Like just about every other touring musician, Kristian Dunn is getting back to playing live shows after a lot of unexpected time off.
Unlike just about every other touring musician, Dunn does the work of three or four or more people when he’s on stage with his instrumental post-rock band El Ten Eleven.
“What we do is hard,” Dunn said in a telephone interview. “I’m not being conceited. I’m just being honest. It is hard. That’s why almost no one else does it, right?”
That’s right. For most musicians in rock bands, starting a song requires remembering the correct key, the tempo and maybe some words and a melody. Which is plenty! Most of the best rock music doesn’t require any more than that.
But to hear Dunn describe his duties at the beginning of an El Ten Eleven song is like listening to astronauts on a space shuttle run through the pre-launch checklist.
“I have to remember, ‘OK, I have to start the song on this looper, not that looper — and this particular button on that looper. And this button over here has to be pressed with my other foot. And my bass has to have the single coil pickup engaged, otherwise if I do the humbucking pickup, it’s going to be too loud later on down the line,’” Dunn said.
Is he done? No.
“That’s just starting the song,” he continued. “Then I get the first one going and I have to remember after the second loop that I have to open it up so I can record the electronic drums, then shut it back off before I switch to the next part. Switch to the humbucking pickups for that part. Switch this pedal over here. It’s like that for every part of every song, for however many songs.”
Let’s add some context: El Ten Eleven is a duo made up of Dunn, who plays a number of different guitars and basses, and Tim Fogarty, who plays a number of different percussion instruments. Together, the two men play their parts, record them, loop them and then play some more, essentially creating their own backing band using a handful of machines.
As if that’s not enough, their music is complex and adventurous, incorporating a bunch of different styles: post-rock, ambient music, math rock, prog. They are sometimes heavy and sometimes delicate and often groovy and regularly majestic, and when people who’ve heard the band’s recordings see them live for the first time, the reaction is generally something along the lines of, “There are only two of them!?”
That is the payoff for all the hard work Dunn and Fogarty put into their live show.
“We’ve been together almost 20 years, so we’re just used to it. This is how it is,” Dunn said. “And generally speaking, we’re happy that we do it this way because when we pull it off, it’s fantastic. There’s a high from it that you maybe wouldn’t get from a ‘normal’ band.”
El Ten Eleven’s most recent tour happened at the end of 2019, and its Bend show Wednesday at Volcanic Theatre Pub (see “If you go”) is the first date of the upcoming tour. Which means Bend will get to see the band’s first performance in front of a live audience in nearly two years.
Expect songs from the band’s excellent 2020 release “Tautology” — an ambitious and adventurous triple EP that wordlessly traces the arc of life’s journey — as well as new material.
“We’ve recorded two more records (during the pandemic) and they’re not even out yet,” Dunn said. “When we couldn’t tour, we just kept going and kept making records, because that’s what we do. Well, that’s part of what we do, and now we can get back to doing the other part.”