself as being either heroic or unheroic in such a vision would certainly have closer ties to self-indulgence in that respect. I view it more as a completely random sequence of events that we just so happen to be a part of, with each of us guided by our own understanding of morality and what it means to do right by both others and yourself.
I believe this is especially crucial for how you believe others perceive your character and whether it is possible to define your actions based on the reactions you have gauged from previous experience or from attempting to view your own personality from the outside.
There is an increased drive from extremes of both political wings to be for or against ideas, let alone the actions that follow them. This could be due to the impotence the electorate perceives in a two-party system and the impact of radicalization which takes place online. Solophism, therefore, is significantly increased and thus, the inner workings of any artist attempting to dismantle such trapping is commendable. How much care went into reflecting your ideas within the sounds, or is that too hard to deconstruct here?
ELLiS·D: When it came to the overall feeling I wanted to create on the EP, I certainly tried to capture the mixed emotions I was experiencing at the time in the sound, which I think is reflected best in the stark shift in mood in the title track as it suddenly breaks from the dark and foreboding verses to the lighter, ethereal sounding outro. The only track on the record I was able to perform live before recording was’ Pesticide’ so I spent a decent chunk of time in the studio carving out a tone I was happy with before hitting record.
The themes of the EP aren’t particularly political in a strict sense. Still, it’s definitely something I’m passionate about and works its way into my lyrics reasonably often, if not explicitly. So even though the sentiment is there, don’t expect me to start screaming ‘f*ck the Tories!’ if you come to see us play live!
When did you become politicized, and has there been any recent event focusing on this consideration?
ELLiS·D: I first started getting interested towards the end of secondary school, around the time of the 2010 election. It felt like emotions were running high at the time but little did we know what was to come!
The writer Owen Jones and in particular his book ‘Chavs: Demonisation of the Working Class was a real eye-opener for me in terms of how political systems have worked over the past forty years or so and the methods in which governments manipulate people into continuously voting against their own interests, which feels ever more true in the wake of Brexit and the rise of right-wing nationalism in places like Austria, Brazil + India.
I’ve never felt quite so defeated about it all than I do now. Perhaps it’s merely youthful optimism naturally fading away – but it certainly feels like a worse state of affairs across the board now, with the avenues of change being closed off before us from every angle.
You said you can’t help how your politics enters your lyrics. Can you give another example where it’s evident on the latest record, and if possible, can you tell us if you have a particular political angle that has yet to appear in your work (which may occur in due course)?
ELLiS·D: My politics inevitably ends up in my lyrics as I think it’s innately impossible not to let your passions run through what you write about, whether you’re conscious of it or not. And this is true of other essential parts of my life such as relationships, family, aging, etc. ‘Pesticide’ is the perfect example of this off of the EP – I began writing it trying to express a feeling of despondency toward the seemingly endless cycle of government inaction, media frenzy and political criminals slipping through the cracks. But it ended more as an ode to my partner and how, through each other, we can somehow carve out rays of hope for the future despite all these things.
When it comes to performing these songs live, is there any talk about the themes and intentions with the musicians, or do you not go in for that?
ELLiS·D: Not so much in the sense of affecting the way the songs are projected live, but it’s something we discuss pretty regularly, especially as the band has their own songwriting projects as well, and it’s always interesting to share ideas and find out how the lyrical themes are being interpreted from a different perspective.
In these regular discussions, what was the last compelling idea suggested by a band member, and how – if at all – did the idea compel a reassessment of the original piece of music?
ELLiS·D: Our drummer Ollie and I are both substantial CAN fans. More often than not, any discussion of musical ideas will eventually lead to singing the praises of Jaki Leibezeit’s rhythmic prowess (and sometimes a shoddily sung rendition of Vitamin C).
Most of the songs we play are very drum-led as I tend to build melodies around initial drum patterns when writing, so there’s a great deal of sharing ideas around this idea as it’s something Ollie does with his solo project as well. Max (guitarist) and I will often delve into fine details and nuances when recording demos or releases as we are currently doing at our studio.
