INTERVIEW: Eat Lights Become Lights

Nick Hutchings talks to ELBL's Neil Rudd about their "metaphysical" new album Into Forever, collaborating with Damo Suzuki and Simeon and their addiction to playing live

Neil Rudd, both the main man of Eat Lights Become Lights, who release their fourth album Into Forever this week, and founder of North London krautrock night Klub Motorik, is not so much the driver of the band as a test pilot strapped into an experimental vehicle at high velocity, hoping to break the sound barrier and not perish in an incandescent orange ball. He makes music not just for chin-stroking home consumption but for body-moving trance induction.

Since releasing the first record Autopia in 2011, the kind of psyche-sonic adventures that once only found a home on Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone have since become more popular than ever, taken up by the likes of Goat and Gnod and influencing more overground works by The Horrors and Toy. It’s always been fashionable to name drop Can, NEU! and Tangerine Dream but now even Moondog and Steve Reich get mentions in press dispatches. In that time, Rudd’s Eat Lights Become Lights have been quietly mastering their craft, not just in the studio and at the club night, but on tour with heroes like Damo Suzuki, for whom they have played as backing band, and on tour in New York with Simeon of Silver Apples.

The influences of Eat Lights Become Lights are clear, but their music is not mere pastiche. It has a compelling trajectory that can take in modular melody, ear-splitting volume and unexpected gear change, veering from ugly to pretty from track to track. We engaged in a digital exchange with Rudd to find out what keeps this combustible musik machine hurtling down the road…

Explain the evolution of ELBL from Autopia to Into Forever, your fourth album in three years…

Neil Rudd: The ELBL sound was always meant to be an ever-evolving entity. I’m constantly recording music and developing new ideas, influences and new directions to take the music into. I’ve never really been one for sitting back contented, I’m happiest when the music is traveling into uncharted territories. I tend to approach recordings with a specific theme or intent. With the earlier recordings I was more interested in a more immediate approach to the music, volume and tempo and riffs being the big drivers in the writing process. On later recordings, and certainly it features a lot on the new LP, there are a number of passages that feature overlapping melodic segments with odd time signatures that eventually combine to become the main theme of the track in question. I guess the writing has become more technical and considered as ELBL music has developed.

It’s never just noise for the sake of it, the way I write and build tracks is far too elaborate and considered. Nothing in the music of ELBL is just thrown together; it always has a melodic core to whatever the piece is that I’m writing.

Into Forever feels like it’s on a physical journey from A to B. Is that analysis on track or miles off?

NR: Into Forever is a more internal album than previous ELBL albums. It’s less concerned with the widescreen adventures of the earlier records.

If it is a journey then I think it is more of a, without sounding too much like a hippy, a metaphysical journey. Each track is certainly more concerned with mood and intent than a fast forward, four-to-the-floor race to the horizon, though I guess those types of tracks are still represented on the new album. Making instrumental music lends itself to that sense of movement and travel – this new record is more about the location than the getting there.

You have been the backing band for Damo Suzuki – tell us about that?

NR: I’ve played with Damo off and on for about the last seven years in different line-ups, the last few with the rest of the guys from the live set-up of ELBL. We usually play a couple of hour-long sets, 100% improvised, working around themes of repetition and pace. The live ELBL band is super tight and the rhythm section of John Barrett and Al Baker is second to none. This makes my job of adding guitar lines and loops a whole lot easier. Damo is a great guy, as long as he can get a good monitor mix; we are pretty much left to our own devices. We tend to work around a repeating melody or phrase and allow it to evolve over the course of the set. In a way it’s a lot like jazz in the fact that the rhythm section holds it all down and my guitar and Damo’s vocals go off on tangents, return to the core melody, then are off again into new territories. It is creativity in its purest form and can get very intense; I absolutely love it.

What did you learn from gigging with Silver Apples?

NR: Simeon from Silver Apples is a really nice guy and had some amazing stories to tell of his illustrious past. He was kind enough to remix the B-side of the ‘Test Drive’ single to great effect. I guess I learned to take it as it comes and keep true to why you set out to create in the first place.

How important is playing live, as you seem to do it tirelessly…

NR: The live version of ELBL was always set up with the sole intent of taking the recorded output and pushing it into new directions. The ability to improvise and alter elements on the fly is the only reason for me to play live. I see no mileage in just replicating the records night after night. The moment of pure creativity that playing live affords is very important to me. Four people on the exact same creative wave, pushing air in new ways can be a very addictive thing.

Do you record and produce thinking about how you will achieve it live?

NR: No, never. As soon as you start down that route you’ve instantly limited what it is you can say as a musician. Creativity should be, for me at least, untethered by any possible constraints. For example on this album, I had about ten African thumb pianos all tuned to specific keys that feature on the last track that took about a month to record, sample, alter and get right, they ended up as 18 separate, overlapping tracks. You just have to do what feels right at the time, and then work out how to play it live later if at all.

You are the house band at Klub Motorik – what opportunities does this give you to experiment with your music before you go out on the road?

NR: I set Klub Motorik up in about 2007 as a way of getting a night going in London that could be a forum for like-minded bands and individuals to play live. ELBL became the house band by default really, it wasn’t ever really intended for that to be the case, and it was just a way to fill out bills in the early days.

Is the popularity of "psych" a help or hindrance to getting your music heard by a wider audience?

NR: I really don’t think ELBL buys into that sort of thing. If you listen to the last three ELBL albums, other than the more obvious Germanic synth stuff, there are tracks influenced by Steve Reich, Moondog, Ali Farka Touré, Herbie Mann, etc. I personally think as soon as you align yourself or your music with certain scenes you may as well give it up. A lot of the time ELBL get mentioned in the same breath as krautrock but there is way more goes into an ELBL record than a 4/4 beat and a synth drone.

Far too many of these bands just play a NEU! beat and a Moog arpeggio and think that’s enough without adding something of themselves to the mix, without trying to take it beyond the core influences; they seem happy just to replicate their record collections. There’s nothing wrong in that but it’s never going to be an approach that would excite me.

Eat Lights Become Lights is such an evocative band name – it reminds me of the fluorescent light tube art by Dan Flavin – is there any contemporary art / artists out there that you feel some kind of kinship with?

NR: I actually trained as a painter and sculptor before I started making music and for a number of years that was my intended career path before synths and guitars came along.

I’m a massive fan of Syd Mead, the concept artist’s work, Cathy de Monchaux, Louise Bourgeois – anyone with strong themes running through their work.

I once filmed with Holger Czukay and his advice to me was to "watch my back" – it was probably because I was standing in a road at the time as he was presenting a link for MTV Party Zone from a traffic island – what advice would you want from Holger?

NR: I like the advice you received. I’d have the same thanks.

Into Forever is out now on Rocket Girl

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