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Eliot Sumner is back, bigger, better and bolder than ever

Eliot Sumner (formally known as Coco) knows a thing or two about growing up. After four years of touring and writing songs, the raven haired beauty is back, with a spanking new EP and a gritty new sound.

With so many perfectly packaged, commercially formed pop stars out there, it’s refreshing to see that Eliot Sumner has stayed the same, and most importantly, stayed true to herself. Yes, she has evolved – dropping the moniker I Blame Coco, in favour of performing under her real name, and moving on from singing about house parties with her old band from Bryanston – but at 24, she’s still the same quick-witted, highly intelligent and slightly mischievous character she’s always been. She still hates fruit, (“I haven’t had fruit since the 90s”) and she still grins like a Cheshire cat when she finds something funny.

“It’s not about the song, it’s about how you play it. Your performance has to be genuine. You really have to believe and go back to that place where you felt those things.”

 

It’s been four years since Eliot released her debut album The Constant, with which she toured all over Europe, and it sounds like she had the time of her life. “Some of the most fun times I’ve had have been on tour,” she says in her familiar husky voice. “Just being part of a group and waking up in a different country every day. I miss it a lot. I’m so used to moving around, you know, I’ve never really had a proper base.” This is hardly surprising, given her nomadic upbringing. The daughter of Sting and Trudie Styler, Eliot spent her childhood moving from place to place and has siblings on both sides of the pond. You can’t help but feel that this sense of insecurity and restlessness is something Eliot thrives on creatively. But there is one thing that has always remained a constant - her affinity with music. 

Since picking up her first guitar at five years old, and teaching herself to play by mimicking those around her, music has become an integral part of who she is. “It helps me make sense of things. It’s a bit like swearing. When you swear you feel better, it gets something out.” Nurturing her talent at Bryanston, and later Fine Arts College Hampstead, Eliot spent her teenage years gigging around London, writing music, and performing with singer/songwriter Mr Hudson, before being signed to Island Records at the tender age of 17. In 2010 she put out The Constant, featuring Caesar, a poppy collaboration with Swedish singer Robyn, and the equally catchy Self Machine, leaving everyone wondering what she’d do next. Four years later, she’s back with a spanking new EP called Information

Citing Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds as a reference, Information is dark, brooding and beautifully melancholic. “It’s just what I’m used to,” Eliot explains. “For most of my life I wasn’t very happy or content, and I used to write songs stemming from those feelings.” The title track Information, which describes the last two months of a relationship, is particularly moving. “It’s about not really having any closure,” she muses. With lyrics like “I need to know you’re thinking of me, I need to know you’re there, I need the information now, I’ve got to know you care”, it’s hopelessly romantic, yet painfully bittersweet. The same can be said for the other two tracks; Come Friday and the more menacing The Wobbler.  

“Maybe I’m exploiting heartbreak a little, or using it in an evil way, but I don’t know what else I’m supposed to be doing with these feelings...” 

 

Despite all three songs being tied together by an exploration of the aching emotions of love and the raw pain of a break-up, each track relates to different times in Eliot’s life. “Come Friday is about four years old now, and I did The Wobbler two years ago. But I wrote Information the day before I went into the studio. I don’t really like to make things too specific because you alienate everyone else who listens to the song. If you make it too personal, people can’t relate to it.” The songs, though, are still very much about Eliot’s own experience. “I don’t know, maybe I’m exploiting heartbreak a little bit or using it in an evil way, but I don’t know what else I was supposed to do with all these feelings.”

Perhaps it’s the same for all musicians of her ilk, but in a cruel twist of fate, Eliot writes her best music when she’s in her darkest place; “It’s my outlet for when I have a problem.” So what will she do now that she’s happy and in love again? “Probably write shit music!” she says, grinning. “Maybe I’ll do a Christmas Special.” She may joke, but you can tell by the sincerity with which she goes about writing – she does it in total isolation, whether it’s spending five months hauled up in the Lake District with nobody but Aldus the Alsatian for company or travelling alone on a train – that she won’t be putting out a cheesy Christmas Special anytime soon. She isn’t someone who just sings for the sake of it; with Eliot every performance is honest and heartfelt. “Whether it’s singing in a half empty pub where you have people talking over you, or having a 30-person orchestra, the energy and the performance are the most important things.” Even though she’s now in a far happier place, she’s still able to access those dark emotions when she needs to. “I think when you’ve been playing stuff for a while, it’s not really about the song anymore, it’s about how you play it. The performance has to be genuine. You really have to believe in it, and try to go back to that place where you felt those things.”  

“It’s not about the song, it’s about how you play it. Your performance has to be genuine. You really have to believe and go back to that place where you felt those things.”

 

Luckily for Eliot, channelling such different narratives and emotions has always come easily, which is why she finds herself increasingly leaning towards the idea of film scores — in particular, the idea of coming up with a specific sound and set of lyrics to express someone else’s story, rather than merely narrating her own. Last year, she worked with Clint Mansell on a cover of Radiohead’s Creep for the 2013 film Filth, which was a shimmering success – haunting, sombre and melodic. “I’ve always been interested in film scores. I think if there’s no music in a film it’s difficult to feel moved by anything. In a few years if I don’t want to tour any more or if I want to spend more time at home I think that’s what I’ll do.” 

For the time being, though, she’ll be concentrating on the EP, and getting ready for a busy summer, “We’re going to play some little shows here and there, some festivals, and there’s talk about doing a support tour. And then next year we’ll tour properly with the album.” It’s only been out for a couple of weeks but Information has already received a lot of positive attention, which can only mean one thing: Eliot Sumner is back – bigger, better and bolder than ever – and she’s here to stay. 

@eliotsumner