Sounds great. In closing, do you have anything to say on the function of live sessions? Considering you’ve seen fit to commit to one, you obviously are interested in sharing your expression beyond the immediacy of a venue or with a visual element beyond the record itself.
ELLiS·D: Having released a series of music videos for our previous single releases, I felt that it would be valuable to have something a little different that showcased another side of what we do. It’s not a million miles away from how it sounds on the record. Still, I’m proud of the energy and ability in our live performances. I wanted to be able to have a way to communicate that with an audience that might not have seen us play before.
A live session is a difficult one to master if you are both funding and organizing the entire thing yourself as we are, as there are so many things that could potentially go wrong on the day that you aren’t able to rectify like you would a music video or studio recording. This is the first one we’ve released but certainly won’t be the last, and I’m really pleased with how it has turned out – I’m in a fortunate position to have a wonderful band behind me in that regard.
All this struggle pays off, especially in adding to the world of your often cavernous musical creation. The official video for ‘We Are The Last Generation On Earth’ could have been a kaleidoscope of a dystopian collage of desolate landscapes. Still, you’ve counterintuitively gone for a lone bulb in a black room. Do you position yourself as a representative of youth chronicling the last moments of an unsalvageable era?
ELLiS·D: Not especially, no. Everyone’s experience of what we’re going through is entirely unique. Even though a lot of us share the same fears, anxieties, and dark visions of the future, all I’m really doing is chronicling my own feelings throughout this time, just ones that I think are being felt by millions of us across the world.
The light bulb idea came from our bassist Sammy, who also filmed the video, so I can’t take too much credit there! When mapping out ideas for it, we were in agreement that we didn’t want to make some doom-laden post-apocalyptic style video as we knew people would end up taking its themes way too seriously, which wasn’t my intention at all. What we ended up within the darkroom was perfect as it captured the ‘all-in-it-together-but-separated’ loneliness of the song but also the ridiculousness, the over-the-top histrionics, and the fact that in the end, you have to laugh at what is happening as in these kinds of situations humor is the only weapon left available to us. Without it, all you’re left with is pitch black.
The humor pierces through the treatment, wonderfully and in small pockets without scuppering the initial premise. If only there was more time and blog practicality for this subject. Alas, we’ll have to reserve another time to cover your consistent love for tremolo guitar, late Birthday Party era Nick Cave vocal phrasing, and your transition from Strange Cages through to your solo singles and your isolation session EP. For now, do let us know about your self-run label and what you have planned for shows on the 6th and 10th December.
ELLiS·D: I’ve always got time to talk tremolo! The idea behind Change The F*cking Records! was inspired by regular run monthly nights I used to relish going to in Brighton in my late teens. After attending ‘Late Night Lingerie’ every month at Sticky Mikes before helping to run ‘Deadbeat Disco’ with Strange Cages every other Thursday for five years, I wanted to carry that on with something new a DIY label felt like the perfect platform to do that with. Being part of a local scene is one thing. Still, I feel it’s so important to really ingratiate yourself in it as an artist, and this is precisely what I wanted to do with the night we run, ‘Stoned & Starving’, every last Friday of the month in the Brunswick Cellar Bar. I ran it with a friend of mine called Josh. Hopefully, in the future, if we’re able to raise some funds, we can start looking to do releases with local bands as well. Still, for now, we’re primarily focusing on promoting the night and putting on some of our favorite acts around town.
We did a massive run of shows in August and September. Still, it’s been almost two months since our last one now, and I’m gnawing my arm off in anticipation of getting back on stage, especially with new material to show as well. I do love recording and all that comes with it. Still, there’s nothing that comes close to the experience of playing live. The amount of admin work required to be an artist in the social media age means it is an extended cathartic release from that if nothing else! We’ve also got some great supports lined up in the form of Pleasure Inc, My Fat Pony, and Gobstoppers, to name but a few, so the December dates can’t come soon enough.
ELLiS·D ‘We Are The Last Generation‘ is out on 6th December 2021 via Crafting Room Recordings and Change The F*cking Records!
For the launch of the EP ELLiS·D will be playing two different release shows at The Green Door Store in Brighton on 6th December, followed by The George Tavern in London on the 10th.